Brave New Virtual World


It’s no secret that the evolution of the digital sphere over the past ten years is one of the most significant trends in the history of the music industry. It’s hard to remember a bigger game-changer and no genre is playing the new game better than Urban. Every song on today’s iTunes Top 10 Singles chart falls under the Urban umbrella (ella, ella). But at nearly 7.5 years old, iTunes is creeping toward middle age in digital years. While it remains the most relevant of music retailers, even this last bastion of music sales is beginning to plateau in terms of annual revenue (Reuters, Digital Music Sales Flat This Year). Digital music sales are simply not making up for the massive loss of physical sales. So what’s next? And, more importantly, who’s going to capitalize on it first? These days we find artists looking beyond the song for ways to cash in on their brands, but in the face of all of this change, one thing remains the same – Urban is winning. And sitting atop the new dogg pile is none other than Snoop himself. Only this time it’s not with chart-topping singles or a celebreality television series. It’s with Branded Virtual Goods (BVGs).

Virtual worlds like Zwinky, Second Life, WeeWorld, and Gaia Online filling up faster than Kim Kardashian’s True Religions. Strategy Anayltics predicts a virtual world population boom of nearly 250% over the next five years – a rate that makes China’s (6.9%) look like the little engine that could. But what’s really impressive is how the creators of these avatar-inhabited realms have managed to monetize the trend. Users can buy, earn, and spend virtual currency in the form of ZBucks, Linden dollars, points, and Gaia Cash - and spend it they will. The recession may have caused retail numbers to dwindle in the “real world” but virtual malls are teaming with Sims ready to spend on everything from branded T-shirts for their avatars to digital doggies. In August the social gaming and virtual goods platforms Viximo and Virtual Greats predicted that BVGs will generate $150 million in 2013 and reach an annual revenue of $318 million by 2015 ( Snoop Dogg himself has sold over $200,000 worth of BVGs to date and he’s pushing for more.

“My virtual items are off tha chain jacc! It’s a world and a movement that I have been down with since day 1,” he says.

Urban has always been about hustle. It’s a way of life. And after years grinding for mainstream radio spins, Billboard chart position, and suburban shopping mall supremacy the genre finally seems to have a strangle hold on the market. Now as opportunities to engage consumers in the virtual universe develop, Urban is in the drivers seat. But one thing is certain: the hustle will continue. It’s a way of (virtual) life.