Monday, February 19, 2007

Virtual Innovation

I attended - for the first and last time - a Monster Truck Jam with my son over the weekend. While it's pretty cool to see these monster trucks drive over several junked cars once or twice, by the 18th time it frankly had gotten a little repetitive. But the topic that really struck me was the fact that several of the monster trucks were born from toys.

One of the drivers was asked about his monster truck. Turns out his monster truck is sponsored by a firm that makes radio controlled toy cars and trucks. The model was so popular that they created a real "monster" truck based on the toy. Now, this is an interesting development. We're beginning to create real products from toys or even imaginary products.

Which led me to think - how long before someone creates a product or service in a virtual world - Second Life or some other gaming environment - that becomes a real product in the real world?

It seems to me that beyond all of the violent games and other virtual reality many people spend their time in, there will evolve a separate existence for some people - much like Second Life, or some other virtual realm where people can take on their own personas. What's also clear is that someone has to define the rules for that virtual environment - does gravity exist, can your avatar die in a virtual space? I was influenced in this thinking by reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. But what's really interesting is to assume that someone will create a product or service in a virtual world that will make its way to the real world. Given that many people spend time in a virtual existence now, and more will do so as computing and software advance, any new product or service online can be defined and sampled by a large number of people. This means product testing and prototyping should be easier in a virtual space than in real space.

Also, people spending time in a virtual space have much less patience for products or services that don't work or don't add value. The attention span is short and the cost to spend time working with something that doesn't perform well is too high. In fact, product testing in a virtual world makes some sense, given the parameters and the types of people who exist in the virtual space.

Now that some products start life as toys, what's to keep new products and services from starting out in the virtual world?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:57 AM

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