Avatar boutiques and virtual vestibules

Noface on a surf board. Avatar created by Flea Bussey of Grendel\'s Children
‘Noface’ on a surfboard. Avatar created by Flea Bussy of Grendel’s Children.

You don’t have to know how to play an instrument to enjoy music, and you don’t have to be a programmer to enjoy the creations of programmers. I don’t know how to make virtual worlds myself but the idea of them captures my imagination. I have been thinking about a future where virtual world platforms might become a tool that most of us use every day. Wondering what this might look like, and how such ‘tools’ might be applied brought on this post. I add into these speculations, the rather reluctant acknowledgment that money turns ideas from possibilities into reality. That is, market forces shape both the ‘real world’ and the virtual world. Sometimes delightful creations materialize out of this relationship between the people who are good with money, and the people who have imaginative ideas (sometimes, we just end up with bland mediocrity). From this starting point I began to wonder whether it might be more grounded and realistic to wonder whether shops might become virtual worlds in their own right?

Grendel\'s Children store

Arrival area at Grendel’s Children, Dragons, The Birdworx, and more!

These musings stemmed from hearing a thought provoking presentation by Fox Diller, CEO of Magrathean Technologies on May 1st, 2008 as part of the ‘Train for Success’ series. This is a fascinating series addressing different virtual world platforms (talks are held in Second Life every Thursday). Fox Diller explained how open-source OpenSims and Magrathean’s D-Gig stand alone simulator (a free download available to us all) can offer a secure virtual world. That is, totally self contained environments tucked away behind firewalls where people can meet, train and collaborate on projects etc.

During the course of his presentation Fox Diller speculated upon a future where your avatar in Second Life could ‘drop a door down from your inventory, type in your user name and password, and open the door into the sim (of a virtual world) and walk in.’ Your avatar will arrive dressed in the virtual clothing of one world, to walk around in another world, while retaining their original outfit. You may well say to yourself what is so great about wearing the same (albeit uncreased after travel) virtual clothes? Why bother to go to these lengths just so your digital self projection can look good? (Others will wonder why anyone wants to go into virtual worlds in the first place but they probably prefer watching television and won’t be reading this.)

Aztec avatar by Flea Bussey

Aztec Hunter avatar by Flea Bussey

Well, there are people who want their avatars to look good! Some spend hours developing their avatars turning them into personalized moving art works. Many use avatars to ‘say’ something about their values and interests, attempting to project a personalized ‘social presence’ into the vast chasm of neutral, impersonal cyberspace. Take a quick look at flickr and you will see how many individuals post ‘vanity’ photographs of their carefully coiffed and manicured avatars there! They go into Second Life, shop for clothing, hair, shoes, skin (and many create their own) they then perfect their look, and photograph the results. (And then start all over again perfecting their next ‘look’.)

Many blog posts have been devoted to this preoccupation with self identity and avatars, and no doubt many more are to be written. At the same time, researchers are investigating this phenomenon and Linden dollars are being made exploiting it. But don’t lose sight of the fundamental idea being explored here; that objects created in one virtual world can be carried to other worlds. Take a step away from the mysteries of avatars, and the twists and turns of social presence that they represent, and take a quick look at the implied possibilities of transferring objects across virtual worlds.

Airship Avatar

Airship avatar by Max Hatfield (perfect for traveling across many virtual worlds?)

One thought is that a virtual world, such as Second Life, that permits user creation could become the industrial capital of virtual worlds. I can see individuals building virtual castles, galleons, spaceships, furniture, clothing and (inevitably) weapons that could then be sold to the avatars of other gaming and social worlds.

There is one big problem to overcome (at least one!) when it comes to walking tours across virtual worlds. It is likely that these worlds will not want to lose their ‘subjects’, after all they represent income. The big commercial virtual worlds probably won’t want us crossing over their thresholds into other worlds. I suspect they might even start hunting down the Narnia wardrobes hidden in our inventories and super gluing the virtual hard wood doors shut.

Grendel\'s ChildrenGrendel’s Children store staircases

Well, perhaps shops might be a solution for this? A classic commercial solution? Shops would address these issues in a ‘I scratch your back, you scratch my back solution’. For instance, a store like Grendel’s Children in Second Life could become an avatar boutique for many virtual worlds. A virtual hub connector, perhaps even becoming a virtual world in its own right? Avatars would simply walk in from their respective synthetic environments to purchase their outfits. Presumably such a virtual boutique would pay some kind of ‘portal rent’ to each virtual world? Virtual stores would become vestibules to many virtual worlds. “You want to go ‘There?’ Up the stairs, first door on the left.” “World Of Warcraft? Go past the dragon statue and take the stairs to the top floor.”

Grendel\'s Children shopping panel

Avatar display wall, Grendel’s Children in Second Life

Grendel’s Children is an imaginative feast of avatar possibilities, their creations are both fabulous (in the full sense of the word) and decently priced (many are totally free!) As they say in their FAQ notecard:“Why are prices so low?” “Basically because even though a lot of time and effort goes into the things that are made here we’re not charged for the raw materials and the only cost we need to cover is Land Tier. If you like our work, however, all tips are appreciated. Check the item for the creator’s name.”

It would be wonderful to believe that virtual shopping worlds might be run along the creative and collaborative lines of Grendel’s Children. The worry is that virtual salesmen of the future will study customer profiles then alter their sales-avatars to resemble the customer’s avatar, thus inducing a false sense of empathy and trust to ease sales!

Infested Terran by Ryan Snook

‘Infested Terran’ avatar by Ryan Snook (Grendel’s Children). Or, is this a virtual world mobile phone salesman (before he has adapted himself to match your personal profile?)

Update 11 March 2009. Just read a post in Virtual World News titled, RocketOn Rolls Out Virtual Goods Shops Across The Web’.

Check out this quote taken from the article:  
“We view the Web as a virtual landscape that’s now undergoing a real estate boom,” said Steven Hoffman, co-founder and CEO of RocketOn.  “A few years from now, we’ll have tens of thousands of virtual stores and objects placed all across cyberspace, so every location you think of as a major destination will also have a corresponding virtual environment waiting to be explored and experienced.”  (Alicia Ashby. Virtual World News 10 03 09)

6 thoughts on “Avatar boutiques and virtual vestibules

  1. A very interesting thought…

    Until now SecondLife is the only virtual environment I’ve been in . I’ve never thought about it as a game, but nevertheless it was only entertainment to me at first.
    Gradually my view has altered and my interest for virtual worlds in general has grown. But until now the treshold to enter another one was too high: download other software, a new learning curve to start and… creating a new avatar, yes indeed.

    My avatar is me. It has evolved in the past 16 months and it is not only my “puppet” in SL, but my online presence in general. I wouldn’t like to make a new identity for every new world I visit. Appearance is one thing, but how about creating a new name for every environment you enter?

  2. Good question Zippora! I don’t know the answer! Maybe someone else might have some thoughts on this?

  3. Taking one’s name to other networks might prove difficult at best until a larger understanding is put in place. By understanding, I mean a solid framework of a standard that people can agree too. This is why I’m looking at bringing in OpenID into D-GiG and beyond. Single sign-on system are becoming more and more in demand, and this will have to bring into account virtual Worlds. Though, things like avatar clothes could be just as easy, but we’ll have to see how the key players get this standard out.

    .fox

  4. Many thanks for writing Fox! Good luck with the OpenID. I hope your vision of an agreed standard can be realized in the not to distant future. The possibilities are intriguing.

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