With a new round of funding in the bank, Twinity is on as firm a ground as it’s ever been. The development of virtual replicas of cities has proven a successful formula to date. Singapore is a Twinity stronghold and a virtual Orchard Road is on the way.
Two aspects of the Orchard Road announcement caught my interest:
Virtual Singapore was developed in consultation with the Media Development Authority (MDA) and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
Twinity is tying up with AsiaOne – the interactive arm of Singapore Press Holdings – to seek retailers, brands and firms interested in promoting their products or space on the virtual ‘Orchard Road’.
Bear with me while I explain some of the intricacies.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) is a government agency that has two main purposes: “The first is to promote the growth of the media industry. The second is to manage content to protect core values and safeguard consumers’ interests“.
The Infocomm Development Authority is also a government agency with the roles of “infocomm industry champion, the national infocomm master-planner and developer, and the Government CIO“.
AsiaOne is a key business within the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) stable. SPH isn’t government owned, but under SIngapore’s Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, no management shares can be transferred without approval of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA). This is the ministry that oversees the Media Development Authority.
What this means is that the SIngapore Government has direct involvement in the development of virtual SIngapore in Twinity. Nothing wrong with that at all – Australia’s government has played a role in funding virtual world presences, as have a plethora of other governments. What interests me most is the AsiaOne partnership, which is likely to have an advertising revenue focus. If you’re currently a SIngapore business person, you’re likely to have advertised with SIngapore Press Holdings at some stage as it has nearly 80% of the over-15’s market.
What do you do when SPH’s sales team phone you to negotiate your next advertising package and mention you can now advertise in Twinity? If you don’t know that the government have funded the Twinity presence, the less well informed may see it as a gimmick and decline. This is where it gets really interesting: if take up of advertising in Twinity’s virtual Singapore isn’t as great as expected, what happens next? I won’t be surprised if Singapore becomes the first sovereign entity to have virtual world advertising as a standard option for its business owners. The initial acceptance may be limited but the incredibly close government involvement combined with substantial influence over SPH makes for one fascinating and potentially controversial case study of virtual worlds and business. There’s no criticism of Metaversum intended – they have operated as one would expect of a commercial entity. It’s wider issues of politics, media and governance that invite further discussion.
I fired some questions on the issue through to Metaversum’s Managing Director, Jeremy Snyder:
TMJ: Does Metaversum see the Singapore model of government funding combined with a media partnership to drive advertising as one it’s likely to explore in other markets.
Singapore really offered some unique opportunities for us. Their drive to stimulate and showcase innovative companies in the IDM (Interactive Digital Media) space. The media partnership that we entered here is a strong endorsement of our vision. We do see a lot of value in similar strategic partnerships for other markets.
TMJ: Does it see this model working as well as it may do in Singapore where SPH’s management has a close relationship with the government?
Twinity: The relationship between SPH and the Singapore government was not part of the decision process for entering that partnership. Negotiations for funding in 2008 & subsequent negotiations with SPH were entirely different excercises.
TMJ: Does Metaversum have any concerns that potential success in Singapore may be as a result of the unusually tight control on media in Singapore, which may ensure widespread adoption of virtual world advertising as indirect government policy, making it a case study not easily replicated in other markets?
Twinity: Singapore’s media policies in the Internet space really don’t have any affect on our business. Similarly, we do not plan to apply any different standards for content in Twinity’s virtual Singapore than in other locations in Twinity. We feel our success in Singapore and elsewhere will still come back to the core values of Twinity – the connections to real life, the content available, and the strength of the community.
What do you think: is virtual Singapore likely to provide a unique social experiment?