Virtual universes are hype, that’s a sure bet. With very strong media coverage for universes like Second Life or World of Warcraft, announcers and users are discovering new spaces for playing, communicating, entertaining and even working which are in complete rupture with 2D spaces they already know.
Complete rupture? No, not exactly since most of these universes are evolution from existing services (chats, social networks, maps…). All these virtual universes bring some oxygen to sometimes unappealing concepts by providing new possibilities. But with new opportunities comes a lot of covetousness and build a very competitive environment inside which the most media covered are not the most interesting.
Did you know it?
- There are more than 150 millions of Neopets‘ users which have already created more than 217 millions of accounts (you can count again, that’s more than MySpace)
- KartRider and QQ are social platforms which generated nearly $100M in quarterly earnings (it’s quarterly earnings, not annual turnover)
- There was $1 Billion Invested in Virtual Worlds in the Last Year (again, it’s $1 billion, not $1 million)
Do these figures astonish you? Well… so they did to me! But they are real.
Four main fields
Comparing all these universes won’t make any sense. First of all because they are very different and then because they target very different audience. But if you REALLY need a comparison, then you can have a look at these two (partial) comparison charts: Virtual Worlds Comparison Chart, Casual Immersive Worlds and Virtual Worlds Platforms and User Numbers.
Let me introduce you to these universes by using a map where I positioned most of them. All of these are not vast virtual world like Second Life, but they all share common characteristics: avatars, virtual currency and virtual places where avatars can meet, chat, play and interact.
This map is divided in 4 main fields:
- Social, with universe revolving around community building
- Games, with universes relying on online games
- Entertainment, where music, videos and films related content
- Business, where selling or exchanging goods is the main motivator for users and with enterprise applications (virtual training, serious games…)
Please not that these fields overlap themselves:
If you search for a high-quality version of this map, here it is: Virtual Universes Landscape.
A wide typology of uages
You can find on this map various groups which are related to specific usage:
- 2.5 & 3D Chats, which are an evolution to instant messaging services but with a much stronger immersion (IMVU, Taatu, Citypixel, Faketown…)
- Avatar-centric, where avatars are at the center of interactions and functionalities (Neopets, Club Penguin, Stardoll, Virtual MTV…)
- Social Platforms, universes which inherits from social networks and sharing platforms while adding some avatar management and online games (Habbo, Cyworld, QQ, Gaia, Playdo…)
- Branded Universes, which propose a total immersion inside the brand’s graphical universe and products range (Barbie Girls, Pepsi Town, MyCoke, ToonTown, T-Works, Home…)
- Virtual Worlds, where users experience nearly total freedom of action (Second Life, HiPiHi, There, Entropia Universe…)
- MOG, online gaming platforms relying on casual games for developing sociabilization (KartRider, PuzzlePirates, MapleStory…)
- MMORPG, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games which requires a stronger social involvement (World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Dofus, RuneScape, Lineage II…)
- Online Sport Games, based on collective or individual sports (Football Superstars, Online Soccer Manager, Fishing Champ, Ultimate Baseball Online…)
- Adult Games, money games targeted at adults (PKR, Cameo Casino…)
- Virtual Sex, 3D dating spaces (Red Light Center, Virtual Ibiza, Naughty America…)
- Virtual City Guides, which are natural evolutions of local and mapping services (Google Earth, UpNext…)
- Serious Games, which are deploy inside enterprise to build 3D collaborative spaces, virtual training classes and augmented meeting rooms (Innov8, MPK20, Quaq…)
- World Generators, which allows 3D world creation (Active Worlds, Multiverse, Metaplace…)
Obviously, all these universes are not at the same maturity level: some are approaching the final stage of their life cycle (like Everquest), some others are crossing a turbulence area (Yankee Group Says Hype of Second Life Far Outweighs Its Ability to Impact Mainstream Interactivity), others are growing very fast (Gaia Online) and some are repositioning themselves (like IMVU which is morphing into a social network and Entropia Universe which will try to compete with video games).
A nearly saturated market?
With more than 150 active or soon-to-be-launched virtual universes, accept some numerous take over and disappearances. In this profusion, which universe is the right one? Its’ a hard guess since only two audience niches are sharply targeted: teen and adults (Virtual Worlds Are Trendy Spot for Kids and Teens).
It took 10 years to structure the internet media landscape and provide announcers with reliable communication tools (adwords, adsens…) and measure tools. How long will it takes with the virtual universes media landscape? Who will master advertising inside these new territories / markets? Is co-creation a reality? So many questions… which will find answers in the next months. Stay tuned.