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  Wells Fargo Buys ‘Second Life’ Island  
Posted 2005-09-14 by Tony Walsh
As hinted at earlier this year, Wells Fargo has launched their own private "Stagecoach Island" in the virtual world of Second Life. With the help of Swivel Media, a so-called "experential" marketing agency, Wells Fargo's Stagecoach Island aims to teach young adults how to handle their finances, presumably by using Wells Fargo's financial services.

Well Fargo's move into virtual space doesn't necessarily indicate that big business is taking game-like environments seriously--rather it shows that Linden Lab has successfully positioned its Second Life world as a viable marketing platform. With Second Life membership now free, however, it remains to be seen what the incentive of visiting a bank-sponsored virtual island might be. It certainly won't be cybersex.

And then there's the likelihood of griefers. Do Linden Lab's regular Terms of Service apply, or are there additional rules to protect the Wells Fargo brand? Can Terms of Service violations in Stagecoach Island result in a universal Second Life ban? Who will police Stagecoach Island? Linden Lab, or a private security agency?

Update: Here's the official Wells Fargo PR:

Wells Fargo Introduces Stagecoach Island – Industry’s First Virtual Reality Online Game to Help Young Adults with Financial Literacy
Leading Financial Services Company Pilots Innovative Digital Program in San Diego and Austin, Texas

San Francisco — September 14, 2005

Wells Fargo today introduced Stagecoach IslandSM, a free, multi-player, online role-playing game developed to teach young adults important lessons in financial literacy. Wells Fargo is the first financial institution to use an online game of this kind for both financial education and entertainment purposes. Young adults in San Diego and Austin, Texas are the first to experience the Stagecoach Island game in a pilot program that kicked off Labor Day weekend this year and will end in mid-November.

The Stagecoach Island game allows players to select a virtual character and participate in an “island adventure.” Participants can choose to explore the virtual island - lush parks, hip cafes, dance clubs, trendy shops, amusement parks, hair salons and more. They can also interact in dozens of virtual, social situations – like skydiving, riding jets-skis, or playing games like paintball with other participants. Many activities on the island are “free,” but participants gain access to other experiences, such as dancing in a club or purchasing new clothes, by spending, saving and earning virtual money. Players can earn money by visiting the Virtual Learning Lounge and answering trivia questions about banking basics such as budgeting, saving and managing money. The Learning Lounge content is derived from Wells Fargo’s signature financial literacy program, Hands on Banking®.

Today, over half of U.S. high school students graduate without knowing the basics of banking, checking and savings accounts, budgeting, credit, and investing according to a study by Jump$tart Coalition. In addition, 70 percent of U.S. college students play video games, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“The young adult years are a critical time for financial education because many of these young people are leaving home and becoming financially independent for the first time,” says Wells Fargo’s chief marketing officer, Sylvia Reynolds. “Stagecoach Island is a contemporary platform where we can educate young people about one of the most important topics to their future success — their finances — in a highly interactive, comfortable and fun environment.”

“The popularity of online role-playing games is staggering — there are millions of people participating in role-playing games worldwide and the typical college student spends nearly as much time playing video games (10,000 hours by graduation) as they do in class,” said Dr. Rodney Riegle of Illinois State University, developer and teacher of the world’s first online Role-Playing Course. “I think that young people who’ve grown up on computers and video games will embrace the Stagecoach Island experience, which is similar to a video game but actually provides a better opportunity to learn, explore and socialize in an immersive and interactive environment.”

Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy all its customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially and the Stagecoach Island game is an extension of the company’s continuing efforts to offer critically needed financial education to young people. The online game is part of a broad, multi-faceted financial education program for young adults called We Take the Fun of Money SeriouslySM. Wells Fargo is hosting a series of live We Take the Fun of Money Seriously events throughout Austin and San Diego during September and October where young adults can participate in various activities — from karaoke and trivia games to athletic challenges and photo booths — and win prizes while learning about banking basics. Event participants will receive the web address and a unique login code for the Stagecoach Island software and will have the opportunity to play the online game at home for 30 days.

Wells Fargo developed the We Take the Fun of Money Seriously program and the Stagecoach Island game with experiential marketing agency Swivel Media based in San Francisco. “Education and entertainment are just beginning to merge. We’re excited to be involved with Wells Fargo’s Stagecoach Island, a project that really addresses young peoples’ need to learn in an engaging and realistic setting,” said Swivel Media’s founder and creative director, Erik Hauser. “We’re using the most sophisticated virtual gaming platform from Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, to provide a highly engaging experience. We want today’s youth to learn how to manage their finances and how to handle credit — and we want them to have fun doing it.”
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