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  ‘Universal Motown Records’ Rolls Into ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-06-14 by Tony Walsh
The virtual world of Second Life will play host to another major music publisher this summer. Hot on the heels of Sire Records, Universal Motown Records and Universal Republic Records plan to launch promotional events in digital space for artists Chamillionaire and Hinder. According to an official announcement by the music publishers, "Fans utilizing their 'Second Life' avatars can... enjoy music, videos, photos and other never-before-experienced content celebrating the respective artists..." I have to wonder how many of Second Life's 128,734 active users (or, how many of the 6 or 7 thousand users online during peak hours) could be described as "fans" of Chamillionaire and Hinder.

A location called Soundscape, built by InWorld Studios, will serve as a persistent brand experience inside Second Life, while scheduled events featuring the artists will take place on June 25 and 26. Exclusive Hinder-specific content will be deployed in-world on July 15 and July 29.

As I've mentioned previously, I believe events like these are geared more towards generating buzz outside of the virtual world than a satisfying experience for virtual-world residents. In the recent announcement, Universal overstates the in-world benefits with statements such as:
  • "...first-ever virtual artist meet and greets..." Not true in the world of greater VR, and potentially only strictly true in Second Life specifically.
  • "It combines all the trends on the web -- multimedia, personalization, social networking -- with the experience and synthetic animation of gaming." No, not all the trends (what are all the trends, anyway?). Most gamers expecting an equivalent experience in Second Life are set for severe disappointment. Second Life looks great in screenshots, but is painfully slow compared to 3D games.
  • "This innovative online VR breakthrough will enhance the listening and visual experience of music fans throughout the online community..." Hardly a breakthrough. Possibly could enhance the experience of some music fans inside Second Life but not the online community at large.
  • " exciting new 3D VR experience (via technology created by cutting edge Linden Lab, a 3D graphics and networking company)..." The experience being offered here isn't new, except in the strictest possible sense. Second Life's virtual-world engine is not aging well. It certainly isn't new (Second Life's 3-year birthday is coming up, but it's been in development longer), and therefore isn't exactly cutting-edge technology.
  • "...enjoy music, videos, photos and other never-before-experienced content celebrating the respective artists, all of it enhanced by an unprecedented 3D VR makeover." There's a conceit that 3D graphics somehow enhance content. I'm not sure watching a video in virtual reality is going to make the video enhanced. I'm not sure meeting the avatar of a recording artist is better than meeting the artist in person.
I don't deny that upcoming appearances by major-label artists could entertain some residents of Second Life, but it seems clear Universal is more interested in grabbing media attention for its "historic" events than anything else.
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Comment posted by Satchmo Prototype
June 14, 2006 @ 8:32 pm
"I'm not sure watching a video in virtual reality is going to make the video enhanced."

This is the only thing in your post I disagree with. Although a virtual world won't make the content of a video any better it does enhance the viewing experience. I find it a lot more fun to watch video in Second Life with other people, text socially and tell jokes than the isolated viewing experience of YouTube.

It is even better if the video is catered to a community and you make new friends with common interest. I always find watching machinima with a community of enthusiasts a lot of fun.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
June 14, 2006 @ 9:19 pm
Good points, Satchmo. I'd take a RL communal video-viewing over a virtual one, but I understand that the option isn't always available.
Comment posted by Gary Hayes
June 15, 2006 @ 5:22 am
Yes Tony you highlight a trend that we will see more and more - and your follow-up post about American Apparel reinforces it. That, forward thinking corporates will use 'all' cross-media to spread the brand and Second Life and many other in-game promotional activity is now the 'cool' thing to do.

You certainly pointed out that the marketing speak that surrounds this is about RL postering rather than understanding the world in which they are participating in. I think this is just the start of a tidal wave of cross-media promotion and I hope that it doesn't take away from the 'sublime' elements of MMORPGs and virtual social online networks. Alternate reality games have certainly been embrassed by the advertising and brand enhancement community as you well know - whether they do it 'in story' or not is less important to them than creating a buzz - and after all being able to say 'we do virtual stuff' is really the core of these initiatives.

