I've been having some back-and-forth concerning perception as it applies to virtual reputation, so to speak, and I'd like to expand a little on my thoughts here. It's fractured and rambling, but see me through.
Back when I wrote for Lum the Mad, Scott Jennings was a database engineer for a (I belive pretty small) company in Arkansas. Through the use of perception, he became one of the most recognizable names in our field: Though he had no professional experience in the computer games industry, his postings on Lum the Mad gave his sizable readership the perception that he was a leading voice in the field, and to a degree, he was. However, this was built not on corporate memos or trained expertise, but rather well-formed opinions.
Thus, his hiring by Mythic Entertainment was somewhat of a no-brainer: Let's bring onboard one of the best voices in games, and the people will follow. And they absolutely did - Mythic's practice of hiring some of the best voices (with shallow resumes insofar as professional experience in gaming) gave the perception that they were a leading-edge developer with an eye for what the players wanted. Good call.
(quick caveat: Scott was absolutely the right man for the position that Mythic had.)
Where does this lead us? Right now, the biggest problem in growing virtual worlds is that of perception - virtual worlds, much more so than video gaming at large, is still considered the domain of dorks. How do we get past that?
We need to start building the perception that virtual worlds are, really, composed of the communities the players make rather than individuals and their existent or nonexistent proclivities to dorkdom. Through kinships, guilds, clans, etc., you can insulate yourself from social influences you see as dorky and associate yourself with ones you see as positive.
How do our marketing departments do this? Grab a few members of a guild who represent different demos, put them in front of a camera, then run it on something like MTV or network if you can afford it. Stop accentuating "loot" on your back box and accentuate how easy it is to find people like you.
While TV advertising is generally cost-prohibitive to all but the largest players, as far as print goes, marketing departments need to stop sending money to PCGamer - really, the audience that reads PCGamer is going to play your game based on word-of-mouth, rather than that ad - and think about an ad and PR-spend that positions your game as a "normal thing to do."
So take every gaming magazine advertising contact out of your Rolodex and replace it with contacts for Cosmo, Redbook and MySpace. Co-brand with Pogo. Word of Warcraft Whomp!
I'm not joking, I promise. Your advertising will be notable just for the virtue of being out-of-place and odd in those publications. It'll make people start talking. "Did you see that ad for that video game? I thought it was only for dorks." But then the dialogue will begin to change over the course of your campaign. Advertising in these publications, over the course of a campaign, makes the reader feel like they are represented, even if it's just a facade. Retain these customers by slipping in the name and server of a female-friendly megaguild into your ad.
Over time, if we start spending more time in improving our perception rather than trying to scrabble for the few customers whose we perceive are naturals for our games, I think we can finally start seeing more marketplace equity instead of accepting what we currently have as a gold standard.