Bacardi and Coke! Real-Life Brands Are Starting to Partner with Virtual Worlds (Again): Could This Be the Start of a New Trend?

There was a time, back in the day (ohhh, let’s say, May of 2006) when a Second Life avatar named Anshe Chung graced the cover of Businessweek magazine, which told the story of how she became the first online personality to achieve a net worth exceeding one million US dollars from profits entirely earned inside a virtual world.

It can be argued that this Businessweek article, and the resulting media attention it caused, was the spark that ignited a period of explosive population growth in Second Life, as people realized that they, too, could earn money on Second Life, and they began joining the platform in ever-increasing numbers.

In particular, between late 2006 and early 2007, dozens of real-life companies and brands decided to set up shop in Second Life: Dell, Toyota, Nissan, Sun Microsystems, IBM, even American Apparel and Playboy. Unfortunately, this corporate heyday did not last long. By the end of 2008, most real-world corporations were pulling out, not seeing the benefit (i.e. profit) in running operations on a virtual world, especially during a somewhat brutal recession.

And, for a long time, burned by their initial enthusiastic foray into Second Life, most real-world brands pretty much steered clear of virtual worlds, leaving them to the mom-and-pop stores, the individual content creators who were able to make a go of it.


Well, I am starting to notice the beginnings of a new trend lately: real-life brands are starting to enter into partnerships with social VR and virtual worlds once again. Is this the start of a new trend in marketing?

Two different news items, about two completely different types of partnerships, crossed my desk yesterday, one for Bacardi rum and the other for Coca-Cola, which tickled my fancy and made me laugh (hence the clever title of this blogpost!). Both are instructive examples of how such corporate partnerships have evolved and changed since the Anshe Chung summer of 2006 in Second Life.

Barcardi and Sansar: The Casa Bacardi Virtual Island Festival

First up is a partnership between Bacardi and Sansar, a virtual festival to be held on August 20th, 2021, to promote Bacardi products. According to the event description:

Teleport to your virtual island of Casa Bacardi

Bring home some Caribbean vibes and get grooving to your favourite beats at a music experience like never before.

Casa Bacardi is a whole new virtual world on Sansar, with an epic stage for your favourite artists to perform on, games to play with your friends, hang out with them, play cocktail games and meet new people. Enjoy all of this and more from the comfort of your home along with your favourite Bacardi Cocktails.

You can even design your own look and express yourselves through your avatar before you land on Casa Bacardi Island. Festival fashion doesn’t go away, you know?

Find liberation from the real world on a virtual Caribbean island. Teleport to Casa Bacardi this Rum Month!

Performers at this event include a mix of afrobeat, hip hop, electronica and dance music artists:

  • Tesher
  • Divine and the Gully Gang
  • MC Altaf
  • Tsumyoki with Kidd Mange
  • Natasha Diggs
  • Gauriwho

Tickets are quite inexpensive, only US$1.99 for a concert pass, and US$2.99 for a concert pass plus a limited after-party event (you can pay via credit card or PayPal).

Coca-Cola, Tafi and Decentraland: The Friendship Box NFT

In a piece of news which I somehow missed, Coca-Cola entered the ultra-trendy NFT space with a limited-edition auction, partnering with the Tafi avatar creation system and the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland (NFT, of course, stands for Non-Fungible Tokens, the concept that blockchain-based property is a unique, distinguishable, indivisible blockchain-based asset which has some sort of monetary value, usually denoted in a cryptocurrency like ETH/Ethereum).

Coca-Cola is not the first big brand name to jump into Decentraland, of course; not too long ago I wrote about how Sotheby’s set up shop. It would appear that the current unabated frenzy over blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs is bringing together some rather unlikely bedfellows!

