Selling games in the miserable virtual mall

ReadWrite: "Virtual Shopping Malls Making a Comeback?" (2006)

ReadWrite: “Virtual Shopping Malls Making a Comeback?” (2006)

The image above represents the most obvious model for selling all types of real-world products in a virtual environment. Sad, isn’t it? We’ve taken the worst features of the real world and combined them with the worst features of virtual reality. If we’re selling video games in this manner, then we’ve failed to realize the potential of virtual reality.

So how about ReadWrite’s old question above, “are virtual shopping malls making a comeback?” I can only hope not. At least, not in this form.

VirtuaView "Virtual Aracde"

VirtuaView “Virtual Aracde”

So is this how we are going to be selling games in virtual reality? The virtual arcade? This is the second most obvious conceptual model. Perhaps you go to an arcade, look around the arcade machines, see one you might like, and use its interface to explore the game. If you like what you see, you purchase the title. This is only slightly more clever than the virtual shopping mall experience — it fits into a gaming theme. Functionally, it could work, but it really isn’t a, “Wow. This is a virtual reality experience!”

VirtuaView (the source of the image above), actually serves as an inspiration for what a video game hub might be. You just have to take away the literal arcade games and re-examine the whole project in a different context.

VirtuaView was a virtual lounge, theater, conferencing, and educational environment for the Oculus Rift. If you visit the VirtuaView indiegogo page (which ended almost a year ago), don’t look at it as a movie theater with extras. Think about it in the context of an environment used to immerse a potential customer in the world of a single game title. (No, really! Click on that link and check it out.)

Source: VirtuaView at indiegogo, "Virtual Gallery"

VirtuaView at indiegogo, “Virtual Gallery”

So… what, a museum? Okay, not bad. A trade show? Now we’re talking. Let’s say that we’re selling a Mass Effect title. We want a virtual gallery (like the one above) with official game artwork. We want a theater which can demo gameplay in 2D or, even better, 3D. We want imposing statues of Krogans and Commander Shepard in the hallways. Perhaps we want real people that we can talk to? Perhaps a live or pre-recorded Q&A session with a panel of guests? And did I forget a mechanism to actually make the purchase?

I would expect Valve and Sony to be capable of doing these things and more. From Valve, I would hope to see a way for indie game publishers to be able to make substantial presentations. I would also hope that Valve could leverage their community in a thoughtful way (fan artwork and peer-to-peer engagement, as two potential examples). From Sony, I would expect to see some fantastic integration. Perhaps dynamic assets taken from in-game. Something like in-game characters roaming the halls and offering tours would be great.

We want to immerse the user in the world of Mass Effect as a way of pulling them into a purchase. I believe the hard sell (like the virtual shopping example) isn’t the way to do it. Go for the soft sell, get them interested, and let the user engage your purchasing mechanism. That leverages virtual reality.

How else could we leverage virtual reality? After a purchase, an additional room could open up in the game hub. It would be an exclusive hangout for people who purchased the game. A themed VIP room? Perhaps that idea was a bit expected, but it is worth a mention. How about using a non-Euclidean space to set the right atmosphere for a VIP room? (Friday’s post will explore the topic of contiguous space.)

Although I haven’t as yet touched on the user’s home environment and what that might be like, you can imagine how it might integrate with a game purchase. For example, upon purchasing the game, the user is given a set of objects which they can use to personalize (decorate) their virtual home. If we add in the concept of achievements, it might be further possible for a user to decorate their virtual home with hard-earned trophies brought home from their experience in other virtual worlds.

Source: videogame-art, "Krogan Statue - Mass Effect 3"

videogame-art, “Krogan Statue – Mass Effect 3”

Not only is that good integration, it also serves a different purpose. “Hey, what’s this cool statue over here?” Having an object in a user’s public home (which friends come to visit) is a chance to either reinforce a purchase, or to have the user evangelize another into making a new purchase. Now, we’re leveraging the Metaverse to sell video games.

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