There’s A Sparkle (IM) In My Virtual Eye

March 31, 2009

Source: Genkii

Source: Genkii

Related coverage: TechCrunch – “Sparkle: The iPhone Gets Its First Virtual World (And It’s Completely 3D)”

There’s a sparkle in my eye – it’s from a Tokyo-based company named Genkii and the product is, of course, Sparkle.  Genkii announced two products – Sparkle IM and Sparkle 3D.

Sparkle IM is an app available in the iPhone App Store (for $4.99) and supported on both the iPhone and iPod Touch.  In essence, Sparkle IM is a lightweight gateway to Second Life and OpenSim.  So you get to send and receive IM’s with your Second Life or OpenSim avatar, but without the download of the thick client.  Instead, you do it all from your iPhone.  You can find a short YouTube video on the Sparkle web page:

Why is this exciting to me?

  1. This is the first step in the placeshifting of virtual worlds experiences – analogous to what podcasts and portable MP3 players did for music consumption.  Now, you no longer need to be tethered to a laptop or PC to experience a virtual world – you go in-world from wherever your iPhone takes you (assuming adequate cell coverage).
  2. This could foreshadow virtual event support on PDA’s (see my prior blog posting on the notion of virtual events in a wireless world).  I’ve participated in many virtual events where exhibitors told me they were on the go – but, able to check in from their BlackBerry.  And today, what’s the most critical “application” in a virtual event?  Most would say it’s the chat application.  So apply the Sparkle IM “gateway” principal to virtual events – and presto! – virtual event chat on BlackBerry’s and iPhones.  Exhibitors would love it.

On to Sparkle 3D.  The TechCrunch post provides full details (with images).  Essentially, Genkii has developed their own 3D virtual world – for use on the iPhone and iPod Touch.  The support on the iPhone is interesting enough – but what might be the game changer here is Genkii’s vision of integration – they’re considering an integration with Sony’s Playstation Home virtual world and there’s speculation concerning integration with browser-based clients, the Nintento Wii and non-Apple phones, such as those running the Android OS.

Sparkle 3D can be quite powerful and pervasive if they’re able to integrate their platform this broadly.  No other virtual world is supported across this spectrum of devices and platforms (e.g. gaming systems, PDA’s, browsers), which could make Sparkle 3D the de-facto, cross-platform standard.  What other platform has been able to gain a footprint across an equally broad ecosystem?   Adobe’s Flash.

Home for the Holidays in Sony’s Virtual World

December 29, 2008

Sony’s virtual world for PlayStation 3 gamers (called “Home”) is currently in beta status.  While I’m not “Home for the holidays” (I don’t own a PS3), I’ve been reading about the early returns with the service.  Ryan Kim of the San Francisco Chronicle had a Sunday article titled “Sony struggles with creation of its virtual world“.  While there have been numerous challenges during the beta period, one analyst encourages patience:

Ted Pollak, a market analyst at Jon Peddie Research and portfolio manager for the Electronic Entertainment Fund, said users need to be patient with Home, which is bound to have numerous kinks in the beginning. He said it took other virtual worlds and online games like Second Life and World of Warcraft a while to get a handle on problems and address them.

I suspect that Sony’s foray into virtual worlds is based on the following objectives:

  1. Increase sales of PS3 consoles (e.g. if Home proves to be successful and popular, users may buy PS3 consoles to interact with friends – connect with them socially and participate in multi-user games)
  2. Differentiation from the competition – make the PS3 stand out from the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii
  3. Spur commerce – generate revenue (eventually) via transactions and advertising within Home

To me, a key factor in the success of Home will be the manner in which Sony integrates it into the gaming experience.  It needs to be designed and presented in a way to encourage gamers to participate and be valuable enough that they want to return.  I wonder if gamers will have the motivation (or interest) to put their favorite game aside to enter a virtual world.

On the other hand, if Sony were to unveil exclusive features (only available in Home) that could change things.  Maybe it’s new release games that are initially exclusive witin Home.  Or, it’s virtual goods or real-world prizes to encourage users to enter.  Suffice it to say, it will be interesting to watch user adoption and growth.

