Businesses experimenting with virtual worlds

Many businesses are already taking a serious look at virtual worlds, keen not to lag behind adopting a new technology as some were with the Internet.

Although virtual environments are still at an early stage in development and adoption, many companies are already dabbling in one or more virtual worlds or closely observing them prior to getting their feet wet.

Businesses that may have been slow to embrace the Internet are keen this time around to actively engage with the technology before it becomes mainstream.

"'I don't get it, but I know I should get it,'" is what businesses tend to tell Sandra Kearney, global director, emerging 3D Internet at IBM, when she asks them about virtual worlds. "They say, 'I missed the Internet; I don't want to miss this too,' " she said during a panel discussion to debate virtual worlds and their business value at a joint IBM and MIT Media Labs conference held Friday.

Auto maker Toyota is already using virtual worlds as a way to get preteens and teenagers interested in its Scion entry-level car brand, which is targeted at younger buyers.

"We've made a fairly significant six-figure investment in virtual communities across different worlds," said Adrian Si, interactive marketing manager for Scion at Toyota Motor Sales USA. For instance, Toyota is the exclusive supplier of virtual Scion cars in Numedeon's Whyville educational virtual world for children aged 8 to 15 and provides them with information about car financing.

Tweens are already thinking about what car they might buy and Toyota hopes that giving them a positive experience with its cars in virtual worlds might translate into them or their parents buying vehicles from the vendor down the road. Good buzz about a product can go a long way, Si believes.

Only a few years old, Toyota's Scion brand is one with which the company can afford to take risks that the auto maker couldn't with its other much more established brands, Si said. Toyota got interested in virtual worlds at the same time that the companies behind such communities were coming to the auto maker to see if it was interested in funding them. As well as Whyville, Toyota is promoting its Scion brand in Linden Research Inc.'s Second Life and is about to do the same in Gaia Interactive's Gaia Online teen virtual world.

PepsiCo Inc. has yet to experiment with virtual worlds, but is keeping an eye on the space.

"We're intrigued by it and are actively monitoring it," said Julius Akinyemi, director of emerging technologies at the beverage and snack vendor. Like Toyota, PepsiCo is particularly attracted by how much input users have in creating their virtual environments and the ability to directly interface with and influence those individuals.

One area where PepsiCo thinks it might look to engage with the residents of virtual worlds is in soliciting their input on new products, according to Akinyemi. The vendor would hope to do more codevelopment of new beverages and snacks as well as create quick marketing buzz on new offerings, he said. There need to be more tools available in virtual worlds to make such development and marketing efforts easier, Akinyemi noted, along with a general move to simplify the process for anyone to enter any virtual environment.

Building bridges between the real world and virtual environments will become increasingly important in guaranteeing a successful virtual presence for a company, IBM's Kearney said. She pointed to what the Ganz gift company has done with its popular Webkinz plush toys. Children who own one of the toys receive a code to enter the Webkinz virtual world where they can play with a virtual version of the real-world toy.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

China Martens

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?