According to the official announcement by Tafi:

Tafi announced today that it has partnered with Coca-Cola® by designing virtual wearables for Coca-Cola’s first-ever non-fungible token (NFT) collectibles offering in the “metaverse” to celebrate International Friendship Day on July 30th, Coca-Cola will be auctioning an NFT loot box on OpenSea, that contains Tafi-designed digital apparel that can be worn forever in the virtual world of Decentraland.

Tafi, a leading designer of avatars and digital wearables, is a digital strategy and development partner with Coca-Cola. Tafi worked alongside Coca-Cola to produce the NFTs, as well as Virtue, the agency by Vice, who developed the initial concept. Details of Tafi’s involvement in Coca-Cola’s NFT Lootbox can be found at https://maketafi.com/coca-cola-nft.

Coca-Cola collaborated with designers at Tafi on all the NFTs including the branded wearable apparel. Auction-goers can bid on the Coca-Cola Friendship Box, a reimagined version of Coca-Cola’s highly collectible vending machine, itself an NFT, and once opened there will be three one-of-a-kind digital assets to own: 

• A custom Coca-Cola Bubble Jacket Wearable – a futuristic jacket – is illuminated with effervescent fizz, purposely designed with subtle nods to Coke’s nostalgic delivery uniforms. It also will include an unlockable version that can be worn in the Decentraland 3D virtual reality platform. Inspired by metaverse trends and utility, the jacket features the Coca-Cola color palette, fusing the metallic red of the aluminum can and caramel brown of the delicious drink. 

The Sound Visualizer captures the experience of sharing a Coca-Cola using instantly recognizable audio cues: the pop of a bottle opening, the sound of a beverage being poured over ice, the unmistakable fizz and that first refreshing taste.

The Friendship Card reimagines the design of Coca-Cola’s famous friendship-inspired trading cards from the 1940s for the digital world. The cards bear the “Symbol of Friendship” moniker.

The first ever Coca-Cola NFT (image source)

This one-of-a-kind loot box contained some ultra-exclusive items, including a puffy jacket which can be worn by Decentraland avatars, and it sold for a whopping 217 ETH (which works out to about half a million U.S. dollars)!

Now I can tell you one thing for damn sure: no matter how luxurious and glossy that Coca-Cola puffed jacket may look on the OpenSea marketplace (and you can check out the fancy animations here), it is not going to look anywhere near as good when your avatar wears it around Decentraland! The current state of graphics in Decentraland looks like this, in case you needed a reality check:

The current state of avatar fashion in Decentraland: your glossy, expensive Coca-Cola jacket is not going to anything like what you see on the OpenSea marketplace.

Perhaps I am not the best person to explain all this, because frankly I am still mystified as to why people would want to spend outrageous sums of money on NFTs, except perhaps for bragging rights. However, it is clear that blockchain, crypto, and NFTs are not going away anytime soon (although they will not doubt continue to fluctuate wildly in value). I just report on what I see, safely from the sidelines.

And I repeat my usual warning: do EVERY. SINGLE. SCRAP. of your homework before investing a penny in any blockchain/cryptocurrency project.


Are we seeing a renaissance in such partnerships between real-world brands and social VR platforms and virtual worlds? Who knows. But it is fascinating to watch!

Sotheby’s Sets Up Shop in Decentraland

The current boom in NFT art has led to new partnerships between bricks-and-mortar art galleries and brokers and blockchain-based platforms, such as Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space, where such art can easily be displayed and admired.

Venerable art auction house Sotheby’s has just announced via Twitter that they have set up a digital replica of its London galleries in the blockchain-based virtual world of Decentraland, as part of Natively Digital, an inaugural curated sale of Non-Fungible Token (NFT) artworks (along with a discussion room on Clubhouse today):

Artnet News reports (this site is paywalled so use the incognito mode of your web browser to see this article):

Sotheby’s virtual gallery is a twin of its New Bond Street outpost, complete with five ground-level galleries—but instead of London’s tony Mayfair enclave, it is located in Decentraland’s prime art hub, known as the Voltaire Art District (map coordinates: 52,83).