As a SL resident I also see this RL invasion as breaking down a thin veneer of 'new world', and like RL when the mall invasion begins the subtlety of those quaint neighbourhoods and cottage industies begin to falter and we end up with cultural blandness and cloned societies. SL doesnt have a strength in numbers yet to counteract this.

Comment posted by jordanbigel
June 17, 2006 @ 12:39 pm
Gary Hayes wrote: " you well know - whether they do it 'in story' or not is less important to them than creating a buzz - and after all being able to say 'we do virtual stuff' is really the core of these initiatives."

As the chief proprietor of InWorld Studios, the creators of SoundStage I should like to point out that this statement is in error.

In fact, like everything the record companies do, the core goal of this initiative is to sell music not to add another bullet point to their list of accomplishments.

The real purpose of SoundStage is to provide a venue for fans to mingle and communicate with other fans all while being immersed in content celebrating their favorite music artists.

Jordan Bigel
InWorld Studios
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
June 17, 2006 @ 2:00 pm
Ok, let's say all Universal wants to do is "sell music." The number of Second Life users is quite low--who are these "fans" you reference? Are you talking about music fans generally, Universal Music fans, or Hinder and Chamillionaire fans specifically? How many Hinder or Chamillionaire fans do you think there really are in a virtual world of roughly 125k "active" members and 6,500 peak users? Even if there were hundreds of fans, you still have to squeeze them through a straw to fit into a single sim (capacity around 40 users). How many records do you think Second Lifers are going to buy based on SoundStage events? Ten? Fifty? One hundred? Surely that can't be worth the effort of establishing a Second Life presence. If it's really just about selling albums, Universal's money would have been better spent on a MySpace advertising campaign. At least MySpace can demand a million eyeballs.

In my opinion, SoundStage can't possibly be about selling music--as in selling albums. It's about selling music--as in marketing brands. As an in-world marketing effort, it's not very effective for the reasons I've previously mentioned. As an outside publicity stunt, it's got much more potential.

I'd be interested to hear about the in-world measures taken to promote SoundStage--its events, and as a permanent venue. The only in-world promotion I've seen was a link to the real-world press release. The outside PR was issued 3 days prior to any in-world announcement. So, again, who's this effort really targeting? The way I see it, if this was about Second Life residents, they should have known about it first.
Comment posted by jordanbigel
June 17, 2006 @ 3:09 pm
Hi Tony,

I am new here at Clickable Culture though I have been reading it on and off for several months. I can see you are a fixture around here and have made many contributions to Clickable Culture and I suspect that deep down we have similar overall visions of the internet and technology.

That said I think you are making a lot of assumptions about the project which cannot be supported by anything UMRG or myself has said.

Since I respect your accomplishments and contributions I will try to address some of the issues you raise.

>The outside PR was issued 3 days prior to any in->world announcement. So, again, who's this effort >really targeting? The way I see it, if this was >about Second Life residents, they should have >known about it first.

Who are the fans and where are they coming from? I think that it is safe to say that all of the people who will attend the various events we hope to produce at SoundScape will be Second Life residents. They may not all have been residents before the event and some will sign up for SL because they wish to attend one of our events - but in the end they will now be SL residents and for every 100 new residents who join SL some of them will stay and become regular users. You may have a better handle on what that percentage might be, I can only make wild guesses at that. I suspect you would agree with me that it is to everyone's benefit that SL remain a growing entity and that only by adding new residents (who become regulars) will that happen.

But I don't understand why (it seems) you imply - though please correct me if I have misunderstood your point - that these new residents would somehow be less important then existing residents. Certainly we want to see existing residents of SL come to SoundScape and if they were never fans of Hinder or Chamillionaire before, maybe they will be now.

So maybe its not a question of how many Hinder and Chamillionaire fans are ALREADY in Second Life but a question of how many who visit SoundScape who are not fans when they arrive leave as fans. I have personally met people who have come to SoundStage while I was there - the space has been open since May 1st in fact though we decided not to make a public announcement until we had an actual event scheduled - who were long time SL users and some have said they never heard of Hinder and after spending a few minutes with me listening to their music claimed they liked it - maybe one of them are now fans! Other long time SL residents have visited (whom I have met personally) who said they had been Hinder fans for a while already and had just heard about SoundScape.

