Ypulse Guest Post: Virtual Worlds Expo Recap

Today’s Ypulse Guest Post is from kids and tweens virtual worlds expert Izzy Neis. Izzy spoke at our Tween Mashup last year in NYC and continues to share her knowledge and insight about this space on her own blog and as the senior community manager at Six Degrees Games. When I heard she was going to be at the Virtual Worlds Expo in Los Angeles, I asked her to write a recap for Ypulse readers. If you work in youth media or marketing, are going to a youth oriented conference and want to cover it for Ypulse, get in touch.

Virtual Worlds Expo Recap

Disney's Pixie HollowWell, nearly a week has passed since 2008’s Virtual Worlds Expo in sunny Los Angeles.  Two days of Virtual World insanity?  Sweetness.  As a fan girl of youth entertainment and virtual worlds, the Expo (or the “X’po” as I started calling it) was a good chance to visit with some noobs and regulars in the VW biz. 

We’ve heard it over and over for the last few months - there are 150+ virtual worlds in existence or in creation-phase.  Sure, kids are multi-taskers, and will play a handful of virtual worlds.  But how do you ensure that yours is the virtual world that children, tweens, teens, etc., subscribe to? 

I walked away from this conference with one happy realization – people in the industry are starting to get it!  But what is “it”?  Strategy! Thought! Depth! Meaning!  Virtual Worlds are not defined solely by the gaming experience and socialization, but by the entire experience – from the minute a free user pops on the site, to the last second a paying member cancels their subscription (pray that day never comes).

Virtual World toys are getting more sophisticated (and awesome) - with Clickables “sharing & caring” play patterns; iToys’ Me2 plug-in seems to be offering kids a virtual reward for being real-world active; and Bella Sara folks really digging deep into the effective play patterns associated to trading cards & girls.  Ethan Wood, Senior Industrial Manager at Mattel (working on UB Funkeys), said that toy companies need to spend time building a toy first before building a virtual world.  The concept needs to have story to successfully interact with a virtual experience. 

The panel, Purse Strings and Piggy Banks: Generating Revenue from Young Users, continued to talk about how important SAFETY is – not just for the user, but to secure the parents’ support.  For companies catering to young users, there are only a few minutes to convince them.  As PBSKids explained, “The conversation of ‘Yes, we have advertising, but if you buy subscription, you don’t have to see ads’ is long-winded and difficult to make instantly clear.”  Everything (especially safety) needs to be obvious up front, and easy.  As the folks from Magi Nation said, “roughly 90% of the audience won’t pay”, so you have to make your entire process as inviting as possible, “with little frustration to the user.” 

Marketing and licensing still continues to be sensitive in virtual worlds, but gaining strength.  Habbo, WeeWorld, and AIM spoke about sponsorships and how to use them correctly in virtual worlds.  Campaigns need to have beginnings, middles and ends that organically fit within the world or the user’s experience.  If a sponsorship/licensing campaign does not move seamlessly into the environment, it can offend the user and stunt the experience.  Jeremy Monroe from Sulake mentioned that at Habbo “anything more than 4 weeks (for a campaign) is pushing it – both labor & engagement.  You have entry levels for each level of participate: new user, long time user, part time user, evangelist user.  You must make sure you have a game pattern for each to explore and enjoy.” 

The Dizzywood folks continued to knock the socks off everyone as the Scott Arpajian, co-founder of Dizzywood, spoke about using virtual worlds to role model citizenship & community in schools.  Dizzywood, in particular, has continuously done a fantastic job of empowering users to “own” their presence in the world – be it virtual or real.  Bringing that play pattern into the classroom, where kids can ruminate with the aid of a teacher?  Brilliant!

Overall, my favorite take-away of the entire two day event was Disney’s Pixie Hollow and their use of the Clickables toys.  The Clickable toys, which have been introduced in various press releases, offer yet another way to interact with virtual worlds, friends, and play.  Basically, the Clickable jewelry can be worn, shared, or plugged into the Pixie Hallow virtual world.  Girls can bring their REAL LIFE friends into their web buddy lists by connecting the Clickable jewelry (think: Power Twins Activate!).  But wait, it gets better - the best part?  If your mom won’t buy you the toys, but you still want to play, I can share MY toys with you and you can still get points for exclusive items.  It’s great to see people rewarding kids for being gracious, and it’s great to see a toy play more than just a supportive “key to unlock” role with virtual world experiences.

Inch by inch the industry continues to grow.  As I mentioned, I’m happy to see companies exploring the experiences they already have – and finding ways to improve upon that experience.  At the end of the day, it’s the end user who matters most.  How companies engage, treat, and keep the user will be the line that divides successful sites from everything else.


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