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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

8 Scary and Uncomfortable Reasons for the Growth of Virtual Worlds

Stop, proceed with caution.

While I think there are many legitimate reasons why an organization should partake in virtual immersive environments (VIEs) for learning and collaboration, there are also some "less-than-comfortable" reasons organizations are leaning in this direction. Many times these reasons aren't discussed but they are just as valid in the minds of many.

People are becoming more and more paranoid about contagious disease and these diseases are getting more and more pressing making people more nervous about "catching something." Therefore, getting large groups together is becoming difficult. Fear of catching H1N1 is a strong motivator to stay in the local office and away from lots of people. I have talked to several people who are less likely to travel via air because of the flu. They are looking for safer alternatives to meeting face-to-face and virtual worlds is an option. As more "pandemics" emerge the resistance to travel will increase. This will become especially acute if a more fatal version of the H1N1 flu starts to spread.

Cost Cutting
With the recent economic meltdown, even organizations that aren't in dire straights have put the breaks on travel. Organizations are scrutinizing expenses and travel is always a glaring cost that seems, on the surface, a no-brainer to cut. But, you can't cut travel with no alternative and so virtual worlds are held out as a solution (or a carrot to reduce spending) since people are beginning to rebel against virtual classroom environments claiming they are boring and uninspiring.

Technology as the Solution
In some cases, the learning and development professionals of the organization don't want to take a hard look at the effectiveness of their programs. They have created poor training with poor results and they aren't willing to admit the mistake or take the time to really dig under the covers to find the problem. Other times business are seeking a virtual world solution to solve a business problem and not addressing underlying fundamental problems. They decide to make the salesforce more productive by conducting training in a 3D virtual world instead of re-examining an outdated incentive model for example. So the motivator in these types of cases is to throw technology at the problem and hope it fixes the won't.

Trying to be Cool
Hey, what person doesn't want to have the coolest, most innovative new training and collaboration product on the market? Consumers buy stuff they don't need all the time because it is the latest and greatest. The same thing happens in organizations. In spite of all the layers and hoops people have to jump through to justify purchases, if someone with a big enough budget thinks virtual immersive environments are cool and neat enough, they'll find a justification and make the purchase. Again, I've spoke to a few learning professions who just want the latest and greatest without regard to the underlying learning potential. They are seduced by the technology.

One event that curbed travel and helped spur a wider adoption of virtual classroom technology was the vicious attacks at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Another such attack, which many experts think is a matter of "when" not "if" will again curve travel and several attacks in a row will have a devastating and compounding impact on travel and the gathering of groups. The alternative is to have a way of meeting and working together in a virtual space that is as realistic as possible...enter virtual immersive environments.

Time Constraints
People are busier than ever and don't want to take the time to travel or to be interrupted. If they can sit in a virtual environment for 30 minutes and collaborate effectively without leaving their desk, they'll buy into the technology to save some time.

People want to look as good as possible. They want to project their ideal image. Video conferencing rarely portrays a positive image of the person broadcasting the message. We are used to seeing "stars" with professional hair stylists, make up and wardrobe folks who make everyone look good (even on reality shows the people look mostly amazing). Video conference technology doesn't make people look good, there are glares, bad hair days and less-than-flattering outfits. But building your own six foot tall, dark and handsome avatar does make you look good!  Even if you are 5 ft tall with no hair and a huge nose. So virtual immersive environments that allow a person to create an ideal image of themselves is an alternative that many people like.

Virtual Classrooms are Really Boring
We've all multi-tasked while attending a WebEx, Centra Session or an Adobe Connect presentation. Come on, a disembodied voice with endless PowerPoint slides...any alternative has to be better...right. Enter virtual immersive environments.

Did I miss any other scary and uncomfortable motivators forcing people to adopt virtual immersive environments? Are these on target? Am I right?

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Jas Purewal said...

I think an additional factor is the lack of legal systems/law enforcement in virtual worlds. You can do pretty much what you want in the majority of virtual worlds, with only the risk of a banhammer if you go too far - NOT civil suit/criminal prosecution.

Of course, that may be changing. Second Life has a nascent quasi-legal system (as do other virtual worlds) and even MMOs are feeling the spread of the rule of law - e.g. with Runescape most recently (


Karl Kapp said...


Thanks, great insight. I hadn't really thought about the rule of law coming to virtual worlds but you are right, these lawless environments (literally) are starting to see attempts at order.

Mark Lee said...

Like e-mail, or IM, working through an avatar can prompt people who would be quiet in person into participation. Also, give there is often no lecture per se, people feel more free to contribute. Maybe not scary, but there it is.

Marina Miranda said...

Those are great scary and uncomfortable motivators forcing people to adopt virtual immersive environments. Some of them I did not think about it, but now that I read, I can see this happening. All those motivators are true and really happen. I also agree with what Mark Lee says on his answer, because people can be much less shy in a virtual environment.

Posted by Marina Miranda