The Virtual Tourist: Using the Virtual World to Promote the Real One

By Wyld, David C. | Advances in Competitiveness Research, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

The Virtual Tourist: Using the Virtual World to Promote the Real One


Wyld, David C., Advances in Competitiveness Research


INTRODUCTION

In the age of Web 2.0, Gibson (2007) observed that it is important to remember the "newness" of the Web and living online, stating: "The Internet is a new human activity in, I imagine, the way cities were once a new human activity. And we're still coming up with novel things to do in cities. So the Internet has some ongoing novelty value" (n.p.). Today, as never before, people from around the world are becoming connected in whole new, novel ways, most notably in the virtual reality of virtual worlds, which have been categorized as being "the next great information frontiers" (Bush and Kisiel, 2007, p. 1). They are known rather synonymously as: MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games); MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role playing games); MUVEs (multi-user online virtual environments); or NVEs (networked virtual environments). Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs)--the umbrella term that will be used in this report--can be defined as being: "graphical two-dimensional (2-D) or three-dimensional (3D) videogames played online, allowing individuals, through their self-created digital characters or 'avatars,' to interact not only with the gaming software but with other players" (Steinkuehler and Williams, 2006, n.p.).

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Reeves, Malone, and O'Driscoll (2008) differentiated Second Life from MMOGs in the following manner: "unlike online games, virtual social worlds lack structured, mission-oriented narratives; defined character roles; and explicit goals" (p. 62). In the virtual social world of Second Life, there are no quests, no scripted play and no top down game plan (Sharp and Salomon, 2008). There is no embedded objective or narrative to follow. There are no levels, no targets, and no dragons to slay. It has been hailed as nothing less than the "evolution of the computer game," as rather than having a ready-made character with a fixed purpose, one creates his or her own avatar with an open-ended existence (Hutchinson, 2007, n.p.). Thus, rather than being a Star Wars-like character or an armed, rogue warrior whose mission it is to shoot as many other characters as possible or to collect enough points or tokens to advance to the next level, the Second Life avatar traverses a virtual world--often flying "teleporting" from virtual place to virtual place.

Virtual worlds are fast becoming an environment of choice for millions of individuals--and a very big business. Since its launch in January 2004, the number of residents in Second Life has grown rapidly--to over 13 million in early 2008 (Linden Lab, 2008). Second Life is, in truth, but one slice--albeit a tremendously important one--of the overall virtual worlds' marketplace. In fact, both in terms of population and revenue, Second Life is dwarfed in size by what Sellers (2007) aptly termed "men in tights" games, medieval-styled fantasy games such as--World of Warcraft, Runescape, Lineage, Ragnarok, and Everquest. In fact, in January 2008, World of Warcraft--the largest MMOG--surpassed the astonishing mark of having 10 million active subscribers--at least a quarter of which are based in the U.S. and Canada (Smith, 2008) and almost half of whom are based in China (Au, 2008a). MMOGs are the fastest growing category of online gaming, with the total number of MMOG players has been estimated to be in excess of 150 million worldwide (Varkey, 2008). Indeed, Jeff Jonas, who is the Chief Scientist for IBM Entity Analytic Solutions, recently observed that: "As the virtual worlds create more and more immersive experiences and as global accessibility to computers increases, I can envision a scenario in which hundreds of millions of people become engaged almost overnight" (quoted in O'Harrow, 2008, n.p.).

While Second Life is not the largest or the first virtual world, it has gained general acceptance as a platform that has drawn the most attention (Rollyson, 2007). In late 2007, Gartner predicted that by the end of 2011, fully 80 percent of all active Internet users "will have a 'second life,' but not necessarily in Second Life" in the developing sphere of virtual worlds (n. …

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