The first thing you notice is the boxes. The huge, huge boxes, piled high on top of each other from the floor to the airplane-hangar sized ceiling.
What, you wonder, could these gigantic boxes possibly contain? The only possible items are washers and dryers, refrigerators, sofa sets, even SUVs. Maybe a really huge television. But if you’re the DuroSport Electronics Corporation, then these impossibly large boxes contain your latest product: a portable virtual media player.
During the past year we’ve had more than our share of laughs over the ongoing foibles of the DuroSport Corporation. From the company’s unbelievably bad portable media player to an embarrassing t-shirt recall last summer, it sometimes seems like DuroSport can’t do anything right. As it turns out DuroSport’s problems are not the result of poor engineering and horrendous customer service. No, according to company officials DuroSport has been victimized by “the current technological limitations of reality.”
So what’s a consumer electronics company to do when reality lets it down? Open a store in the virtual world known as Second Life, of course.
Needless to say, we were curious to see what happens when a company like DuroSport meets a virtual reality environment where it isn’t bound by the laws of physics or the limitations of economics. Or logic. So we swallowed our pride, created a Second Life account, and went undercover to take a look at the new DuroStore in a neighborhood called Jarang.
As you approach the DuroStore, you will notice that it floats, improbably, over a hundred meters in space. Depending on how you arrive, you may well find yourself in the plot of land below the store. If you do, take a moment to enjoy the toxic ooze and garbage strewn around the land. It’s a good thing Second Life doesn’t come with smell-o-vision. Most companies keep their dumpster behind the store. DuroSport’s dumpster is below the store, on ground level, and the company apparently just tosses its trash out the front door. The point of this observation is, if you happen to land below the DuroStore, be sure to look out for falling trash — not to mention falling customers.
Once you’ve flown up to the DuroStore, you’ll notice that the entrance is surprisingly small. Second Life is notoriously difficult to navigate as it is, and DuroSport has done nothing to help potential customers actually make it into their store. Our guess is that DuroSport must have put some of their usability engineers to work on the store’s logistics.
As a retail experience, the DuroStore is closer to the inside of Fred Sanford’s garage than it is to an Apple store. We’ve heard that you can build anything in Second Life — literally. So why base your store on a bombed-out factory that looks like it barely survived both World Wars, and possibly a couple of civil wars in between? The DuroStore building is supposed to be an exact replica of the company’s original manufacturing facility in Moldova. Unfortunately that historic building apparently looks like a former concentration camp — and now so does the DuroStore. They could have at least made an effort to wash the store windows.
The centerpiece of the DuroStore is a newly re-engineered version of the company’s flagship Prism 6000 audio player. The new version, dubbed the Prism SL-6001VRMP, is HUGE. Literally. The display model appears to be eight feet tall. Except, as it turns out, that’s not just the display model. DuroSport is actually selling the player in the 8 foot tall size! Remember, these are supposed to be “portable” players, and they might be if your avatar happens to be Godzilla. Perhaps what they mean by “portable” is that the player can carry your avatar instead of the other way around.
To be fair to DuroSport, the Prism SL-6001VRMP is available in four sizes—note we use the word “sizes” and not “capacities”. This has to be the first electronic device ever to come in small, medium, large, and extra-large (a special order).
Aside from the enormous Prism, the rest of the store is something of a monument to the history of DuroSport technology. Posters featuring many of the company’s unique products (all of which are currently out of stock) are displayed around the first floor. One of the posters is for their Prism 6000 — the player we called the worst media player ever — and it’s totally taken a couple of lines from our review completely out of context. The poster actually makes it look like we gave the product a glowing review.
Let’s be perfectly clear here: we’ve never seen, heard, read about or used a DuroSport product that didn’t totally, utterly and completely suck ass. Not kick ass. Suck ass. And this store is no exception.
A store employee, the somewhat cranky Nero Rang (who we believe may actually be DuroSport blogger Nero Tarlev) indicates the company is actively developing new versions of their entire product line for Second Life. Rang says the new versions will be “bigger and better than ever”. Having seen what they did with the virtual Prism DuroSport we have no doubt they’ll be bigger, and given how bad the original products were they can’t help but be better.
It looks like DuroSport’s Second Life product development may already be under way. When we accidentally wandered into the office level upstairs, we noticed a few products we’d never actually seen before. If you’re brave enough to venture upstairs, make it quick. Nero will almost certainly chew your head off if he catches you up there. He kept shouting something about “trade secrets” and “corporate espionage”. Apparently the man still believes that Microsoft stole the idea for the Zune from DuroSport.
Despite all of the obvious problems we noted during our visit, Nero seems quite proud of the new store. He’s convinced that Second Life is the future for the DuroSport corporation. Before we left he told us something that quite literally scared us:
“People underestimate DuroSport, but they shouldn’t. Very soon we will make a special product announcement that will stun and amaze you”.
Frankly, that’s the sort of talk that keeps us awake at night. But then, just about everything about DuroSport’s Second Life store is nightmare-inducing. Literally: we’ve been woken up by dreams of armies of their giant players roaming the countryside, having grown arms and legs and spurting lasers from their eyes, all the while shouting: “Crush! Kill! Destroy! Crush! Kill! Destroy!” Shudder.
As we left the DuroStore we couldn’t help but notice that a Second Life backlash is already brewing against DuroSport. Protest signs are clearly visible on properties around the DuroStore. Messages include “DuroSport Get Out Of Jarang” and “DuroSport Exploits Canine Labor” (an obvious reference to last summer’s t-shirt scandal).
There’s no telling how long DuroSport’s Second Life retail experiment will last, but one thing’s for sure: the virtual Prism DuroSport sure is big. And DuroSport seems quite happy to be free of the limitations of reality.