Fabjectory is a fascinating business founded by Second Life resident Mike Buckbee, focusing on building “virtual objects in real life”. They will fabricate your Nintendo Mii avatar, or your avatar from Second Life, or even something you’ve drawn up using Google Sketchup. Already Fabjectory has got a lot of media interest including mentions in the Wall Street Journal and Wired.
Mike blogs too and has posted a really interesting piece of research from William James Proctor, a Graduate student in the School of Arts and New Media at the University of Hull. William’s paper examines virtual worlds and how virtual players in those worlds shop. The ultimate aim of the research is to discover whether it’s possible to prototype real world businesses within a virtual world before spending so much money to start it up for real. His conclusion is that there is a lot of potential from both a marketing and product development perspective.
While it might be interesting to prototype businesses within a virtual world to test it on “real” people, you have to ask, do avatars of real people act like real people? Do they make their buying decisions as an avatar as they do in real life? In my opinion they won’t always because of the nature of games. They are using the game as an escape from their real world persona and creating a new persona who takes more risks. I think a lot of mistakes could be made by companies that rely on data coming from a virtual world environment and try to apply that to the real world since I believe people just won’t act the same way.
At the same time I do think Mike’s business and other businesses that are starting to blur the line between virtual and real world are going to be extremely interesting to watch in the future. They embrace the idea that your virtual world is a part of your life that you require services in order to develop. In their virtual world I think it’s very debatable whether or not players are interested in a business that are only test beds for a real world release. But those businesses that blur that line, adding services in the virtual world and then bringing that to real life create the exciting aspect of turning bits into atoms. Those types of businesses I believe are not only more interesting, they are a much greater opportunity in the future for designers, makers and consumers.