Businesses may be missing out by ignoring the potential of virtual worlds such as Second Life, according to a study from consultancy Deloitte.
Simulated environments will become increasingly significant over the next five years in terms of brand management, said Deloitte. Early exploration of this new resource may give companies a competitive edge.
But there also risks associated with content, since the large volume of users and content-creators makes them difficult to control. Businesses must learn to understand these new tools, said Kamales Lardi, author of the Deloitte study.
"Virtual worlds present opportunities that business would be wise to realise sooner rather than later," he said.
"The inevitable changes brought about by virtual environments will redefine the way businesses interact with consumers and enable more sophisticated collaboration within organisations."
The research draws parallels with the dot com boom of the late 1990s, where many organisations where slow in changing their business models to suit new trends.
“Although the number of active visitors to virtual worlds has yet to reach a critical mass, those that explore and understand these environments today will win consumer loyalty tomorrow," said Lardi.
"To develop a strategy specifically suited to consumers of this new environment, companies must first understand the virtual market and its users."