Thursday, 9 October 2008


I was first alerted to this sim by an article in that veritable treasure trove of virtual tittle-tattle, Virtual Worlds News. There have been precious few atomic world companies coming into Second Life recently, so I was intrigued to read: "The French retail company Boulanger announced today [October 7th] the opening of a store in Second Life with development and planning help from IBM Research and Global Business Services. The goal is to complement Boulanger's physical stores and website with an additional distribution channel and additional services. Initially the build allows users to view and interact with Boulanger objects in a familiar context, click to be taken to the purchase page on a website, watch service and repair videos, or talk directly to a maintenance aide." Wow...! An IBM build! Given IBM's continuing large presence in Second Life, and its cutting edge use of this and other virtual worlds, the prospect was mouth-watering.

But first - a little about Boulanger. Actually, for once Wikipedia has let me down, but I will plough on. Boulanger is a general electrical retailer in France, selling anything from kitchen white goods to mp3 players and consumer electronics. The British equivalent would be someone like Currys. Joining the dots, this would suggest that their outlets are largely out-of-town, in large retail parks. What is clear is that the Second Life build has a particular purpose - to promote their recently opened store at Englos, an arrondisment of Lille, in the North of France. It ties in with - and indeed provides links to - a dedicated website.

I was not able to leg it down to the Boulanger3D sim immediately, and I chose to avoid the details of the Mindblizzard post, so I could arrive fresh and without preconceptions (albeit, with some expectations). I finally pottered along to the sim today and... well... where do I start?

IBM described their aims for this build as: "[to] develop a community aspect through the 3D universe and propose new services (configuration of kitchen, cooking lessons, guides, etc.) -- while integrating the three complementary distribution channels." On arrival, there is a large guest book, where you can post comments - so that suggests some interaction between the island and the visitor. Oddly, the guest book is at the arrival point, when you are least likely to have anything to say - but let's skip over that.

The sim itself is, quite frankly, a confused mess. One strand or theme is to model the island a little like the real Englos site - with its approach road, car park and, of course, the store itself. However, only yards from this is a gigantic luxury yacht, replete with helipad and helicopter - not something normally encountered in the suburbs of Lille. I don't know why it is there, and seems grossly at odds with the "augmented reality" being attempted in the virtualisation of the Englos store.

Another strand or theme is in response to the requirement to give people something to do that is "fun." In the car park you will find numerous vehicles that you are supposed to be able to drive. The sup'ed-up Beetle with the "Try Me" sign signally failed to allow me to drive it! Though I did get a decent razz on one of the motorbikes. Along the coast from the yacht are some windsurf boards that I assume are also available for your use. More fun, perhaps, is the helicopter - which you are free to fly. It is nicely done, but I did not check its provenance. Was it made specially? Or a rebranding of an existing Second Life vehicle?

But returning to the "augmented reality" view for a moment - I expected the virtual store to bear some internal resemblance to the real thing. After all, there's a decent 2D representation on the website. But no... the virtual store seemed somewhat perfunctory inside, with little detail, and little to attract the eye or retain the attention. It seemed unfinished to me.

The "kitchen design" was a disappointment too. A nice looking kitchen/diner, to be sure - but the only thing you could do was change the colour of the units. Even my LSL skills could probably stretch to that - and it fell somewhat short of the "configuration of kitchen" that most punters would expect.

There is a presentation auditorium. Now this is something that is normally done well in Second Life - there are endless examples. Yet somehow this one manages to fail. The seating for attendees is fine - it is the area for the presenters that feels wrong, somehow managing to be cramped, awkward and claustrophobic in what is otherwise an open space! Now that takes some doing.

There are a number of other buildings, but nothing of any note - and I include the "cooking demonstration area" in that observation. Instructions inviting me to click on images of computer games to get more information failed to link to any information in any form - not even notecards or URLs. I could go on, but that is more than enough.

So... there you have it. After the bordering-on-genius of the 7Days Magic Bakery, I found this sim profoundly disappointing - and largely failing to come close to its hype. It seems to me to have been launched before it was good and ready, and before anyone had really given it a thorough critique internally. I have some photos - but don't trust me - you should go along and form your own opinion:


Claus said...

this place is indeed unbelievably bad. lots of disconnected 2D stuff in a boring 3D place. what about user centric design. It must mean that we are still in the early days when two big brands like these let something like this represent them. Many 12 year olds could have done a better job.

Aleister Kronos said...


I can't disagree.

My guess (supported, in part, by checking builder profiles) is that this is a first build by an inexperienced IBM France team, and that they have failed to take advantage of the skills available elsewhere in the organisation. They have also failed to spot their own inadequacy, which might have led them to use one of the many excellent design/build companies out there.

Boulanger (and any digital marketing advisers) would also appear to have done little to check out what others have done in Second Life. For if they had, they would have realised that this was not a good build. For those with no prior exposure to SL, just seeing your company logo in a 3D "game space" is exciting enough. But it doesn't take long before you realise it isn't.