Posted in Club Penguin, kids, marketing, online advertising, virtual worlds, web business, Webkinz

Marketing & Commercialism in Virtual Worlds « Izzy Neis

Or at least this is often the sentiment I find online from awesome people willing to speak their mind about things that bother them. I respect those peeps and I understand their mentality. I do. But I am not on that bandwagon of anti-brand-immersion. Forgive me, but I’m not. Knowing that these environments cost a LOT of money (not just at first, but continuously– they’re living/thriving environments that need constant attention, supervision, and care), I understand the need for ulterior methods that do NOT cast higher fees onto the user.

To me, it’s the responsibility of the individual in CHARGE of the youngling minor to teach them the difference between idolizing brands, and recognizing brands. And really– to me, the important things to look for in virtual worlds are safety & quality of content/environment– is it fun? Do they get to play and explore? Are they free to be themselves in whatever storyline/epic adventure the virtual world/MMO has to offer? Those are the important things.

Marketing & Commercialism in Virtual Worlds « Izzy Neis

Yeah, yeah, I a bit behind in my feeds.  But I read them all, so it takes awhile.

GREAT post by Izzy with great dialog in the comments.  This is such a big topic and I am on Izzy’s side here on pretty much every point, especially in that taking the extremist view on anything gives you a pretty good chance of losing the battle.  Not always, but more often than not.

That is to say, “no ads – ever” is a bit of a pipe dream, especially in no subscription communities.  These virtual worlds are expensive to produce and run, as Izzy said and as I have said about communities in general for years now.   Maybe sponsored clothing/areas/games isn’t the answer.  But rather than flipping out and lambasting the virtual worlds for being creative in how they keep their doors open, why don’t these groups help figure out a way for the world to pay their employees and stay on the ok side of marketing.  There are solutions that will sit well with everyone that just haven’t been figured out yet.  It’s great to point of problem areas, but let’s take the next step and help determine solution sets as well.

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Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, online advertising, trends, tween, virtual worlds, web business, Webkinz

Thinking Outside Virtual Worlds

The big category is Webkinz. The company is already launching different models, but it’s also selling figurines, lip gloss, and more to monetize the interest in the brand. Lots of companies are following suit. [ed: it seems like a new one at least every week]

Barbie Girls and Be-Bratz target an older market. Barbie Girls, though, offers some free content and as taken an early lead in users Collectible cards, like Bella Sara, Chaotic, Maple Story, World of Warcraft, have also spread across the environment. In the other direction, companies like Moo.com (with Habbo), Stardoll, Zazzle, and FigurePrints.com allow users to take elements from the virtual world to the real. Sometimes that’s as simple as printing your avatar on a tshirt, sometimes it’s designing clothes for your avatar that can then be fabricated for you, and sometimes it’s the creation of your avatar itself.

TestTubeAliens.com is an alien in a tube of water, when held up to the screen, it detects screen patterns and changes the mood of the physical alien. UbFunKeys comes from Mattel and operates in the similar fashion as Webkinz, but with plastic instead of plush. Tamagotchi recently updated its online world. Me2 from IrwinToy.com is a motion sensor that records your physical activity and then points to your virtual character at home, potentially promoting activity away from the sedentary lifestyle.

Other products like iBuddy or Ambient Devices’ gadgets interface with your computer or environment to provide you more information, creating more of an augmented reality than a straight up virtual world, but creating possibilities, said Smith, for giving feedback to users away from their avatars.

Other items, like Tshirts from Thinkgeek, Firebox, eLaundry.com, and Tqualizer imprint electronics that are tied to other tshirts or products, giving feedback through interwoven screens.

Virtual Worlds News: Liveblogging Worlds in Motion: MindCandy’s Michael Acton Smith on “Thinking Outside Virtual Worlds”

Interesting post on how to extend the virtual world brand to products.

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Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online advertising, online community, television, virtual worlds

Psst…introducing Chuggington

Just wanted to let you all know about the project I have been working on.  Not much news, other than we launched our production blog at http://chuggington.com.

