Thursday, May 5, 2011

Virtual reality + real life = money spinner

I’ve never understood the Farmville craze. I’ll admit that I played Petville for oh, I don’t know, maybe a week, but the novelty wore off very quickly. The only lesson provided by the time and effort it took to keep a non-existent pet alive, decorate its living quarters and pick up its smelly socks and banana peels was to give me a taste of what it must be like living with a teenager. The fact that I got no love in return from my purple, vampire-toothed ‘dog’, other than a silly dance and a weird cooing sound when I fed it cake, cemented my hesitance to even think about having children.
Similarly, if I had to spend hours on end tending a farm I could never touch, planting carrots I could never eat and buying cows I could never milk, I would have to seriously question my mental state. I want to see the efforts of my, er, labour and get tangible results.
So when I first heard that 10 000 virtual farmers will be making decisions about a real farm in the UK, with real animals and real plants, I might have scoffed at the ridiculousness of it all. Are we really getting that lazy that we find it appealing to farm from behind a computer screen? For £30 a month, subscribers can make decisions ranging from which crops to grow to which livestock to rear on Wimpole Home Farm. I’m not kidding.
Partly inspired by Farmville, “subscribers will be expected to make key decisions on which crops to plant, which animals to buy and whether to put in measures such as new hedgerows to help wildlife. They will be asked to make 12 major monthly decisions during the course of the year as well as other choices”. Dame Fiona Reynolds , director-general of National Trust, which is managing the farm, said the scheme was “all about reconnecting people with farming, giving them the chance to get involved with and feel part of the farming community and farming life and give them a greater understanding on how the food they eat gets to their shopping basket”.
While you could probably convince me to play this version of Farmville before I venture into Petville land again (I’m sure my dog must be dead by now, I can’t even remember his name), it still smacks a bit of a money-making scheme. If the initiative were to attract the desired 10 000 subscribers, that would bring in £300 000 (R3 290 618.45 at current exchange rates) a year. That’s quite a pretty penny for a farm that is reported as being “currently commercially self-sustaining”. Why didn’t I think of this?!
We were warned about this – that virtual reality would one day merge with real life. It seems Second Life was onto something all along. I wonder if the virtual farmers get a slice of the produce pie? Seems a bit unfair to expect them to pay an annual fee and not get at least a pint of milk in return.
What are your thoughts on the translation of virtual reality into real life? Do you think initiatives such as this will be successful?

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