Finally, here’s a nice overview/review on Home by Dean Takahasi of Venture Beat

Utilize Surveys in Virtual Events

December 19, 2008

Online marketers often speak of hard ROI (explicit return) and soft ROI.  In this economic climate, soft ROI is being cut and marketers are focusing (with rare exception) on hard ROI.  But what if you could generate hard ROI and soft ROI simultaneously?  Would your CMO or CFO like that?  I’d bet that the CMO would, at minimum.

So consider the use of surveys within your virtual events.  Let’s say you generated 200 visitors to your booth.  And let’s say 70% of those visitors completed an online survey that was available right there in your booth (equalling 140 survey completes).  You might think I’m crazy to suggest that 70% of visitors would actually fill out a survey.  But what if you provided a prize?  And, you qualified visitors into the prize drawing via completion of the survey?  I’ve seen it with my own two eyes – one particular event had 70% of booths visitors completing the exhibitors’ in-booth survey (i.e. for those who chose to utilize a survey).

140 survey completes results in a statistically significant sample size.  And you’re likely not going to generate such a high response rate if you message to these visitors post-event.  Here are my Top 3 reasons for doing a survey in a virtual event:

  1. Plan your marketing content – let your target audience tell you what they’re interested in, what media formats they like to consume, what content they want (from you)  as they evaluate your products and services.  Leverage this valuable information to plan your White Papers, webinars and follow-on virtual events.
  2. Generate insights for your Product Manager – partner with your company’s product managers and ask them what info they’d like from customers and prospective customers.  You’d be a hero to Product Management and the success will certainly bubble up to the CMO or VP of Products.  And, by the way, this may help your company design better products.
  3. Intelligent lead follow-up –  survey questions are very similar to the qualifying questions that online marketers use on lead gen registration forms.   Don’t be afraid to review individual survey responses to better plan your lead follow-up with selected leads.

Now, what’s the cost of doing the survey?  Well, the prize will set you back a few hundred dollars (e.g. for a GPS, Nintendo Wii, iPod, etc.).  When evaluated against the soft ROI you can  generate,  I think the investment is worth it.  As Richard Dawson may ask, “Survey says?” – YES.

How to Exhibit at B-to-B Virtual Tradeshows

December 14, 2008

Planning to be an exhibitor at a B-to-B Virtual Tradeshow (VTS)?  Here’s how to become a VTS All-Star:

  1. The right people – to attain All-Star status, first find your own team of all-stars from within your company.  You’ll want a good mix of product folks (product managers and/or product marketers), sales folks (direct sales reps or Inside sales reps) and technical folks (engineers or sales engineers).  Prepare your team for the event by bringing them up to speed on VTS (if this is their first time) and give each member clear goals of what you’d like them to do and accomplish.  For instance, the sales folks proactively connect with attendees; the product marketers participate in the public forums; the sales engineers are “on call” to the product marketer in case a really tough technical question is asked.
  2. The right content – place content in your virtual booth that is directly applicable to the theme of the event.  Take the time to carefully select your White Papers, Case Studies, podcasts, videos, etc.  Don’t simply repeat what you used at an unrelated event.  Attendees will be on the look-out for useful content, so if you’re selections are on the mark, you’ll generate more views and downloads.  Think of it as a form of search engine optimization – where the “spider” is the visitor to your booth.
  3. The right actions – train your booth reps to proactively connect with your booth visitors.  Thank them for their visit, send them a virtual business card, invite them to review your booth’s content.  Ask them about specific challenges they face and have your product marketers suggest solutions.  You’ll come out ahead if you help the attendees, rather than doing a hard sell on your products and services.  Attendees at B-to-B virtual events are not shy about seeking you out, which means they’ll come asking for pricing and product information.  When they do, make sure you have answers – or, be able to find an answer within an hour.  There’s no greater shame than getting hot leads at a VTS and then making them wait for the info they’ve asked for.
  4. The right prizes – that’s right, everyone loves the giveaway, even if it’s as small as a $25 gas card or coffee card.  A “big prize” (e.g. Nintendo Wii or HDTV) always attracts attention, but I like doing a large number of smaller prizes – reason being, attendees like the immediate gratification of winning a small prize, instead of receiving a chance to win the big prize.  So whether  it’s 100 USB drives or 50 Starbucks gift cards, you’ll get the attendees’ attention.  The most effective prize I’ve seen – copies of a book (by an expert) whose name was known by all attendees.

So there you go.  Do the “right” thing to secure your spot on the VTS All-Star Team.  Good luck and have fun.

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