Hotel chain taps Second Life to test new brand

Avatars looking for a stylish place to mingle and get a cocktail will soon be able to check out a trendy new hotel--months before their fleshy counterparts.

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Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which oversees such well-known hotel brands as Sheraton, St. Regis, and Westin, will launch its newest chain, Aloft, in the online society Second Life in September.

In the brick-and-mortar realm, the plan is for the first Aloft inn to open sometime in 2008, catering to active, urban 30- to 50-year-olds. But the real-world lodge will be preceded by a 3D cyberversion designed to prompt feedback from virtual guests and help guide the earthbound endeavor.

"We think the SL world is a specific community of early adopters, of tech-savvy people who like to voice their opinions," said Brian McGuinness, vice president of the Aloft Hotels brand.

Aloft will be the first hotel for Second Life, which has already incorporated businesses from Wells Fargo to Major League Baseball. Marc Schiller, CEO and founder of ElectricArtists 2.0, a marketing services company, approached Starwood two months ago with the idea of a virtual debut for Aloft. Starwood then purchased an island in "Second Life," and construction began on the hotel a month ago.

"We're hoping we can learn a lot about where [Second Lifers] congregate and how they use space in a communal way," Schiller said. "That could be valuable as Starwood develops the hotel."

The development is a collaboration involving brainstorming sessions, weekly conference calls and the e-mailing of images back and forth between Starwood, ElectricArtists, and The Electric Sheep Company, the 3D-design company ElectricArtists chose to build the cyberversion of the Aloft.

Interested parties, real and avatar, can get an early glimpse of the cyberinn at the virtualaloft blog. Electric Sheep is maintaining the blog to track progress and provide a glimpse into the digital construction process of scripting and graphics.

"We thought it would be fun, frankly, just exposing what this is," said Giff Constable, vice president of business development at Electric Sheep. "There's a lot of curiosity (about) SL and what it is and how it's different from a game and different from the Internet and what it all means."

Second Life is an open-ended virtual world in which players can create or do just about anything they can imagine. Opened to the public in 2003, it features a mainland composed of an array of square, 16-acre plots. The so-called metaverse is free to play in, but users must pay monthly fees if they want to own land. Its publisher, Linden Lab, makes money from land-usage fees, as well as player purchases of the "Second Life" currency, the Lindendollar, which is used to purchase property and other goods. The virtual marketplace supports millions of US dollars in monthly transactions.

Because Second Life is open-ended, its users have built any number of fantastic creations, from Wild West neighborhoods to surreal landscapes that float in the sky. Anyone strolling through the metaverse is as likely to encounter avatars made up to look like flying dragons or pink teddy bears as they are to meet more normal-looking characters.

One of the most intriguing elements of Second Life is its bustling economy. Linden Lab is one of the few companies that grants its users full intellectual property rights to their creations, and that's engendered a robust marketplace in any number of virtual goods, including land, clothing, vehicles, magic wands, and more.

For Linden Lab, the Aloft news came as a bit of a surprise. But Philip Rosedale, Linden's CEO, said that's precisely the point of handing over the Second Life content-creation reins to its users.

"Because of the promise that SL holds for people as just generally a place for human exploration for design and commerce and expression, there are a lot more people who can contribute to it at the level of engineering and design than could ever work for us," Rosedale said. "It's less common these days that I know about them until I read the press releases, and that's good."

Of course, Second Life is not the only virtual world with a strong economy. Others, like EverQuest, Ultima Online, and World of Warcraft have hundreds of thousands, or millions, of players buying and selling clothing, weapons, vehicles and the like, and it's been estimated that the total market for virtual goods is as high as $880 million a year.

One question that's come up is whether these items are taxable. Certainly, players are legally required to report profits on the sale of such goods, though few do. But a more interesting question--one that has yet to be officially answered--is whether taxes can be levied on unsold goods traded between players, which clearly have real monetary value. And all that activity--social, financial and otherwise--has outsiders eager to get in on the action.

Real-world companies such as Starwood, Coca-Cola, and Wells Fargo are just some of the businesses that have set up shop in Second Life. American Apparel has gotten into the act, becoming the first retail chain to go virtual, with an online outlet opening last June.

