I’ve played around with Second Life a bit, made an avatar, toured some of the islands, but ultimately it didn’t really knock me out. The problem wasn’t a technical issue, but rather something more fundamental.
The issue for me was a lack of narrative. There just wasn’t a compelling enough reason for me to stay in this universe. It was deeply immersive, but it lacked a connective thread that made me want to move forward. What were all of us doing there? Was there a greater purpose, some common goal that we were trying to achieve? I don’t necessarily mean I needed to be rewarded with a piece of cheese when I completed the maze, but was the point just to walk around, build houses, dress eccentricly and try to sell stuff and make money in their economy? Why do that in Second Life when doing it in real life is challenging, and interesting, enough. I’m sure fans of Second Life will say I just “don’t get it” and maybe I don’t. But I think there is a reason I’m much more interested in other fictional universes: They aren’t just deeply immersive, they contain a narrative as well.
The examples range accross all entertainment mediums: Books (Dune, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter), Movies (Star Wars, Alien, Indiana Jones), Video Games (Grand Theft Auto, Halo), Television (Lost, Twin Peaks) and ARG (The Beast). All these franchises have started in one medium and crossed over in to just about every other. I can’t imagine a Second Life tv show or book series. The same goes for Reality Shows. The Biggest Loser – The Movie, anyone?
The desire for narrative can’t be underestimated, it’s practically baked into our genes. Creating such a story is going to take more time, effort and money, there’s no doubt. It’s probably going to take more to maintain it as well. But the results can easily support the effort. The more entry points you give consumers, the deeper the connection and the more opportunities for new fans to buy in. I’m not just talking about t-shirts and toothbrushes either, it’s more than just crass merchandising. Look at the level of fan devotion that Star Wars has:
Now, the costs are going down considerably as the fans are doing the work for them. That’s right, those weren’t Lucas Films actors, those were fans who spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours producing costumes that were movie-quality. When you produce a quality story, fans will come and they will respect your creation enough to build upon it in the right way. This sort of thing is a long term play. It can result in an immediate success, but more importantly it builds a platform for long-term fan engagement.
So keep adding layers of depth and complexity. Create a character, then add his back story. Incorporate supporting characters for your brand and allow your consumers to add more color. Define and expand your universe. Spend a little time every day adding something new that consumers can discuss, digest and tweak. That’s a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe.