Media X at Stanford University hosted a workshop titled “Cashing In on Virtual Worlds: Entrepreneurial Insights for the Healthcare Industry.” The workshop was organized by Parvati Dev and Laura Kusumoto, who combine leading edge research, expertise and hands-on experience with virtual worlds and virtual worlds platforms.
In her introductory remarks, Ms. Kusumoto provided a perspective on the current state of virtual worlds. While the consumer-focused virtual worlds have seen notable platform closures (e.g. Google Lively, Metaplace, There.com, etc.), there has been positive activity on the enterprise side of virtual worlds, including virtual events and virtual trade shows.
Virtual Worlds: On An Upswing?
Kusumoto referenced a recent Gartner Hype Cycle Report that positioned “public virtual worlds” in a phase of “Trough of Disillusionment.” The good news is that the subsequent phases are called “Slope of Enlightenment” and “Plateau of Productivity.” Web 2.0, Tablet PCs and Wikis are positioned in this “Slope of Enlightenment” phase in Gartner’s cycle.
In the afternoon, we heard 5-minute pitches from entrepreneurs who were looking to launch virtual worlds businesses related to health care. These entrepreneurs showed me how virtual worlds (and notably, the surviving virtual worlds platforms) can embark on an upward path towards enlightenment. Here’s my view on how virtual worlds are evolving:
Circling back to the Gartner Hype Cycle, I look back at the following progression:
- Technology Trigger: Artists and Hobbyists discover this technology for self-expression
- Peak of Inflated Expectations: Fortune 500 brands enter the mix, expecting a transformation of marketing and advertising
- Trough of Disillusionment: An assortment of virtual worlds platforms fold
- Slope of Enlightenment: Entrepreneurs develop innovative businesses that ride on top of virtual worlds platforms
The entrepreneurs who presented are leading the way towards enlightenment and the virtual worlds platforms (e.g. Second Life, Unity, OLIVE, etc.) stand to benefit. The new business model is the purchasing of virtual land (or, the licensing of virtual world platform technology) that entrepreneurs leverage to drive monetization and revenue.
In a sense, this is similar to the smartphone app store – the entrepreneur creates intellectual property that rides on top of a “platform”. The entrepreneur then leverages that platform to drive revenue to a direct sales channel (customers).
I’d like to highlight some of the presenting entrepreneurs (and their businesses).
Club One Island
Lose weight in a virtual world, on Club One Island. Celeste DeVaneaux gave a fascinating overview of how participation in a virtual world program can facilitate habit change. It’s one thing to urge people to eat slower – it’s another thing to show them how. And, to have their own avatars practice the habit of doing so. Club One Island runs on top of the Second Life platform.
Related: How I lost 20 pounds in Second Life (featuring Club One Island – by Hypergrid Business)
CliniSpace is a collaborative virtual medical environment created by Innovation in Learning, Inc. (the company led by Parvati Dev, one of the event’s organizers). The goal of CliniSpace is to provide virtual world-based training to physicians, nursing students, etc. A virtual patient can start out completely healthy, but then be programmed to worsen, such that s/he requires CPR within 15 minutes. The service runs on top of the Unity platform.
InWorld Solutions “incorporates a wide range of avatars, content and features specifically designed to facilitate clinical and educational applications.” InWorld can facilitate treatment for substance abuse by having patients in a virtual world, with their doctors observing from the same physical space – or, from within the virtual world. Patients can experience peer pressure (virtually) and be advised and coached on how to respond. InWorld runs on top of Forterra’s OLIVE platform.
These were just a few of the innovative business concepts brewing in one particular industry (health care) around virtual worlds. As more entrepreneurs launch virtual worlds businesses, the platform vendors (e.g. Linden Lab / Second Life, Unity, Forterra / OLIVE) stand to benefit. And importantly in this vertical, another entity stands to benefit: the human condition.