In the last week, Text 100, a public relations agency that ranked ninth last year among the top 50 tech consultancies in PR Week Magazine, joined the growing array of Second Life businesses.

And in July, Major League Baseball stepped up to the Second Life plate, with an event on the virtual Baseball Island tied to its All-Star game. Second Lifers had the opportunity to catch this year's home-run derby as it was simulated in the lush, green grass of the fantasy stadium. Live television coverage of the real-life event was presented on digital Jumbotrons around the perimeter of the field. Virtual fans ate hot dogs and cheered on the bobble-headed avatars representing each of the eight contestants.

The growing interest in turn has resulted in a blossoming business for third-party design firms like The Electric Sheep and a competitor, Millions of Us. Such designers can earn hefty real-world fees for their commissions. Among other things, they deal with the scripting tools required to create complex "Second Life" artifacts, which are notoriously difficult to use.

Still, the principals say they don't want to bite off more than they can chew.

"Some people have talked about bringing in a fast-food company," Electric Sheep's Constable said. "But that doesn't make much sense." Any food that appears in the virtual world is purely ornamental, he said, because avatars don't need to eat. On the other hand, he said, a hotel in a land of sleepless avatars makes perfect sense.

"This isn't about taking something from reality and turning it all into a virtual world," he said. "It's about taking key elements and about getting feedback." Virtual vacancy

As September draws nearer, the collaborative talks have begun focusing on Aloft-hosted activities. The developers envision turning Aloft into a hub of social activity with concerts, parties, and events where active digital folk can freely congregate, flirt and then later retreat into hotel rooms with friends.

This is part of their plan to turn a digital hotel into a profitable venture and to get the early feedback that will make their earthly hotel profitable, too.

So far, what's been completed in the Starwood project is the outer shell of the modern, angular, five-story hotel, which is located on Aloft Island's tropical beachfront property. It was built based on a single exterior rendering provided by Starwood.

"We're trying to make the hotel as close as possible to the actual hotel, but the environment will be different," Constable said.

Surrounding the hotel is a walkway, a marina, and a bridge that connects to the mainland, making it more accessible to the roughly 390,000 residents of "Second Life." Constable said the lobbies of other Starwood hotels begin the day for weary travelers by offering them a place to grab a coffee and croissant. At night, they're transformed into cozy little bars with mood lighting and music, inviting people to stop in and stay. This same format will be integrated into the new Aloft.

"That's the power of the platform," he said. "It's one thing to go to a Web site and look at some pictures of a design, but its another thing to be able to walk into a space, immerse yourself in the space, and then to walk into it with a friend and have a debate and talk about what works and what doesn't work."

Discussion

20 comments
eggfou
eggfou

I play Second Life, and I make about $100 a month playing it. I make clothes and sell them, even got my own shop. Its true the graphics might not be as good as newer games, but thats because it is user created. I have seen people make amazing looking stuff and some that looks like crap. Let's also be honest, you don't NEED a super high framerate for SL. Keep in mind, SL isn't really a game. Linden Labs call it a platform, and there are games in it players have made. If you are expecting another EQ or WoW, this isn't it. Now, I don't understand why they need a hotel in the game. Your avatar doesn't have to actually sleep anywhere. The club scene is already dominated by just a few major sites. They will have to make a really compelling area to attract people.

