Running the numbers: vSide

Music and fashion based virtual world vSide nestles between the likes of Kaneva, vMTV, There and IMVU in terms of positioning and target market. Since launch in 2007, the overall registered account base now stands in the 300k range. But let’s dip a little deeper into the demographics of these accounts.

As is the (obvious) case with virtual worlds and their initial members, from a location perspective the real world ‘home’ heavily drives the take-up. This was also the case with Second Life. Users from North America drove initial account growth primarily via the Innovator group. Innovators have local social networks (Localites) meaning they told other Innovators about SL within their close geographic proximity.

In terms of new technology adoption, Innovators in turn inform Early Adopters. These Early Adopters have much wider (geographical) social networks and are classified as Cosmopolites. Non-US take-up of SL was triggered when the Cosmopolitiesstarted to flex their global social networks and prompt sign-ups in other countries, particularly Europe. However, whilst the ‘Cosmopolite Trigger’ is present in older age groups, it’s unclear if this effect is possible in younger worlds. One would expect this effect to dilute as the typical age group lowers.

However, there’s also less ‘smart-ass’ explanations for the typical make-up of virtual world populations. Let’s not forget the role that the English language plays. Younger virtual worlds which choose English as their UI straightaway narrow their global audience because potential members in other countries are less likely to speak/read/write English. Of course, one way around this is to localise the UI and/or website, as Stardoll does with their Swedish website .

Beta phases of virtual worlds also affect the geographic mix. Typically betas are low-key affairs, meaning factors such as world of mouth and local media coverage are key drivers for take-up, meaning overseas knowledge of the beta is low.

Along with the UI aspect, virtual world owners can also shape the geographic mix by only allowing account sign-up in specific countries. This is the case with Fusion Fall, which is currently limiting sign-up to North America. Plus there’s the server issue of course which can mean certain countries simply can not access the site or download.

Brands also play a large part in determining geographic take-up, but I’ll explain this in a later post.

Enough of the waffle. Let’s look at the latest vSide numbers, kindly provided by Shaw Taylor,Senior Director of Marketing, Business Development and Programmingat Doppelganger. With a job title like that he’s clearly a busy guy.

Shown left is the regional breakdown for vSide as at the end of April 2008.

Unsurprisingly North America dominates the registered accounts profile, accounting for 80% of the total. The factors detailed above explain this high weighting.

Europe represents 15% of the total and whilst this is currently a low proportion, one would expect this % to steadily increase over the forthcoming months.

By way of comparison, shown right is the regional breakdown for Second Life for April 2008.

This rough third/third/third relationship between North America, Europe and the Rest of the World is as near as a benchmark for non-kid virtual worlds as you can get. It’s also how you would expect most teen/young adult worlds to migrate to over time.

How will this profile for Second Life change over time and what are the factors influencing it?

I think the two main drivers affecting the growth will be brand activity shifting the balance of power between regions as well as usability improvements in order to bridge the Adoption Gap (explained in a later post). The former will dictate how the regional penetration will shift whilst the later will simply increase the global numbers.

Moving onto the gender split, the graph below shows the male/female ratio for vSide compared with Second Life.

For vSide, the gender split is surprising – I’d expect a closer relationship between sexes.

vSide doesn’t outwardly focus on females with its positioning and there’s no real meaningful research (or anecdotal evidence) to suggest the women prefer music or fashion more than men.

Perhaps the best explanation of this variance and weighting towards females is offered by the types of brand activity taking place in vSide. Current campaigns include Tyra Banks t-shirts and Degrassi.

Now the age bands. Obviously the main proposition of a virtual world goes a long way in defining (or dictating) the age sweet spots. Avatar appearance also influences this dynamic. Take Playstation Home for example. Still in beta (yes, still in beta) and whilst the average age of the beta testers is likely to be late 20’s to early 30’s (I’m a closed beta tester) when it launches the average age is likely to be late teens to early 20’s because that’s what a typical avatar has been designed to look like.

The graph shown right shows vSide age splits.

The 13-18 age band possesses the highest proportion of registered accounts, accounting for 42%, followed by 18-24’s representing a third.

Overall, 75% of vSide members are 24 or younger. On this basis, the K Zero forecast of 19 being the average age is pretty close, albeit slightly off by a year or two.

Last-up, Engagement – one of the most powerful words when it comes to the strength of virtual worlds for marketers. In web-terms, this metric is known as average session length, however, this is a 3D immersive environment we’re talking about here, so engagement sounds much better, right.

The graph below shows the monthly vSide engagement in hours. Active users typically spend 45 hours a month in vSide – almost 90 minutes a day in-world. Impressive to say the least and I’ll be comparing this data point against other worlds such as Kaneva and There shortly. Average users also produce an encouraging stat, with an average of 17 hours a month – 55 minutes a day.


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