Friday, March 09, 2007

Home is where you hang your ads

Sony grabbed a couple headlines a few days ago when they announced "Home", their PS3 virtual portal/world for console owners. I like Wire's coverage best.

Most interesting to me, of course, is the advertising potential of Home. From the Wired article:

But nothing is truly free, Home included. For one, the version of Home that Harrison showed was positively slathered with advertisements -- giant billboards that constantly looped video of new PlayStation games, a movie theater that showed trailers of upcoming Sony Pictures films. Even the television sets in the rooms were virtual Sony Bravias.
From Kotaku's coverage:
It's also possible for companies or publishers to create their own spaces. For instance Electronic Arts could create a space that shows off their current and upcoming games in a virtual world that looks more like a mall than a store.
What's interesting is that a lot of people have compared this to Second Life. Perhaps it's because of the free roaming avatar in virtual world (when did SL own this idea?). This is much more simple though and probably therefore, a lot more valuable to general consumers. The most relevant similarity, however, is the inevitable rush of marketers into this world.

What is sheer brilliance to me about Home is that Sony has finally found a way to mass-market-monetize the time gamers spend gaming. "Huh?" Let me explain. In-game ads are good and all but so far they haven't taken off and targeting gamers in game has caused a backlash. Home is a good compromise for the latter issue and for the former, has incredible reach potential. A marketer doesn't have to buy space in a particular game when they can now reach all gamers in one place.

Unlike obscure Second Life marketing initiatives that are only experienced by 20,000 people (who by the way, probably never leave their homes to buy these products anyways), Home will probably reach millions. Dare I say it but maybe all that practice in virtual marketing on SL is going to pay off... Just kidding. Marketing in Home will probably be packaged quite differently. First, it'll be packaged. Sony will no doubt have standard offerings of a billboard here or a virtual item there. There may be an advertiser or two that would create a true destination and experience but that'll be heavily guided by Sony. By nature, there will be limits to the amount and type of content pushed to PS3 users.

I do wonder, however, how much control Sony will maintain in this space. Will they allow consumer generated content? If so, will they allow rogue advertisers to hijack public spaces (Everyone in the lobby is wearing Wii t-shirts!)? I doubt it.

And with that doubt, comes my main concern. People like controlling their online spaces. Sure, you can let them furnish their virtual homes and dress their avatars but what you provide will never be good enough for our current culture. MySpace didn't limit people to their template. Neither did YouTube say you could only do vlogs. If Home is limited to Sony-blessed usage, then it will always be just a glorified menu system. Go down the path of incredible complexity and you lose the mainstream (Second Life). But there is probably a sweet spot somewhere in between. I hope they can find it because I'm excited about the potential.

If you haven't heard of Home or seen the demo, view below:

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