Starwood Hotels Debuts New Hotel Virtually

Steve Rubel points to a fascinating little test on the part of Starwood Hotels, who will be debuting their new brand, “Aloft,” in the virtual world of Second Life before it makes an appearance in the real world.

There’s a blog up that details the creative process that’s going into getting the hotel ready for the virtual residents of Second Life, which is also very cool. It essentially documents a cross-section of the whole development, from concept sketches by Starwood to the building that’s being done right now by the exceptionally cool folks over at the Electric Sheep Company.

Rubel says:

Starwood Hotels is adding a dose of realism to the virtual world. But they’re doing more. They are giving people a chance to experience something that doesn’t exist in the physical world yet. This adds tremendous value to the experience. My only advice to them is to use it as a simulation exercise to get feedback from the Second Life community that makes the real hotels better when they launch in 2008.

On one hand, I agree with Steve that this is a very cool, very neat little sneak preview. I think it definitely has the buzzy, hypish feel that’s necessary to attract people to not only visit the hotel but also to maybe stick around and contribute some more to the Second Life world.

I do question how useful it will be from Starwood’s perspective to get feedback from Second Life residents about the hotel though, if for no other reason than that there are both real-world and virtual wants and needs that never cross over the boundary between the two.

For a really simple example, there’s the question of how easy it will be navigate the halls using the third-person perspective and relatively un-agile avatars of Second Life. In the real world, looking through our own eyes and navigating our own feet is something that’s fairly simple for us to do, provided we’re not on our way back from an open-bar cocktail hour or anything like that. In Second Life, though, it can be both frustrating and a bit claustrophobic to try the same activity, given that you’re trying to maneuver a character by looking over its shoulder. If I feel claustrophobic in that world, would it mean that I’d feel the same way in real life? Should a company listen to my comments about something like that?

And what about all those real-world needs I would never think about in a virtual world? Will the television be at the right position so that laying on the bed I’ll be able to see the screen perfectly? Will the windows cast a nasty glare on it when the sun’s out, making it impossible to see? Will the mini-bars be easy to locate? Will the bathroom be too drafty when I get out of the shower?

I realize that all of this may come off as nitpicky, and I certainly don’t mean it to be so. I agree with Steve that what’s going on here is pretty darn amazing and I can’t wait to wander about the hotel when it’s done and maybe even take a virtual stroll around the boardwalk and a virtual siesta on the beach.

As real as the world of Second Life is, though, (and, folks, we’re talking about a world where they had a tax revolt and tea party when the world’s creators tried to impose a new tax system, where homesteaders had to arm themselves and fight off groups of invaders that wanted their land, and where the Relay for Life raised $40,000) is it real enough yet to test something as subjective as whether you feel at home in a hotel?

I dunno and, frankly, I can’t wait to see.