In recent weeks, we have had several organizations approach us about developing new avatar customization content for OpenSim projects. A common mistake is being made by these organizations when developing a budget for OpenSim projects: they neglect to include a line item in the budget for actual avatar customization content.
This is understandable for organizations where their initial exposure was to virtual worlds such as Second Life, where the cost of entry is relatively low. Second Life is rich with avatar customization content, which can often be obtained free of charge. The quality of this content ranges the gamut, with premium content available for purchase. Organizations can easily use this content without concern of legal repercussion, because individual users can obtain this content and customize their avatar without the organization having any input into the acquisition process.
In other virtual worlds, content is professionally developed and is included as part of the download or the licensing fee. This is premium content, and it is not free. Upgrades to appearance are readily available, for a price, and the avatar ‘owns’ their content only within the confines of the particular virtual world application.
OpenSim presents a complex situation. The actual install comes with a limited OpenSim content library. Users are largely expected to provide their own content.
Because most of these organizations with OpenSim projects have a champion who got their start in Second Life, where content is widely and readily available, they do not think about the need for specific avatar customization content for their actual users. It is often not until their pilot is actually running with users in the system that they are confronted with their users demanding to know how they can customize their avatar. At that point, the organization begins trying to find or create their avatar customization content to provide to their users. This leads to interesting situations as B2C organizations wrestle with developing their own OpenSim content solutions from scratch.
Most of these organizations are not content developers. These organizations are put into a difficult situation where they have to develop avatar customization content on the fly. They may proceed on this challenging path without proper legal licensing for their development tools. There may be a lack of understanding within their organization of the importance of this kind of content, and hence minimal support for the front line individuals who must respond to customer complaints. In many cases, this content is developed without the actual talent or skills needed to produce popular and commercially viable avatar content that the user will embrace and which can help fuel mass adoption of the application.
In traditional enterprise, branding is big business. Avatar appearance is an important but often overlooked form of branding, as can be seen by the millions of dollars exchanged in Second Life by avatars focused on customizing their appearance in support of their personal ‘brand’. In trying to meet their consumers’ immediate demand for avatar customization products, these organizations are losing out on a valuable opportunity to strategically further their organization’s brand identity, which limits their growth potential. In the $1.7 trillion dollar apparel industry, our entire industry is focused on developing the look and feel of products because we know appearance is critically important. Our industry survives and thrives by offering our consumers ways to enhance their appearance. Our consumers want to enhance their appearance in order to distinguish themselves and they will spend to achieve this goal.
Developers of B2C applications need to understand that the successful adoption of their OpenSim application may well lie on their ability to meet some of these same consumer needs for users to customize their appearance.
The avatar customization content that is included in a virtual world application should be recognized for its value proposition, which extends well beyond the emotional well-being of the avatar’s owner. Developers that sell or license avatar content must use best practices in professionally developing and managing their content, in order to prevent legal exposure of their customer. This means the content that is created for that application must be tracked from the moment of inception, and content creators must guarantee that the content they have created is actually their original work. Licensing agreements must be in place between the consuming organization and the content creator so that everyone is legally protected – the creator is protected and has legal recourse in the event their content is used unlawfully; the consuming organization is protected because they are using properly licensed and developed content.
Adoption of a B2C application has a greater chance of success when premium avatar customization content is provided to the actual user. Immersion is aided when the user can customize their avatar to the degree they wish. Avatar customization content should be a line item in any OpenSim project budget, and it should be included as a marketing expense. The value proposition of adding this line item to the budget for an OpenSim project is clear: cleanly branding the project with the organizations’ desired identity, ensuring greater immersion of the actual user, and contributing strongly to the successful adoption of the actual application.