Virtual Worlds By The Numbers: Today and The Future: VW Expo 2008 (NYC)

For anyone who didn’t make the Virtual Worlds Expo event in NYC, here’s the K Zero presentation.

This presentation was part of the ‘Virtual Worlds By The Numbers: Today and The Future’ session, taking a ‘close look at the platforms currently available to marketers and content holders and goes into detail on demographics, user numbers and user behavior. Also the analysts polish their crystal balls and provide forecasts for the platforms and the industry going forward.’

I’ve taken the standard virtual worlds graph and split it into four age groups. Shown first below is the ‘up to 10 year old’ group. Neopets has the largest number of registered accounts and is also the longest established world.

What could really shake up this segment is the pending launch of Lego Universe. The applications of this world are obvious and extremely engaging. What’s of interest here is the element of content creation that could be on offer to the residents of Lego universe. Very few (possible none) of the under 10’s virtual worlds allow third tier creation (first tier: avatar, second tier: objects, third tier: environment). Allowing kids to make buildings etc could be a killer app and something we haven’t seen much of. Whether or not they engage in this activity remains to be seen, but I’d suggest it will be extremely popular.


In terms of where the growth is coming from in this age group, I think it’s in the following areas:

  1. Toy brands and franchises: Real world toy brand owners creating virtual playgrounds for their assets. Just as almost every toy has a dedicated website at present, expect to see a similar trend emerge in the virtual space.
  2. ‘Spaces to play': Linked to the first point, creating virtual spaces for kids to play (and learn) will be popular.
  3. Relationship building: Platforms such as Neopets prove the success of teaching kids to look after ‘things’. This early type of relationship building could be a trigger to mass adoption.
  4. Virtual to real : Revenue opportunities for taking assets created in virtual worlds and bring them alive in the real.

The segment below shows 10 – 20 year olds – the ‘Battle Zone’. This is a segment with a great deal of existing competition and as many worlds pending launch are as live.

Of course, we have the big boys here such as Club Penguin, Habbo, Gaia and Stardoll, but the blue circles (representing pending worlds) highlights a trend of leveraging cartoon/fairytale real-world assets. As we move up the ages, worlds such as IMVU and vSide highlight the emergence of ‘fashion chatting’ environments.

Where’s the growth coming from?

  1. Avatar customisation. Dressing up virtual people is (and I think will always be) a key growth factor. This opens up opportunities for real-world clothing and fashion companies.
  2. Live event and concerts. Experiencing music in a shared venue will be extremely popular and a natural evolution from sites such as Myspace.
  3. Education. Providing educationally-based immersive environments where learning is fun, engaging, rewarding and collaborative is set for explosive growth.

In the 20 – 30 year old segment we see the emergence of ‘Vertical Worlds‘. These are environments created on specific themes, interests or genres. Virtual MTV is a good example of this with their suite of programme-specific worlds. Other worlds in development such as Football Superstars and Empire of Sports are examples of sports-based verticals.

As we move through the age groups, platforms such as Activeworlds and Amazing Worlds highlight the trend towards content creation and the ability to visit places on a mirror-world basis.

Key growth areas for 20 -30 year olds?

  1. Augmented reality and mirror worlds. A lot of scope for combining real world places with virtual world functionality – a la Google Earth
  2. Media convergence. Brand will leverage real-world media assets and create virtual spaces to extend the relationship between viewers and shows/movies
  3. More ‘Vertical Worlds’. There’s many many uptapped interest groups and genres that would benefit from having vertical worlds
  4. Business and pleasure usage. Here we start to see dual use, with people using virtual worlds at work and then at home

Second Life still dominates the 30+ age group. HiPiHi will attract major sign-ups from Asia.

Growth areas for 30+?

  1. Mirror worlds/exploration: Allowing older dems (and Silver Surfers) the ability to visit real-world places virtually
  2. Existing social networks: Older people are less inclined to want new friends. Therefore applications here will involve bring existing circles of friends and family together in a shared environment.

If you would like the high res version of this graph, please contact me. Also, here’s the Slideshare link.