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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Overcoming the Objection: 3D Virtual Worlds Look Too Much Like a Game

Abbott Bundy looking for a chess partner.

One of the great things about writing Learning in 3D is that we got to work with some great people doing some really innovative and exciting things in 3D and discuss how they got started working in 3D and, as important, we asked them how they overcame common objections from management and others in terms of implementing 3D virtual immersive environments into their organization.

Here is some advice from Karen Keeter a marketing executive at IBM Research. Karen is working to define the emerging market IBM calls the "3-D Internet." Here is her advice when someone says that 3D worlds look too much like a game. (Bold highlights are my emphasis.)

Objection : It looks like a game.

For many business users, their experience with virtual worlds has been as consumers- they, or their children, have used game platforms, either on line or on machines in their homes. Many of these games have capabilities similar to what we saw in the early days of virtual worlds for business- as business users attempted to use existing consumer environments to do real business- people represented as animated characters (avatars), often wearing funny clothes, shapes or weirdly colored hair. My mother used to tell me about first impressions being very important- and she was right! Virtual environments for business should take advantage of the expansiveness and creativity inherent in a virtual world development environment, but at the same time, we must keep in mind that the person responsible for the purchase decision needs to believe that real work can get done in these virtual environments.

So what does this mean? Well, if you are building applications for real businesses, you need to dress for business and build for business. Our approach has been to start building applications in the virtual environment that are familiar to business users. It is hard enough to learn how to interact with a virtual world, without making the interface look like a prop from Star Trek! We use familiar objects such as sticky notes (everyone knows how to write on a sticky note and put it on a wall), flip charts and presentations screens. These familiar objects take away the initial trepidation and allow new users to become acclimated more rapidly. But- you say- we can do so much more! And you would be right. Start with familiar objects and then show them how much more can be done because these objects are virtual, not physical. For example, in a virtual world, notes on a virtual flip chart don’t need to be transcribed, since they can be exported electronically.

Many of the virtual environments being demonstrated have the same basic functions. An avatar can be created, dressed and can come in-world. Once there, they can text chat and voice chat with each other. They can show each other presentations—where the process for getting presentations in world varies from dirt simple “drag and drop” to multi-step processes. In some environments, they can perform application viewing/desktop viewing- where participants can watch from in-world as another participant modifies a file. Some applications show true application sharing, where control can be passed from one in world user to another for file editing. These are all interesting demonstrations, but for the virtual world “un-initiated”—the majority of potential clients – none of these are compelling reasons to invest in going “in-world”. Why? Because all of these functions can be performed using a variety of less complex web-based tools broadly available in the market.

These types of demonstrations add to the belief that virtual worlds are a “just a game”, because they do not clearly demonstrate the additional value add that a virtual environment can bring to business users. If we are going to get beyond this objection, we need to start demonstrating truly collaborative activities in world- activities that cannot be done with web meeting, teleconferencing, webcast or video conferencing tools.

This content is adapted from Chapter 9 of Learning in 3D.


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1 comment:

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen said...

We have also heard this objection more than once, and have also adviced many a client (especially back in the day when Second Life hype was rampant) against going for 3D without a clear idea of what it adds.

We have found that for many especially corporate clients the visualisation that 3D adds is hard to justify. However, I think it makes very good sense for the companies where realism and movement in physical space is important. A big area being security (tunnel safety, fire fighting, escape drills etc.) - whether it be on an oil rig, big city, nuclear reactor or other.

However, it's not impossible to use for corporate training but it do take some creativity. One example we worked with once was to use the 3D space to visualize more subtle difference in relation to a question. So instead of saying I agree 1-5. People would locate themselves in the physical space on a 'grid' in relation to who they agree/disagree with and how much - it was kind of cool, and sparked different ways of talking about a topic.