Virtual Stars Part 3: The Risks

Last post I noted that making Virtual Stars (those media creations of "stars" that are entirely fabricated) has many reasons to be an appealing endeavor for the right business.  Of course there are also ways it could go drastically wrong, which I want to address.

Without further ado, let me explore the challenges, risks, and disadvantages of a Virtual Star.

It Doesn't Fit Your Audience: Your audience may just not respond to a Virtual Star you've made.  Go figure.  Find something else.  Start over again.

It's Weird: Making a Virtual Star, though successful in some cases, also may come off as strange or odd.  People may accept it under some cases (Children's shows) or partially (reality television, pop idols), but a full-out virtual creation that isn't within conventional boundaries can go wrong because it just seems strange.  Careful marketing, or a sense of humor, may help.

The Poochie Problem: In an episode of The Simpsons (Season 8, episode 14), a popular cartoon has a new character introduced, Poochie, a character created by clueless execs with no idea what made the cartoon popular.  Creation of a Virtual Star by people that don't get the audience, aren't creative, aren't hip, etc. could lead to a disaster.  Which in turn leads to . . .

Putting a Face on Bad Memories:  If you do botch the Virtual Star, you've just created a PR nightmare, because you've put a face and name on your mistake – to this day Microsoft probably still regrets Clippy and Bob.  Imagine the enduring PR nightmare created by making a highly-identifiable artificial being that is now identified with a colossal screw-up.

Stagnation: People evolve on their own – Virtual Stars do not.  That may be a benefit, but it also means that unless that Virtual Star is actively managed, they'll stagnate.  That may be fine  – you may want them to be the same – but it depends on your audience and needs.

Over-Evolution: At the same time, a Virtual Star can be tweaked so easy it's tempting to remake them – and destroy what made them work.  Before tweaking a Virtual Star you need to know why it/he/she worked in the first place.

Lack of Humor: Do not take this endeavor seriously.  If you do, you will fail.  When you get down to it you're making a fake person, fake history, fake everything.  It's a bizarre mixture of writing and slight-of hand.  If you DO NOT have a sense of humor you will screw it up, and if you manage not to screw it up at first, you probably will in the future.

Legal Eagles: Any publicity is good publicity – and that will include the strange and bizarre fanart, game skins, and more that will appear.  Avoid suing people over this, it's just bad publicity, looks insecure – and will of course associate bad memories with the character.

Those are the reasons I can see not to try a Virtual Star – most of them related to the possiblity that people actually mess up the act of creating a Virtual Star.

That leads to the question of how one could create a Virtual Star correctly, and that will be the subject of my next and final column on the subject.

Steven Savage