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

i dont really get what the hotels have to do with anything

nikefreak
nikefreak

A. It is only "expensive" if you wanted to buy a full ISLAND in the game -.-... Otherwise, you only pay 9.95 a month if you want to be able to buy and own virtual land, and the price you pay for said land, is entirely dependent (same as IRL) on the location, size, (beachfront, snowy area, etc) and other factors (such as the person selling said land)... Otherwise, if you dont want to own land, its totally free, unless YOU want to put money into it to convert to Lindens (the official money of SL) to buy clothes, weapons, games, etc etc etc. B. Building your own stuff is 100% FREE. You only have to pay 5 LINDENS to upload sounds or textures (each)... That is NOT expensive.. Its like less than 1 cent rofl... Unless thats expensive to you, I dont think so. Its the people who want to go and BUY what OTHERS made, that think its more expensive. But consider this... Say I spent hours and hours and hours (sometimes weeks depending on how complex the item is) to build a new.. Say weapon in this case... I would then sell it for xxx money (just say 1000 lindens)... That is STILL VERY cheap compared to what items cost in other "games", and again, that amount is dependent on what the creator of it wanted to charge. You dont HAVE to buy things from others, you can build them yourself.... But if you dont have the time or skills to build things yourself, you can always support the many developers out there building things that are quite unique and imaginative. And yes, to clear something else up (I havent seen it mentioned really), there are weapons, guns, bombs, etc etc in SL. And there are special areas you can goto (Rausch or Weapons Test) where you can actually use said weapons without getting in trouble (If you were to go and bomb a popular club for example, prepare to be at least temporarily banned lol... Its an act of terrorism just like in IRL)... In certain places such as Rausch, you can yes, die. However, you dont loose "xp" or items, mainly because there is no xp in SL... Its not a game like that. There is no "advancing to the next level"... You could advance your knowledge of scripting, and make even cooler stuff to use or sell... But thats up to you, the user... Design what you want, be what you want, do what you want. That is the basis and goal for SL.

blackleech
blackleech

I thought the game was pretty expensive (if you are going to buy land and build your own stuff... yeah)

nikefreak
nikefreak

Ok... Lots of you are "I heard" or "I thought"... Lets get this straight... I am a regular user of SL, and have been for quite some time. Think of SL less as a MMORPG or a GAME, and more of a SERVICE to provide such. There are the beginnings of RPGs in SL, There are games in SL, there are other services and things to do in SL. But just like a cellphone or a computer that can play games, that doesnt make SL itself a game. This is where most people get "bored" or dont see the point. Thats because they are looking at it, and expecting a gaming type experience. That is not what you will get... SL is, once again, a SERVICE that allows you to do or create just about anything you want. Yes, that includes porn. Yes, that includes virtual hotels or storefronts... But it also includes anything YOU can think of and design. Next, on the performance compared to the "other games"... You cant do that. SL is a completely dynamic environment, complete with user generated objects, textures, scripts, avatars, music, video, etc. If WoW or any of the other online games were to do such a thing, they would bog down like no tomorrow... SL actually does quite a good job at streaming all that data on the fly... Think of SL more like an advanced virtual world, in which you can hang out, play, make money (and yes, you can cash out your earnings back into real dollars, OFFICIALLY through SL, unlike the other "games" out there. You dont just put money INTO SL, you can take money back out. My IRL friend for example, regularly pulls 50-100 US every few weeks from it... And thats just from the small things he does... Some people such as Ansche Chung have had a grip on he real-estate market for some time, and brings home IRL earnings of 3 figure amounts regularly... So... You can not only spend in this game real money, but also earn it many different ways. Also, as far as the "bugs" go. Again, You have to keep in mind the robustness of it allowing the users to do and create practically anything. Alot of the "bugs" encountered are simply errors on the scriptors behalf. Other errors are fixed in the VERY regular performance/bug fixes, and feature additions.... And yes, SL does require a somewhat powerful computer... Again... Because you have to remember, it is streaming, decompressing, and rendering on the fly vast amounts of data about the people and environment around you. Unlike other "games" that have preset content, and most of its textures and such are stored on the users hard-drive to be loaded when you visit different places, this cant be done with SL as it is constantly changing... I could go and change the texture of my house for example at any time... Make it brick instaed of vinyl siding lol... You really do have to keep an open mind as to what you define "fun" as, and what you expect from the said platform. If you think fun is creating a unique avatar, that can look like (and do) practically anything... Or creating a home in which you can chill, decorate, invite friends over to chat at or have a pool party... Play games such as Slingo or Tringo or the many other games in SL that you can win REAL money at (remember, all that money you get in SL can be cashed out if you were to choose to do so, and quite easily I should add)... Or, if you have simply wanted to create a simple game, you could do so within this virtual world. I dont know how many of you remember Active Worlds (probably not many of the people who regularly visit gamespot), but think of SL as the ultra suped up grand-son to that aging and antiquated virtual world. Also, no it is not a spam site, nor do they market your information to spammers, etc. Again, I have been around MORE than long enough to know this for sure, and have spent hundreds of REAL dollars in this environment. And to those of you who think spending money for a virtual item is silly or crazy, I implore you. Is it so crazy to pay to download a VIRTUAL song? Is it so crazy to pay to download a VIRTUAL video? Is it so crazy to pay to download a game ONLINE (no disc)... No.. Its just a matter of peoples attitudes and opinions are finally starting to reflect, it doesnt matter if you are buying a real or virtual item with your money. What matters is, are you ENJOYING that virtual item the same as you would have enjoyed a real item. And for me, that answer is yes. I hope you will all give SL another (a first) chance... It really is quite the platform for imagination and fun... I hope to see you all there! :) Orion Waves in SL ;p