A virtual version of Sotheby’s avuncular London commissionaire Hans Lomulder…welcomes visitors at the gallery entrance, top hat and all. 

The Observer website reports:

The NFTs that will be for sale include both the work of early, pioneering crypto artists in the field and more recent blockbuster stars; some of the names represented in the sale are Rhea Myers, Lethabo Huma, and Larva Labs. Recently, Christie’s scored a huge win with the $16.9 million sale of 9 Cryptopunks NFTs manufactured by Larva Labs, so that listing in particular is likely to score comparable dividends for Sotheby’s.

The rare face-masked alien CryptoPunk in Gallery 1 has a starting bid of US$480,000! Obviously, this is art that lies way, waaay outside my payscale!

If you want to visit the virtual Sotheby’s in Decentraland, read my step-by-step guide on how to get started, then type /goto 52,83 into chat (note that you should also be able to visit Decentraland as a guest, without setting up an account). Enjoy the art!

Editorial: Fuelled by the NFT Boom, Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds Are Having a Moment—But Will It Last? Is It a Bubble?

A Reuters news article posted today, titled The ‘metaverse’ bet: crypto-rich investors snap up virtual real estate, which first came to my admittedly-distracted attention as a trending news item in my Twitter news feed, starts off as follows:

What do you do with a $69 million artwork that doesn’t physically exist?

That’s the question faced by the Singapore-based investor calling himself Metakovan, who made headlines last month when he bought the digital artwork “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” by the American artist Beeple at Christie’s.

The work is a non-fungible token (NFT) – a new type of virtual asset that has its ownership status and authenticity verified by blockchain. NFTs have exploded in popularity in 2021, with prices skyrocketing.

Metakovan, real name Vignesh Sundaresan, plans to put the artwork on display in four virtual world environments. He is working with architects to design gallery complexes that the public can enter via web browsers or virtual reality technology.

Blockchain-based virtual worlds are definitely having a moment: the following trending news story showed up on my Twitter feed

It is clear to anybody that is paying attention that the NFT (Non-Fungible Token) boom is sparking intense interest and resulting speculation in the blockchain-based virtual worlds where such NFTs can be displayed: Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Somnium Space (all already launched and seeing more and more business) and The Sandbox (which launched its first phase on March 31st, 2021). It seems like every second room on the hot new drop-in social audio app Clubhouse is about NFTs and how to get into the market.

Market speculation in the first three blockchain-based virtual worlds has only intensified recently, with previously unheard-of trading volumes and rapidly escalating prices as bidding wars break out over virtual properties. Here is a graphic linked to from the aforementioned Reuters article, showing just how suddenly land values have jumped in Decentraland (and I’m quite sure that early investors are rubbing their hands with glee!):

And some big-name companies are being attracted to the blockchain-based virtual world marketplace (quotes are from the Reuters article up top):

In what will be one of the biggest names to join the party, videogame maker Atari told Reuters it planned to launch its own blockchain-based virtual world and would soon announce details.

Online environments are going to be “very very big”, regardless of fluctuations in the price of bitcoin, said Frederic Chesnais, head of Atari’s blockchain division and the company’s former CEO. NFT real estate could one day fetch millions of dollars, he added.

Atari, ahead of its plans to open its own blockchain-based world, has licensed a retro arcade within Decentraland and is due to open a casino.

Among the people interviewed for the Reuters article was the creator of Cryptovoxels, Ben Nolan, who expresses caution in the current feverish NFT market:

“I expect that there’ll be a crypto winter in the next couple of months, the whole NFT boom will explode and then all the value will absolutely collapse,” said Ben Nolan, founder of the virtual world Cryptovoxels.

“Doing NFTs as an investment or as a way to make money is really ill-advised.”

However he does see a future for virtual worlds and NFTs.

“Do I think most people will use virtual worlds? Probably not, but I think a lot of people will and I think NFTs are a big part of that growth,” he said.

