The NBA Builds A Second Life Virtual Playground With Potential For Real Fun

Real-time diagrams of games, interactive games, and video lounges could keep fans' attention in ways other Second Life areas have failed to.
The NBA last week opened a home in Linden Lab's Second Life with games, interactivity, and community features that has the potential to succeed where other virtual world corporate efforts have failed: bringing customers back.

Most real-life companies with Second Life operations have created sterile places where visitors come once and never return. NBA Headquarters, by contrast, has a variety of features designed to draw people back.

Real fun in a virtual world

(click image for larger view)

Real fun in a virtual world
Visitors gather in a large basketball arena to watch a 3-D diagram of a game as it's being played in real life. The arena's seats are "scripted," so when a user sits his avatar in the chair, the user can change his point of view from the court to the scoreboard and back again. In most places in Second Life, users have to manually change the camera point of view by combinations of keystrokes and mouse movements.

NBA Headquarters also has a shop that replicates the NBA's Manhattan storefront and sells logoed virtual merchandise for avatars. A downloadable toolbar provides a real-time feed of NBA news and lets users' avatars play games against each other, including the playground game H.O.R.S.E. and another in which avatars attempt to dunk the ball. There are four video lounges where fans can watch past playoffs and highlights of past games. And users can get their pictures taken with the NBA championship trophy.

NBA Headquarters is part of the professional basketball organization's drive to embrace new media, including Yahoo, Facebook, wireless communications, and online video. "This is an area we find to be very exciting," says NBA commissioner David Stern. "It's causing us to rethink the concept of how our fans consume NBA content."


The NBA, which worked with the Electric Sheep Co., a virtual worlds consultancy, to build NBA Headquarters, was attracted to Second Life in part because of its large user base, Stern says. That figure was hovering around the 6 million mark last week, though the number of active accounts is much smaller than that, possibly 10% of the total, according to Linden Lab estimates.

And the real question for the NBA is now that it's built this virtual play area, how many of these Second Lifers will actually come--and, once they do, will they return?