A cultural phenomenon is surfacing that may change how and where we live with the click of a mouse.

Welcome to virtual worlds. We glimpsed a primitive version of these worlds in the late 90’s with the release of video games where addicted gamers spent countless hours, and in some cases days, chasing imaginary characters in two-dimensional worlds.

We can trace the first arcade video games (Computer Space and Pong) back to 1971. In 1976 Death Race 2000 was released as the first violent video game, where points were earned by running over stick figures. Pac-Man hit the market in 1980 as the most popular game at the time, selling 300,000 units.

Graphics were, however, still relatively unstable until the turn of the century as Microsoft, Sony, Panasonic, Nintendo and other major players entered the gaming arena.

Today, we connect, and in some cases disconnect, to join virtual 3-D worlds via the internet. There are dozens of gateways, providing a menu of worlds that number in the thousands.

By far, the most advance of these worlds is Second Life ( As you step into Second Life your options are limitless. You can create your character (avatar) in your own image. You can purchase land, build a home, visit and interact with other avatars, open a business and reap the benefits in real dollars (where Linden dollars, the virtual currency, can be converted to U.S. currency).

There are over 1.2 million residents in Second Life. Marketers are awakening to the phenomenon by securing their positions in this virtual world ….. Starwood Hotels, Adidas and Toyota are just a few of the pioneering marketers pursuing Second Life residents....or shadow customers.

In-game ad spending will surge past $1 billion in 2010. Advertisers eager to secure a foothold in these new worlds should consider exploration in their marketing strategies.

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