The Evolution of Virtual Worlds, Part One.

This is the first in a series of four posts exploring how virtual reality will drive the future evolution and direction of virtual worlds towards Social Virtual Reality – what we’re calling ‘Virtual Worlds 3.0′.

It’s important to lay-out in the first instance how we got to today, moving through VW1.0 and 2.0. Using the definition of ‘a real-time multi-user virtual environment that can not be altered by the user’, VW1.0 was heavily driven by the KT&T (Kids, Tweens and Teen) market, with registered account growth from this segment reaching 1bn in 2013 and an active user base in excess of 250m account globally. (Note that we’re focussing more on social VWs rather than game-based MMORPGs and the like).

The graphic below (the KZero Universe chart) visualises the tween and teen segment of the virtual worlds marketplace.

kzero universe q2 2014 seg2

Many of these virtual worlds have amassed multi-million registered account bases by creating immersive environments based around activities such as socialisation, avatar dress-up, multi-player experiences questing and exploration. And, in many ways these virtual worlds have proved popular because they offere ‘visual social networking’ (via avatars) before the concept of mainstream social networking as we know it today. They offer users the ability to be in the same ‘place’ at the same time as other people, albeit with in most cases a 2.5D perspective, viewed via web-browser.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 14.18.45In addition to existing IP branded platforms such as Playstation Home, Build-a-Bearville, Barbie World and Fusion Fall being popular, brand-new IPs such as Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin and Poptropica demonstrated the appetite for younger users to explore in and engage with virtual worlds.

Importantly, a key differentiator between this stage of the market (VW1.0) and the next, was the fact that users had no or little control over the environment – the virtual world could not be modified by them. In other words, User Generated Content (UGC) was not possible, which leads us to VW2.0.

We classify the second evolutionary stage of the virtual worlds market as VW 2.0, defined as a ‘A VW that allows the user to create/modify their environment’. By this of course we mean UGC….

Interestingly, some UGC-based virtual worlds actually existed before some of the more popular VW 1.0 platforms, with Second Life being the most prominent one. But, it was not until Minecraft became a global phenomenon that the concept of creating ‘virtual stuff’ hit the headlines and continues to do so. The advent of UGC worlds such as Minecraft, Roblox and Stardoll pushed global registered accounts up to 1.3bn and active users to 350m.

But why is UGC so popular across all ages? A lot of the popularity is based around self-expression, creativity and curation. Virtual sandboxes (UGC VWs) allow people to make whatever they want, from avatar clothing and virtual homes through to replicas of the Starship Enterprise and even entire countries.

And, these creative platforms stimulate the users to share their creations, encouraging other users to interact with what’s been created.

Linking the popularity of UGC VWs back to the evolution of the sector leading to virtual reality, another key difference between VW1.0 and VW2.0 is the viewing perspective. VW 2.0 is typically experienced in first person 3D mode as opposed to 2.5D, the outcome being a more immersive experience for the user. This immersive factor or termed another way ‘Presence’ is what leads us to VW3.0 and the emergence of virtual reality worlds….

In Parts Two, Three and Four of ‘The Evolution of Virtual Worlds’ we’ll be explaining three key areas in which virtual reality will drive adoption in the virtual world sector, focussing on Social Virtual Reality, User Generated Spaces and Branded Virtual Reality respectively.

These three segments as well as the evolution of the overall market (from VW1.0 through to VW3.0) are visualised in the graphic below, using the variables of Presence and Self-Expression. This graphic will be explained further in Part Two. Part three, explaining User Generated Spaces can be read here.

Further information: