Comparing virtual worlds: age vs content creation

Comparing virtual worlds: age vs content creation. One thing is clear – although virtual worlds are a new phenomenum, different worlds attract different types of people.

To date, this has been more of a ‘push’ strategy, with metaverses positioning themselves into particular ages ranges. The teen worlds such as Habbo, Whyville and Gaia Online are obvious examples of this with specific age bands for membership.

  • Habbo: 13-16
  • Whyville: 8 -15
  • Gaia Online: 13+

But other worlds, both in development and currently live place less emphasis on being a certain age or demographic type and openly invite anyone over the age of 18. So, if the age ranges for these types of metaverses is anyone over 18, you might expect the average ages/demographic sweet-spots to be very similar.

As shown in the graph below, this is not the case. Factors are causing different age groups in different worlds (reds are live virtual worlds and yellows are in development).

Note that for the metaverses in development the average age/sweet-spot is a K Zero assessment, not derived from actual data – because they are not live yet. The degree of content creation is based on information released to date and K Zero first-hand discussions.

What is content creation?

In essence this means the degree of control a user has over there avatar and environment. Customisation is an important way for people to create digital versions of themselves – everyone wants to do this and in fact this has to happen in order to create unique personas, otherwise no-one could tell anyone apart. All virtual worlds shown do (and will) have avatar customisation.

But, importantly, the level of control people have over objects and environments in these metaverses differs greatly. Second Life for example has a very high degree of user control, particualrly if you own land or visit sandboxes. Not only can objects be created but also land can be altered (teraformed). Objects can also be made available for purchase. This explains why the main grid of Second Life possesses the highest degree of user generated content control. The teen grid (of SL) also allows this control but there’s no commercialisation, explaining why it’s slightly lower on this scale.

Why is Second Life popular

Firstly, it’s the first virtual world to attract media attention and therefore brands, so promotion has been a key element. However, the ability to create content appears to have had a major role in attracting take-up. The presence of an economy and a commercial environment (being able to buy and sell) also has greatly assisted adoption and therefore an older audience profile. The presence of content creation appears to be attracting a older type of person. This is clearly demonstrated by the difference in ages between Second Life and (intro video). There positions itself more as a social hang-out and less about creation.

Vertical worlds

Whereas some metaverses have no specific purpose, we are now seeing the emergence of vertical, or ‘category-specific’ virtual words. These include the pending Playstation Home and Football Superstars. These worlds limit the amount of user content generation because that’s not why there are being created.

Instead, they are being built to cater for specific audiences. Home is based on the PS3 platform, so straightaway, there audience is owners of the console – people with an interest in gaming. What Sony appears to be doing here is creating a convergence tool to enhance the experience of the console and related games. As this video shows, PS3 owners will be able to move from a Home environment directly into a game together, thus enhancing the gaming experience.

Football Superstars again is interest-specific. People will be engaging in this metaverse because they are football fans. The ability to create is not a driving factor in adoption, The ‘pull’ factor here is that a metaverse platform is a supplementary device designed to facilitate football fans coming together to play the game and be in an environment built around their interest.

On this basis, it would suggest that both these worlds will attract a demographic profile in the late teens to early twenties bracket.

The future of virtual worlds

Generic worlds such as Second Life and the forthcoming HiPiHi both allow an extremely high degree of environment manipulation. There is clearly a strong and growing market for these types of worlds, attracting an older age group. This assessment shows that this ability resonates with late twenties onwards. Perhaps because it facilitate self-expression in a creative way. Furthermore, the prevalence of ‘immersionalists‘ in Second Life illustrates a demand from the older dems These are people that want to use virtual worlds to be someone different from their real world persona. Younger people are still more concerned with their real world identity and social standing rather than creating and managing a different one digitally.

These generalist world people are also (valuable) early adopters and innovators. This makes generalist worlds attractive to brands and on this basis I would suggest that generalist virtual worlds will remain being popular in the future.

As indicated by the age analysis in the graph above, younger worlds have less content control. This potentially highlights the fact that younger people are less interested in self-expression in terms of creating things and much more interested in the social aspects of virtual worlds. They view these places as a cool new way to communicate.

However, as shown in the technology adoption curve below, there is a gap to bridge in terms of wider more mass adoption of virtual worlds, led by the early majority.

Early majority types wait until new technology (such as Second Life) is widely discussed in mainstream media. The key to having multi-millions of residents in metaverses and therefore crossing the adoption gap may well lie in the hands of the vertical worlds where having an interest in a subject is the reason for adoption as opposed to having an interest in a content-creation enabling environment. So, it’s more than likely that more vertical worlds catering to specific interest groups and categories will emerge in the future.

These types of worlds have one thing in common – the fact that the people engaging with them have something in common – the focus of the world. This differs from worlds such as Second Life. As it’s a generalist world people do not immediately have a common interest, apart from being a resident. However, the role that worlds such as Second Life play should not be under-estimated because it has been in many ways the catalist for this initial interest and high growth phases, brand entry and media attention. Three factors crucial to the future success of virtual world platforms.

Another important point to bear in mind in terms of discussing future growth is the migration from teen worlds to more adult ones. Worlds such as, Habbo and Kaneva all have comparatively younger audience profiles and these people can not stay in these worlds forever. So, future growth will not only come from brand new metaverse users but also from migrationary movement into older worlds. The big question here is whether not these people will demand a higher degree of content control or just be satisfied by the social aspects albeit with an older peer group.

What comes out of this analysis is a potential new strategy for the younger worlds – introducing content creation. Giving their residents the power to control their environment more could be the key to retaining their population as opposed to loosing them to older worlds. A classic new customer or customer retention strategy. Marketers reading this will know very well the difference in marketing cost between these two options.

Inversely, another strategic option for more generalist worlds such as Second Life may be a focus on implementing well publicised areas, places or zones catered towards specific vertical categories. This then provides both generalist and specialist reasons for usage. We have already seen the early emergence of this strategy in Second Life, albeit brand-driven rather than driven by Linden Lab. Areas such as the L Word islands are clearly targeted at a specific type of person. But of course, you can’t be all things to everyone so LL has some decisions to make here.

Time will tell.