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The experience economy expands

The experience economy continues to take on new dimensions. According to James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine who wrote a book on the topic, the experience economy is an advanced service economy, which has begun to sell "mass customization services," similar to the theater, using underlying goods and services as props. The experience is what drives consumer consumption and customer loyalty. If companies do not orchestrate memorable experiences for their customers, they will not have a competitive advantage. In experience terms, the memory itself is now the product.

There is no better example of the notion of experience in the Internet world than with the evolution of virtual worlds. We have evolved from simple, primitive Internet experiences in the early 1980s to Web 1.0 capabilities fueled in the late 1990s by the likes of Yahoo, Amazon, AOL and eBay. Now with Web 2.0 solutions leveraging on-demand platforms and collaborative, social-mediated experiences, we are in a growth wave where virtual world real economies are intersecting real business worlds.

Virtual evolution

The blending, meshing or mashing activities of "metaverse" experiences are growing at a staggering pace, with significant implications to KM practitioners and the broader commercial software markets.

A virtual world is defined as a computer-based, simulated environment where users interact with avatars. That habitation usually is represented in the form of two- or three-dimensional views of humans or the shape of other animated forms for communication. The earliest virtual worlds were not games, but generic virtual reality simulators. The early renditions evolved into MUDs (multiuser dungeon domain) or MUSHes (multiuser shared habitat) because the environments encouraged creating buildings, art and structures. With technology capabilities still evolving at that time, the environments did not include avatars.

Early virtual worlds included WorldsAway, Dreamscape and The Palace—typically two-dimensional, community-driven virtual worlds. Those types of virtual worlds were inspired by the cyberpunk literary movement, and particularly by Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crush, where the language of virtual worlds eeks out into the new rich community and online interaction models.

Real rules, collaboration

The simulations of the virtual worlds are based on real-world rules such as real-time actions, communication, interaction, gravity, locomotion. Virtual worlds are now integrating many of the collaboration methods evolved from applications of knowledge communication practices, such as chat rooms, text messages, integration of VoiP, profiling, communities of interest, etc.

Big numbers

Of the virtual worlds known as MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games), an impressive one is Warcraft, which commands nearly 50 percent of the global marketshare. The market for MMOGs is significant, with subscription sales from online virtual worlds generating over $500 million in revenues in North America in 2006, according to media consultancy Screen Digest.

According to the Tower Group, MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) represent a growing business that will reach 40 million U.S. users and generate over $9 billion in direct U.S. revenues by 2010. MMORPGs now involve more than 120 million active subscribers.

Major draw

According to Gartner, "Eighty percent of active Internet users will have a second life in the virtual world by the end of 2011." However, most of those experiences will be proprietary, subscription-driven games with limited opportunities for third-party content creation. But many (perhaps 40 million worldwide) will be in increasingly open/standardized/buildable virtual worlds that

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