Virtual Worlds: A Feature, Not a Product?

This week, Sony finally announced a major online initiative for the PS3, after having it leaked on Kotaku, which was promptly blackballed -- and then unblackballed -- apparently for reporting good news about Sony. The initiative is Playstation Home, a virtual world application in which PS3 owners can create avatars, interact with one another, and customize their own virtual space with trophies earned from gaming achievements.

As we see the launch of more and more virtual worlds from a broad range of companies, from MTV, which uses them to promote its reality TV programs, to Kaneva, which has a virtual world for its own sake, I'm reminded of the development of the social network as a Web phenomenon. The early years saw social networking offered for its own sake, with products like MySpace and Friendster, followed by niche social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, followed by sites incorporating social networking as part of their product, with Netflix, the 1UP Network, and Xbox Live as prime examples.



An oft-repeated phrase in Web 2.0 thinking is "Social networking is a feature, not a product." Sony's move to include a virtual world as a feature of its flagship product, the PS3, could show that soon, 3D virtual worlds could also be a feature, and not a product. And thanks to the vast range of experiences available in the virtual world that aren't achievable on the Web at large, proliferation of these 3D worlds is a very good thing for brand marketers.

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