“Actually walking around with another person in a virtual space and looking at art together is a really nice way to spend time,” he added.

We can expect that more companies will enter the blockchain-based virtual worlds marketplace, attracted by the possibility of making profits from virtual real estate—whether that real estate is used for galleries to show NFTs or not.

Interesting times! I choose to remain safely outside the fray, peering in occasionally to write the odd blogpost—emphasis on odd 😉 . The following are links to all my previous blogposts written about four of the currently available (or soon-to-be-available) platforms:

Stay tuned for further dispatches from the blockchain-based virtual worlds and social VR platforms! (Yes, both Cryptovoxels and Somnium Space support VR.)

And I’d love to hear from you: Do you hold land on these four platforms? Do you think we are in a financial bubble? Feel free to sound off in the comment section!

We’d love to hear form you!

The Perks of Virtual World/Social VR Premium Memberships: Are They Worth It? What Do You Get?

Second Life (which I still consider to be the perfect model of the mature, fully-evolved virtual world that the companies creating the newer social VR platforms would be wise to study) has two levels of membership: Basic (free), and Premium. How Premium membership in Second Life works: for US$99 a year (or $32.97 quarterly, or $11.99 monthly), you get a set of benefits and perks over free, Basic user accounts:

Second Life Premium Membership (source)

VRChat is another platform that decided to offer a comparably-priced paid premium membership level last December, called VRChat Plus (which I first wrote about here). Now, upon first reading of the perks such a membership would offer me (see below), I was less than impressed (probably because I have been spoiled by all the goodies Second Life Premium memberships offer me in comparison).

Among the (relatively) small number of features for VRChat Plus users is the ability to set a user icon to display in a circle next to your user name:

But in conversation with Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye last night via Zoom, he raised a point that I had hitherto failed to consider, Given my well-documented, one-man, scorched-earth campaign against Facebook and Oculus for, among other things, forcing Oculus headset users to get Facebook accounts and their toxic advertising-based business model which scrapes and strip-mines users’ personal data, why would I not support an alternative way for VRChat to earn a profit?

I stopped to think of what VRChat would be like with Facebook-like advertising, and I positively shuddered in revulsion. So this evening, I pulled out my credit card and ponied up for a VRChat Plus membership (US$99.99), so I now have the familiar “red Ryan” logo displayed next to my username in world (which has sort of become an icon for my brand, as I use it everywhere else, too). If it helps other users in VRChat recognize who I am, then I think it’s worthwhile.

My familiar “red Ryan” user icon

So, I have decided to do a quick survey of the major social VR and virtual world platforms, and find out whether or not they offer a paid premium service, and if so, what you get for your money.

Second Life

My alt Moesha Heartsong, sitting on the porch of her lovely Victorian Linden Home on the continent of Bellisseria (one of the many nice perks you get with your Second Life Premium membership)

Second Life Premium membership (currently priced at US$99 a year) offers you the following benefits:

  • A weekly L$300 stipend (basically enough to buy a nice outfit or pair of shoes for your avatar every week)
  • A L$1,000 sign-up bonus for first-time Premium users (can only be used once)
  • Priority entry when regions/sims are full of avatars (in other words, if a Basic user and a Premium user both try to get into a packed sim at the same time, the Premium user gets priority; this comes in handy at crowded shopping events, and I have made use of this perk often!)
  • A 1024m² virtual land allotment for use towards a nice starter Linden Home or a parcel on the Second Life mainland; this is another benefit I do take advantage of!
  • Expanded live-chat customer support (which I have used on occasion!)
  • Premium virtual gifts (frankly, kinda useless to me)
  • Exclusive access to Premium areas and experiences (such as building sandboxes)
  • Increased cap on missed IMs (which I never use)
  • Increased group membership limits (I make use of my groups ALL THE TIME! A freebie fashionista can NEVER have too many free group slots for store groups, freebie groups, etc. Basic accounts have 42 group slots, but Premium has 70;)
  • Voice morphing (never used it, myself; most SL users never use voice, anyways)
  • UPDATE 11:36 p.m.: Animesh (animated mesh) creator Medhue tells me that SL Premium members can attach two animesh items (e.g. pets such as Medhue’s delightful animesh cihuahua), while Basic members can only attach one.

