October 22, 2009, 3:40 PM — When will they ever learn? Time and time again over the last few years we've seen corporate marketing efforts built around elaborate sims in Second Life, and later abandoned as the campaigns end or new efforts take priority. Ending a marketing campaign is not bad in itself -- no one (with the possible exception of McDonald's) wants their marketing campaign to last forever. But in Second Life, the problem is the sims live on, and sometimes attract the hapless wanderer ... or potential customer. The ghost towns are not only creepy, they can be frustrating, especially to those interested in learning more about the company or its products, or seeking to engage in some way.
Case in point: Cisco's Virtual Palomar West, a sim that was part of a 2008 campaign promoting "The Hospital of the Future." Besides being able to tour the facility (which mirrors a real-world hospital scheduled to be completed in California in 2011) there are a bunch of technology attractions, as depicted in the video below. Cisco used the sim to showcase its "Medical-Grade Network" and networked automation systems.
But that was last year. Visit Virtual Palomar West now, and you're greeted by a very attractive sim that's totally deserted and mostly broken. The front door is open, and visitors are issued an ID bracelet to their inventory, but elevators and access to "patient rooms" are disabled. It's also easy to get trapped in spaces off of the main lobby (we had to teleport out twice).
Cisco is not the only offender. We recently visited the long-abandoned and utterly useless Reuters sim, and teleporting to Microsoft's .NET Developers and TechNet Simulator dropped us in the ocean off of the barren "Silverlight Island" -- which of course was deserted, except for a few half-finished projects.
Clearly, derelict sims are a liability. Things don't always work, no one is around to help explain or guide visitors, and the marketing message or purported function gets lost in the frustration. Following the completion of a campaign, buildings or sims should have their interior spaces closed off and/or explanatory signage or teleport points should be left for visitors to explain what they are looking at or where they should go for more information. Or, companies can do what Intel has done with at least one of its old Second Life developer sims -- erase it from the virtual world.
Sources and research: software.intel.com, Palomar Pomerado Health Foundation website, Virtual Worlds News, YouTube, Second Life.