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Business Professionals' Perspectives on the Disillusionment of Virtual Worlds

Bateman, P., J. Pike, N. Berente & S. Hansen 2012. Time for a Post-Mortem?: Business Professionals' Perspectives on the Disillusionment of Virtual Worlds. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research 5 (available on-line:, accessed 17 January 2013).
Virtual worlds (VWs) are powerful three-dimensional technologies where users can assume identities and interact with others. While designed as open-platforms for creativity, expression, and experimentation by recreational users, VWs were once lauded for their potential applications to business. Today, much of the business community has either moved on from the hype of VWs or struggles to understand whether value can be obtained by using VWs. This paper attempts to provide an understanding of these outcomes through the analysis of assessments written by 59 business professionals, who each spent an extended period of time in a popular VW during the peak of the hype. From these assessments, four broad perspectives on the value of VWs to organizations (or lack thereof) were identified, along with challenges facing use of VWs if they are to become more widely used within business.


• A useful paper – good analysis of hype, why hype did not materialise in the VWs with regards to business opportunities/being a space for business activities

- Notes a prediction in 2007 that "80 percent of active Internet users would have a VW presence by the end of 2011 (Gartner Research, 2007)." (p2)

--> This might have been the key point - if there were loads of people in VWs, there would be business potential (see p11 also). Since there wasn't such an influx, there wasn't - hence the real question might be: 'Why weren't more people in VW?'

--> Surely, e.g. in gaming, there are many opportunities for advertising, but in a relatively limited market?

• Data derived from an exercise done by postgraduate students in business course who were asked to go into Second Life and develop opinions as to the usefulness for business. Only those with prior business experience were used

• Overall (p7) – 36.8% saw it as having some value, 41.4% no value, 14.3% contingent value, 7.5% future value

- Most value seen as advertising platform, enhance customer experience, training, meetings

- Main problems seen as need to learn the platform, inability to control the environment, technology no fast enough, wrong kind of users

--> This actually suggests the need for a limited form of virtual world, tailored for business users only. On the lines of LinkedIn or something.

• The argument revolves around affordances, and how the technologies are relevant in one context but not in another [i.e. relational] – thus SL is good for people who want freedom, gaming environment, but this is not useful for businesses

--> The environment of freedom etc. actually is not what businesses want… In fact, businesses thrive on limited social openness - i.e. they need to lock people into certain discourses, perceptions, etc which will lead them to directed purchase decisions [- this must relate to the markets approach somehow – Callon etc…. i.e. markets are about developing assemblages with particular dynamics…]

• Good point about hype (p11) – that for much research

- "the primary focus is on how business might use VWs, not if. This approach creates an unspoken assumption underlying prior work – creation of affordances naturally leads to business utilization. However, capabilities of a technology do not determine use (Wasko, et al., 2011). In fact, additional capabilities and functions afforded by virtual worlds have been found to be harder to utilize, even for experienced users, thus reducing willingness and expectations of use for business activities (Luse, Triplett, & Mennecke, forthcoming)." (p11; original emphasis).

--> Good point I think - i.e. hype-discourse assumes the potentials will be used, and thus develops a number of positive scenarios. By focusing on a couple of examples, e.g. IBM, this is taken as proof that they will be used, hence the positive assumption is taken as justified and then developed

Please note - these are rough notes only, based on a first reading. They may be useful to someone interested in an alternative perspective on this paper.
However, these notes do not necessarily represent a final opinion, and are subject to revision in the future.