Next I would like to go back to the question of how many SL residents and home many Hinder or Chamiilionaire fans will be able to experience SoundStage - you said "you still have to squeeze them through a straw to fit into a single sim (capacity around 40 users)."

Well, if that is our problem then we will be quite pleased! For one thing I mentioned in my previous post that we do not expect to be limited to 40 simultaneous users at SoundScape. Since SoundScape is constructed on the 4 corners of 4 different SIMs (similar to the Pooley outdoor auditorium) we should be able to accomodate at least 3 times that number and perhaps 4 times. It will depend on how well we can distribute the guests equally among the different sections of the property. It would be in-credible for me to claim that I truly know how that will work until we try it at least once or twice but we optimistic. I have been at Pooley myself with over 120 avatars for a LL event and no one was even attempting to distribute the attendees plus the orientation of that space hd 2 of the SIM corners on the stage where very few people were and the other 2 had most of the people. In our build the stage occupys one corner and the other 3 corners are all for guests and fans. And in fact, even the SIM the stage is on has a dance area in front of it which will accomodate many avs as well. Go have a look at the space and turn on your View Property Lines option.

Finally, to this issue, it is not just events which will expose people to the music and so for much of the time when there are no events a steady stream of visitors will be exposed to the music as well. Overall we don't know how many will come and go over any given period, but we will find out. And if it does look like there is insufficient interest you can be assured the label will pull the plug on it fast.

>Surely that can't be worth the effort of >establishing a Second Life presence.

You may be sure but others are not convinved. Me for one. I think it can be worth it. My and the people who are involved in this project with me would like to show the labels that it is worth it. I noticed you put a period at the end of that sentance and not a question mark. Perhaps it deserves at least a question mark.

In-world efforts to promote SoundScape to date have included classified ads in SL, listing under Places - this will allow many SLers to find our space by searching for 'music' or either of the artists names for example.

We are planning to place event notices in Second Life's event board (the exact time of the events has unfortunately not been established yet) and through articles in in-world papers like the Metaverse Messenger we expect to reach a lot of people in SL. Of course, as I implied above, we will be reaching out to existing fans of Chamillionaire and Hinder to come and join Second Life. Chamillionaire has a mailing list of over 1.5 million fans. If only one tenth of one percent sign up for Second Life just to se SOundScape that will be 1500 new residents - if one tenth of those come to the event we will be at capacity of course.

In fact, here is something which is not in the press release - attendance at the Chamillionaire Meet and Greet event will be by FREE invitation only. A kiosk will be established at SoundScape (near the teleport location) which will dispense FREE tickets to the event to the first 125 people who ask (provided they can answer a simple Chamillionaire trivia question which anyone can get the answer to just by reading his web site).

Best regards,
Jordan Bigel
InWorld Studios
Comment posted by Gary Hayes
June 18, 2006 @ 1:00 am
If I may jump in again on what for me is a key issue here. That Second Life for many users I believe represents a new paradigm (I know Tony disagrees with this), a new kind of existence. I believe too much of a 'marketing or sales' invasion from the Real World actually breaks this fourth wall. I almost feel there should be a walled garden area in SL where external marketeers and overtly real world streams (live concerts of real bands for example or sport) exist, rather than mingled via classifieds, events and find. I have on many occassions stumbled in to real world events - and would prefer that to be by choice. As an analogy would an UMRG staged event to tens of thousands inside World of Warcraft break the 4th wall? Perhaps it would get far more fan conversions (see below) but would be inappropriate for the story world - I think SL does have a storyworld and I for one temper my references to RL in SL, and would like to see SL generated music, literature and art vs RL marketing.

Back to my original point (postering rather than aimed at selling music) that Jordan said was in error - having worked at the BBC for 8 years as Snr Dev Mng of New Media prior to living in Australia, I know the thinking that goes on behind for example the BBC simulcast inside SL a few weeks ago. I will stand by my original point that a 'large' part of these initiatives (albeit done with a passion by SL evangelists inside the company) are about enhancing brand (bands, company etc) and as the above points from Tony, suggests not about generating a massive amount of sales. SL is still relatively immature for these kind of events and having been to a couple I would much rather watch the event in a window (outside SL) and have conference IM around that - the lag introduced by many avatars on a sim makes the experience less than immersive and as the conversation does tend to drift into 'real world' speak, why not do it in the real world?
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
June 19, 2006 @ 7:55 pm
Jordan + Gary, thanks for your comments.

