Virtual Commerce

Virtual Commerce

Suzanne Altobello Nasco (Southern Illinois University Carbondale, USA), Robert E. Boostrom (University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, USA) and Kesha K. Coker (Eastern Illinois University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-611-7.ch116


Virtual reality, in a variety of implementations, is becoming more popular every day. Internet technology originally designed for education, information, and gaming is now three-dimensional, multifunctional, and morphing into loci for international economic activity. The virtual world population is quite immense. In Second Life alone, as of 2007, there was an estimated 3.1 million registered residents (Linden, 2007). There is also much user activity in Second Life with 1.4 million residents logged in within the last 60 days from March 25, 2009 (Second Life, 2009). In fact, the virtual world population is expected to reach 50 - 60 million by 2011 (Au, 2007). Of even greater interest is the revenue generated from virtual world activity. The worldwide virtual world economy is valued at approximately $1.8 billion (Dibbell, 2007).
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The Internet as we know it today is vastly different from the Internet of ten years ago. The improvements in technology related to the applications and software, the computational power of the hardware, and the speeds at which users access the Internet have all changed in very noticeable ways. These factors have led to the development of online environments that greatly widen the scope of potential Internet uses. One promising direction for the Internet is the evolution from simple two-dimensional (2D) web pages to three-dimensional (3D) virtual spaces.

Virtual reality, as the term is used here, is a computer-mediated environment and represents a space that does not necessarily exist in the physical world. Schroeder (2008) states a similar definition for virtual reality, saying that this environment should allow or compel the user to interact with it. In virtual reality websites or games, it is possible for users to interact using avatars. Avatars are the representations of users in virtual worlds, often graphically displayed as 3D characters and are central to the way that users interact with people and objects in virtual spaces. A subset of virtual reality is virtual worlds. Virtual worlds are persistent virtual reality spaces (Schroeder, 2008). In other words, these virtual reality spaces exist and can change. One user can make an alteration (such as buying land and building a store) and that alteration will persist unless it is acted upon by that, or another, user. Much like physical reality, the world doesn't “go away” just because a person isn't there to experience it. Reflecting both the technical and social elements of virtual worlds, Bell (2008) defines a virtual world as “a synchronous, persistent network of people, represented as avatars, facilitated by networked computers” (p. 2).

The virtual world Second Life is one of the largest user-created, 3D virtual world communities. In Second Life, users are called “residents.” Many residents of Second Life use the virtual world to interact socially with other residents, run businesses, or learn how to do things in the real world. Beyond Second Life, other virtual worlds have also developed user bases large enough to inspire marketing efforts. For instance, Coca-Cola has developed a section of the virtual world called MyCoke. This site features large promotional displays, Coke-branded virtual clothing, and activities for visitors. Based on marketing efforts from Coke and other companies, it seems clear that corporations are very interested and relatively optimistic about the idea of using virtual reality for business communications.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mobile Commerce (m-commerce): Trade that occurs via the use of a web-enabled mobile phone.

Dual V-Commerce: When an individual makes a related purchase for herself in physical reality to one that is made for her avatar in virtual reality.

Virtual Currency: Currency for use in virtual worlds that is accumulated through activity in the virtual world, through purchase using some form of currency exchange, or as a reward for consumer activity in the physical world. It can sometimes be exchanged for physical world currency through exchanges or other trade mechanisms.

Virtual World: An interactive, simulated, persistent, computer-generated environment accessed by multiple users through an online interface. A subset of virtual reality.

Virtual Commerce (v-commerce): Buying and/or selling products/services in a virtual world.

Avatar: A digital representation of the user (either two- or three-dimensional) within the context of the computer-generated environment.

Virtual Reality: An interactive, simulated, computer-generated environment.

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