Chuggington

It’s a cool project.  I am getting to dive into areas of our industry I haven’t had a chance to before which is always exciting.  Subscribe to the Production Blog to stay updated.

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Posted in marketing, online advertising, online community, trends

The Community Spirit lives!

I operate most of my life acting as I would like other people to treat me. This rarely guarantees that people actually WILL treat me as I would like to be treated. But I carry on, not so much to be a martyr, but because I like being a nice person. So, for the most part, I try to feign ignorance to the inequity of nice to not nice actions I see around me on a day to day basis.

In my professional life, I pride myself in that same level of quality. My mom has been in customer service jobs for as long as I can remember and brought me up to value and respect the customer. For years I have been managing online communities and teaching my staff to respect the users above all else. A decade ago, when having a staff to listen to and interact with our users and really putting those users first, was seen primarily a loss center, albeit a nice thought, I fought the good fight for them (and usually in kid communities, no less!). When the dot-com bubble burst and there were just handfuls of us left crafting ROI defenses for adopting, or not trashing, online community strategies, I ate my ramen noodles to the glow of my computer and typed away, confident that my justifications would matter someday.

All that was not some sort of weird confession of my tenacity and awesomeness, but rather to setup the fact that, I have been pleasantly surprised lately with the online communities to which I belong. I have been so happy this year with the notoriety that social networking and online community has been getting. The mass market is finally adopting, in a real way, what myself and so many others have been trying to convince the world of for years.

But this week I received multiple personal examples that these new communities REALLY get it:

  1. I was introduced to ConceptShare at Mesh 2007 in March and loved the idea of it. I talked about it with many clients this summer and finally got a chance to actually use it myself on a project last week. I twittered about this and said how happy I was with the product. That’s it – one tweet. The next day I received an email from Will Pate, ConceptShare’s Community Evangelist (and many other web 2.0-y things), thanking me for the nice words and offering assistance, if I ever needed it, on the product. I was floored by the personal message and wrote back to say so, offering to search our staff for testimonials for him. They made an even bigger evangelist with just one email.
  2. I was procrastinating last week and reading some twitters and saw a request for a to-do manager, based on the GTD theory. I posted about the program I used in the past (iGTD), but was also able to learn that one of my FAVORITE software companies, OmniGroup, had recently put out a new to-do list manager based on GTD as well (OmniFocus). I was able to download it and start using it that day. I have bought many of OmniGroup’s products before, but I would not have been aware that they had released this new gem, unless my community of twitter-ers had informed me.
  3. I received an email from Dopplr today thanking me for being a beta tester. As an early adopter, I have helped beta test countless sites this year. But I think this is the first simple thank you I have gotten for doing so. I may have gotten others, but this one didn’t offer any cool incentives, didn’t feel like a request to virally market for them or anything like that. Just a “Hey, thanks for helping us out”. I liked the service before, but now I feel even more a part of it.

Maybe it’s not that the sea change of the net that I and many others have been patiently waiting for. Maybe it’s simply a coincidence that these great acts of customer service and community all happened in the past week. Maybe it’s just the holiday spirit making everyone giddy with niceness. But I am going to think that it’s a sign of a new age. Where community and good will isn’t something you just share with your family, your workplace or your neighborhood block. But that community can also be felt and spread in nebulous virtual places as well – be it an online community, between a company and a customer or as a respected consumer.

Let’s hope the good cheer continues on in 2008 and beyond. I’ll do my part, you should too.

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Posted in marketing, online advertising, traveling

Events this month

So I was out of the country on various business trips for the past 3 months. Fun, tiring, informative, and cool.

But now it’s time to get back into my Chicago networking circles again. I thought I would share some of the events I want to go to (or at least try to). Please let me know if you want to go with me to any of them. Always nice to not walk into a room of strangers alone. 🙂

11/29 – Mashable Meetup, Fulton Lounge
12/1 – StarShaped Press Open House
12/6 – MediaBistro Holiday Party
12/6 – KEXP’s Equalizer
12/6 – CIMA holiday Party
12/7 – our holiday party 😀
12/8-9 – Bucktown Holiday Arts Fest
12/11 – I-Go Holiday Party
12/18 – Type A Meetup

Wish me luck on getting to any/all of them, as there are also many friends and family holiday parties littered throughout this time as well.