Jordan, I appreciate your in-depth reply. It helps me understand the thinking behind the UMRG effort. I wish there was a way we could measure how many people might sign up for Second Life to visit SoundStage for the planned events. I guess it caps out at 125, given the invite-only nature of the event as demanded by sim capacity. Even if capacity wasn't an issue, the barriers to entry to Second Life are high. There is a 20MB client to download and install, a clunky UI to master, and a sluggish VR engine to endure. If a newbie can download and install the client, and if it runs properly on their machine, and if the newbie can figure out the UI enough to teleport to your event, and if the newbie can get a free ticket, will that newbie appreciate the experience and/or the music? I don't think that any event that is geared towards (or relies upon) bringing masses of new users into SL is going to succeed.

In your comments, you posit that I would agree the growth of SL is to everyone's benefit, and that adding new regular residents is key. In actuality, I have no interest at all in whether Second Life succeeds or fails. I don't do business in Second Life, I own no land, and I don't build anything I expect to last. In other words, I have nothing to lose. I agree that adding residents is important to the growth of SL, but I'm not sure it's the best way to ensure long-term success. Linden Lab's business model seems to rely on land purchases, so it's really converting residents to paying customers that is more important than simply growing the population. The reason LL is trying to grow its population is to make the space more attractive to businesses -- this is quite similar in my opinion to the web portals and communities of the late 1990s that tried to mass as many users and hits as possible in order to be attractive to investors or buyers.


Gary, I don't entirely disagree that SL is a new paradigm. It's less so to me personally, but I acknowledge that it is for other people. Because I don't believe there's an immersion to be broken, I don't disagree entirely with real-world ads and marketing in SL. Residents already pollute the space with their own billboards, I don't see much difference at this time between that and real-world ads. Perhaps you already covered this, but if SL is a storyworld, what's the story, and whose story is it?
Comment posted by Gary Hayes
June 20, 2006 @ 6:17 am
Yes Tony I have certainly covered this in my blog posts and one particularly about ARGs in SL. I totally accept that SL is many things to many people but I also believe that there is a shared narrative for most. I could ask is there a shared narrative in the real world. The fact that many people have to work, commute, have relationships, sex, drive similar cars, watch similar TV programmes, use a similar currency system, have hopes, dreams, aspirations focused on a better life in the real world and so on. The reason popular media still has hits at the head of the long tail is that it appeals to many who have experiences that are part of the shared, real world story. As I said before this is why ARG's work, because you can create an alternative to this narrative.

So what are the shared stories in SL? There are many, particularly those who have bought land and live in close knit neighborhoods, who do role play often. Talk about their communities as if they are self-contained, isolated realities. For those who drift in and out, move around from event to event, or sim to sim, do not get that sense of community and ownership. Even those who do regular commerce and sell at their stores personally often role play and stay 'in-world' - this gets more people buying. Many who have close relationships inside SL role-play their alternate identities - and I believe this avatorial crush/love/friendship/sex is acted out in very similar ways around the SL environment. There are also many creative communities who operate exclusively inside SL and create in-world art, movies, music etc: and who do not reference RL deliberately. Then there are the larger gorean type groups, mafia, furries and so on that always try to stay in-character. I personally try to remain 'in-world' when I can because this is part of the real attraction and entertainment value of SL - in fact one can reach a point of immersion where it feels very odd to refer to the real world - I have been in WoW and met many who also constantly suspend a sense of disbelief, and who will ask you to refrain from referencing anything out of game, RL.

This then comes back to my original point that in-world advertising that is about in-world brands is fine, advertising that references out of world brands is disruptive to many. I would be interested to find out the numbers that stay in-world as much as possible and those who see SL as a quaint, rich version of IM and chat. I suspect that this is also the split of those who 'have nothing to lose' like yourself, and those who are creating more permanent communities and creating alt indentity.

To reiterate if real world has shared story, so does SL because it is very closely modelling the real world and would be a better experience (and indeed more lucrative for Linden and world participants) the less cross-over there is. IMHO
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