Wells Fargo has built a branded 3D online role-playing game within the massively multiplayer universe known as Second Life.
The company said its game environment, called Stagecoach Island, will teach financial literacy to young people while they guide avatars through a branded mini-world full of other players and potential adventures.
The island's attractions include skydiving, jet skiing, communal social areas and shopping. Some are free. Others cost money, which players can earn by interacting with the Wells Fargo brand -- specifically, by answering financial trivia questions in a "Learning Lounge." That material is drawn from Wells Fargo's own offline financial literacy program.
The game hasn't received wide release yet, but the bank has launched a pilot program in San Diego and Austin, Texas. Wells Fargo's experiential marketing agency, Swivel Media, helped create the game.
Stagecoach Island exists on not one but several islands within Second Life, and it's sealed and separate from the rest of the MMORPG (define). The islands are private, and regular users of Second Life can't access them without first being invited by Wells Fargo. Even then, they are unable to bring their Second Life avatars along.
Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, hopes more companies build 3D games of their own using the platform.
"We're trying to position Second Life as a platform for development, so you can go in and build whatever you want in there," said Catherine Smith, director of marketing. "I think Wells Fargo's Stagecoach Island is a great example of how that can work."
The business and marketing applications of virtual worlds are still poorly understood, but models are emerging. Second Life is host to many entrepreneurs engaged in virtual real estate prospecting, for instance, or in selling 3D objects they create using the game's development tools. At least one player has even created a virtual ad network within the game, helping in-game manufacturers sell everything from weapons to cars to pets by distributing virtual signage throughout the Second Life universe and then serving ads into it.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.