Exploring Intentions to Use Virtual Worlds for Business

Article excerpt


Virtual worlds are becoming increasingly sophisticated, showing potential as a platform for a variety of collaborative activities in business. This exploratory study examines user's intentions to use the virtual world Second Life (SL), and the factors associated with the intentions. Based on Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), flow theory, and extended models of TAM, a research model is proposed with seven constructs. The model is tested through a survey administered to business school students who have participated in a business-oriented exercise using Second Life. Results show that perceived usefulness and perceived enjoyment have significant impacts on behavioral intentions to use SL for business activities, while perceived ease of use is not a significant direct antecedent to behavioral intentions. Additionally, computer playfulness and computer self-efficacy are shown as important predictors to perceived ease of use. Implications and limitations are discussed.

Keywords: virtual world, Second Life, Technology Acceptance Model, perceived enjoyment

1. Introduction

The social networking capabilities of Web 2.0 have enabled an Internet platform that is much more collaborative than it was just a few years ago. In addition to traditional uses such as information dissemination, advertising, and sales transactions, the Web is rapidly becoming an accepted place to conduct meetings, teach or take a class, interact virtually with others, or just socialize online.

Three-dimensional (3-D) social networking environments, or Internet-based virtual worlds, have been emerging rapidly since about 2003. The virtual world environment is an immersive, virtual reality space where people interact with one another via avatars, which are graphical, 2- or 3-D representations of a user. Among the most well known Internet-based virtual world today is Linden Labs? Second Life (www.secondlife.com), a 3-D virtual world where users can socialize, collaborate, and conduct business using voice and text chat through personal avatars. Virtual worlds are attracting attention in industry as well as academia for their potential to enhance online collaboration and commerce.

Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company presented its forecast for the future value of virtual worlds at its 2007 conference, stating that by the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users and Fortune 500 enterprises will be participating in some form of virtual world [Gartner 2007]. They project that the community-related and collaborative aspects of virtual worlds will be of most value to corporate Internet users, while transaction-based, commercial activities will be of less importance. While they proposed that the collaborative and community aspects of virtual worlds will be significant, they also cautioned companies to invest cautiously, as the technology is young, and will continue to develop and mature.

Many companies, most notably IBM, are already investing strategically in the three-dimensional (3-D) Internet technologies that enable virtual worlds [Lohr 2008; Ringo 2007; Sarvary 2008]. In a recent study conducted by IBM, the potential impact of 3-D gaming technologies on the IT industry was examined [Paris 2007]. Results suggested that companies should seriously consider the impact that games and virtual environments will have on business applications, products, and services. They further implied that virtual world environments may have transformative potential to improve business processes, collaboration, and customer experiences. IBM?s research results are backed by first-hand experience within its own organization. For several years, IBM has been exploring and measuring the value online collaboration techniques (including online discussion boards with sophisticated text mining tools) to improve collaborative innovation among its geographically dispersed employees. Their most recent trials using Second Life revealed that the social nature of this visual and immersive environment led to more positive collaboration outcomes [Ringo 2007]. …