Also, let me know about any other Chicago events. I am always up for meeting more Chicago peeps in or adjacent to my industry.

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Posted in marketing, online advertising, online community, trends, web business

Animation/Cartoon Production Blogs

I know it’s been a while since I posted.  My new job has me busy working now.  Not that strategizing isn’t working, but the next phases are more resource intensive and allow less time for blogging.

That said, I am researching production blogs now, especially aniamtion/cartoon ones.  If you know of any more, let me know.  Also, any production blogs in video games, virtual worlds and toys would be great, too.

Frederator Studios
http://newtoons.frederator.com/
•    Industry Veteran Fred Seibert (Hanna Barbera) started his own company a couple years ago with a main teme of get the word out for free no matter how.  They have tons of tangent video casts, etc and multiple posters.  Their posting frequency is a bit high for me, but a great animators blog.
Yo Gabba Gabbahttp://brobee.blogspot.com/
•    One of my favorite preschool properties that I have been tracking since 2005.  The production blog is a mix of animation, behind the scenes with eccentric staff and fan submissions.  They also use an open blogging tool (Blogger)
Wow Wow Wubbzyhttp://wubby.typepad.com/wubby/
•    Another property that implemented a production blog early in their development and allowed us to track progress until they went on air and then after.  They also use an open tool (Typepad).
The Muppet Newsflashhttp://muppetnewsflash.blogspot.com/
•    Older property that is using new techniques to keep fans up to date on property news.  As their franchise is much older and more established, their updates are more on the caliber of new DVDs and Macy’s Thanksgiving float announcements, but the tone is the same as the others – light, excited and fan-centric.  They also use an open tool for posting.
South Parkhttp://www.southparkstudios.com/rss/
•    An old intern of mine is now one of the PA updaters on this blog.  Not one of my favorites due to tone, content and length of posts, but worth looking at for reference on scope of production blogs in this industry.

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Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, online advertising, online community, trends, virtual worlds, web business

Virtual Worlds Forum Blog » Blog Archive » Top 10 takeaways from the first day of VWFE 2007

10. Virtual worlds set up by toy manufacturers.
Another point from Lord Puttnam’s keynote, casting doubt on whether it’s such a good idea for toy firms to be launching their own virtual worlds – Mattel (with Barbie) and Lego being two examples. The idea of child entertainment funded by toymakers isn’t new (He-Man and Transformers, anyone?), but Lego’s Mark William Hansen had an elegant and considered response, pointing out that a virtual world launched purely to sell products is bad – but that kids will see that most quickly, and desert it.

Virtual Worlds Forum Blog » Blog Archive » Top 10 takeaways from the first day of VWFE 2007

I completely agree with this.  The first question that that needs to be asked when the topic of a virtual world (or any community initiative) comes up is “Why do we need/want it?”  It is the job of the web strategist to find the root of the request and to deal with the answer frankly. 

If the goal of adding community is to increase sales of offline product alone, community is probably not the correct strategy.  Starting a community is difficult work, maintaining one is even harder.  And there are risks involved that have to be dealt with in much more faster and comprehensive ways than just releasing a press release.

If the goal is, rather, to engage your audience in a very personal way with your brand and/or product, then you are starting on the right foot.  Sure, selling products is a fine goal, it’s the easiest way to sustain the community and makes complete sense, especially if the community is involved in some way.  But it shouldn’t be the primary goal – if it is, there are easier ways to achieve it.

Creating a community or virtual world is not a small decision, nor is it a finite decision either.  It’s funny to me how the enormity of a concept diminishes when the words become more common.  “Community” and “World” are BIG concepts – they are (or should be) big strategies for a company to adopt as well.

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