updated 04:40 pm EDT, Tue April 24, 2007
VR Worlds Rule by 2011
Most computer users will have some kind of presence in a computer-based virtual world in four years, analysts at Gartner said at the company's 2007 Symposium ITxpo. The research group claims that 80 percent of the online community, including businesses, will actively participate in realms such as Linden Labs' Second Life by 2011. This could change the way businesses work by forcing them to deal with the social aspects if they hope to do business, according to research.
"The collaborative and community-related aspects of these environments will dominate in the future," said Gartner VP Steve Prentice.
The company noted that virtual worlds were gradually leaving the domain of massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft and was steering towards more open worlds like Second Life, where users could create their own objects, social groups, and even businesses.
This could be a genuine opportunity for companies that want to reach out but would have its unique set of pitfalls, Gartner said. Virtual offices and shops aren't usually bound by real-world laws or even physics and could be hit by virtually anything, ranging from graffiti to protests that could appear without warning. Even strange behavior from a newcomer could be a problem, according to analysts.
In spite of the dangers, however, Gartner recommended that businesses at least test the waters with computer-based worlds, observing that it could help even if just to help some firms relate to users. "Don't ignore this trend. [These worlds] will have a significant impact," Prentice wrote.