Basically, I have three Premium accounts, with two lovely Linden Homes between them (which I think is the major benefit of a Premium membership). More group space and priority access to overcrowded sims are also perks I tend to use a lot.

Sansar

Sansar offers three levels of premium subscriptions (unchanged from when Linden lab owned the platform), which give you:

  • A 45-day free trial of the Marvelous Designer software (used to create avatar clothing in Sansar)
  • Purchase discounts on Marvelous Designer for when you do decide to buy it
  • An increase in the number of Sansar worlds you can create (frankly, I’m not sure most people bother beyond the free Basic account, which lets you create up to 25 worlds)
  • Expedited user support options

Sinespace

The Unity-based Sinespace virtual world/social VR platform, created by Sine Wave Entertainment, offers a truly overwhelming number of Premium levels to choose from:

Premium users can create larger regions/worlds, have a larger number of regions active at one time, and get priority support and user-created content processing and approval, among other benefits.

AltspaceVR

Surprisingly, Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR doesn’t seem to offer any premium accounts (that may change in the future, though).

VRChat

VRChat Plus offers you the following perks (with more promised soon):

  • A nameplate icon: With VRChat+, you can personalize your nameplate with an icon you create! Snap a pic in VRChat or upload your own image on our website.
  • You can send a picture with an invitation to a friend to join you at your location
  • Free slots for up to 100 favourite avatars (as opposed to 25 for basic users)
  • “A limited edition VRCat Badge to display on your profile” (Really? Really?!??)
  • A higher trust ranking in VRChat’s Safety and Trust System

As I said up top, this list is a bit sparse, especially compared to what Second Life offers (and yes, you can be an anime girl in SL, just as easily as you can in VRChat!), but of course, there’s zero VR support in Second Life.

Rec Room

Rec Room offers something called Rec Room Plus at US$7.99 a month, which includes the following benefits:

  • You get 6000 tokens (r6000) monthly, delivered in installments of r1500 per week
  • One four-star gift box per week
  • A 10% discount in Rec Room stores that accept tokens
  • Exclusive access to the RR+ section of the item store
  • 100 saved outfit slots
  • The ability to sell premium inventions/keys for tokens

NeosVR

NeosVR uses Patreon levels to hand out perks to various levels of paying users (more info). For example, at my current “Blade Runner” level ($6 per month), I get:

  • Access to private channels on the official Discord Server
  • Patreon supporter badge in Neos
  • Early access to Linux builds
  • Early Access to Patreon only content (exclusive experiences, work in progress experiences before they’re public)
  • A Neos Mini account with 25 GB of storage
  • Your name in the stars! (your name will appear in the sky in the Neos hub)
  • 30 Neos Credits (NCR) monthly, accumulates

(Note that there is an even less expensive level, the “Agent Smith” level, at just $1 a month. Please check out the NeosVR Patreon page for more details.)

ENGAGE

The ENGAGE educational/corporate/conference social VR platform offers a free, “lite” version, and a premium, “plus” version for €4.99 a month, which gives you space to save your presentations, among other benefits. (They also offer enterprise and educational rates on request.)

Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space)

Of course, the various blockchain-based virtual worlds sell everything using whatever cryptocurrencies they support (for example, a custom, non-randomly-generated avatar username in Decentraland will set you back 100 MANA, Decentraland’s in-world cryptocurrency (which is about US$36 at current exchange rates). It’s just a completely different model than the “freemium” ones offered above.


Thanks to Kent Bye for giving me the idea for this blogpost!