shizwill03
shizwill03

O.O;; I have heard of the site and visited it, but I never knew it was like THIS. Wow. Just.....wow.

wenbin09
wenbin09

this looks really interesting doesn't it?

Angel_Belial
Angel_Belial

Regarding the hotel in the game, it's certainly an original idea. Second Life is actually a pretty interesting game - it can't be compared to most MMOs like WoW because you can create your own content (and buy others' user-created content).

sigma8
sigma8

From what I understand, the "early adopters" of Second Life are basically all looking for porn. Of course, I guess early adopters looking for porn are also how the VCR got so popular, so I guess this is normal. Personally, I would rather play WoW or Guild Wars. Far better graphics, better performance, and an actual game to play...and also they don't try to sell me $250,000 islands in-game.

Davideogamer
Davideogamer

Weird game. It was hard to play because the frame-rate and all the bugs that were present, though the premise "building your own world and your own personal avatar" were pretty cool. It does, however, attract a certain audience not many (make an exception for me) are comfortable around. Anyone who's played in the regular (not "Teen" Second Life) server should know. This article makes me want to give it another try, at least until I get back on World of Warcraft. And because I have a slightly better computer now so that might help out with the bugs. I'm not getting hopes high though.

Talldude80
Talldude80

sounds kinda lame to me. but the Sims looks pretty lame to me and its a HUGE money maker....

yoscar
yoscar

Is Second Life any good? Is it like a MMO? I tought it was some kind of a spyware-filled website (www.secondlife.com). Some dude once added me to his MSN and tthen he just started telling me how SL was so amazing, and that you could do anything you wanted. I blacked and deleted him. -_-

Skippyj9
Skippyj9

This is pretty weird... But anyways on Second Life, that game is way too buggy and is very difficult to get into if you don't know any scripting languages. And if you aren't programming or art literate, expect to be paying upwards of 50 bucks on average each month.

jkr2krz
jkr2krz

As a secondlifer of over a year .. the real requirements are patience (hella bugs) wits and a tolerance for people.. Reason? unlike real life little law is around and some people can be total jerks if they know more about the "games" workings then you. Personally I knew one dude who was being bugged by a long time SL'er and while the new guy was the victim or verbal abuse and in game abuse (getting shot with game guns w/o it being ok'd by him or being in a free fire zone etc) the veteran player somehow got the new player banned. also beware Drama (trust me somehow people get sucked into ) Pervs (SL is chuck full of "adult" entertainment) Griefers (those who use lag scripts and or spam weapons etc) Those with "pull" (like my little story above) and lots of crashes if your using an ATI card. (nvidia cards don't crash as often but can glitch at times and sometimes stutter a bit frame rate wise) Real System Requirements.... http://secondlife.com/corporate/sysreqs.php

yboucher
yboucher

The question is WHO plays "Second Life" ? ^o)

Phylyn5151
Phylyn5151

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Writeous
Writeous

This is proof that Video Games is the Largest market of Entertainment in the new Millennium. Video games will become synonymous with entertainment

xaos
xaos

It's true; they ARE electric sheep