Virtual Goods Summit 2007: Recap & Recovery

Originally uploaded by jspepper

I’m slowly recovering from helping to put on the Virtual Goods Summit yesterday– got up at 5am and was running around all day, helping with everything from printing badges and registration lists, configuring and setting up computers and networking support, checking in attendees, and, most difficult of all, trying to steer a ridiculously heavy media cart with only two out of four pivoting wheels around campus and narrow building hallways. I finally got home around 7pm and went straight to make sure I drank my beer for the day (a story for another time).

But to recap on the conference itself, I didn’t get to sit in most of the sessions because of all the running around, but from what I did get to attend and from what I overheard, the very first Virtual Goods Summit seems to have been a success– all of the sessions were panels focused around a particular topic and included three to four speakers and a moderator directing the discussion. Whether it’s because virtual goods and economies are such an emerging technology and market or it’s because it was such a humble setting– the 350-person capacity basement auditorium of the Cummings Art Building on the Stanford campus (I don’t think it’s ever seen so many laptops and the network slowed to a crawl as 300+ people did God knows what during the breaks)– but as I overheard one attendee put it, unlike most conferences, there was less grandstanding (regardless of what the grandiose term “summit” might imply) and more open, honest discussion among key players in this space. Rather than what many conferences have degenerated into– simple vendor fairs and opportunities for companies to advertise and sell their products and services– it really felt like a summit: some of the most important and interesting companies and people involved in virtual goods coming together to talk about the present and future of the space.

On one hand, there was plain old valuable information– explanation of what virtual goods and economies are and how they work in their various settings, both in terms of technology (gaming, social networks, etc.) and geography/culture (especially the US and the West versus Korea and the East). On the other hand, there was also interesting discussion around current hot topics, such as the effects of money moving through and back and forth between the virtual and real worlds. These are issues that are becoming increasingly relevant to not just gamers accruing arsenals of virtual weapons or teenagers exchanging virtual gifts on social networks, but to everyone in the real world. Why? Because, as one speaker mentioned in kind of an overblown example of a Venn diagram, the virtual and real worlds are not separate and they don’t intersect per se, but rather, the virtual world is completely encompassed by the real one. In one way, the virtual world is a subset of the real world, but more simply, the better way to think of it is that they are inexorably connected– we spend real time playing games in virtual worlds and we spend real money buying virtual goods. In the end, they are all real choices with real consequences and when you realize and accept that, the line between virtual and real becomes blurred, perhaps even erased, and the discussion becomes that much more important. I look forward to much more growth in this space, much more discussion, and hopefully, another exciting summit next year.

Check out: vgsummit2007 on Flickr