Friday, November 02, 2007

Charting the new Worlds

UPDATE: The numbers in this blog are old. There will be an update shortly.

This blogentry was posted first at the Virtual World blog powered by Sogeti Sweden. As it is a new blog I gave an outline of the market we're dealing with. Several bits and bytes have appeared on this blog before - VeeJay

It's a brave new world out there, the question is which world? We've seen the industry of virtual worlds explode in this past year with billions of dollars of capital funding, takeovers and corporate builds. Over the past year Second Life has drawn more media attention than any other virtual world, respectively positive and then later ill-informed negative publicity has driven the world of Second Life into a hype cycle (as defined by Gartner).

Networked Virtual Environments

There's more to it though. There's not only a brave new world out there, it's an entire universe. It was also Gartner who did a short report on virtual worlds in december 2006 and introduced the term NVE, Networked Virtual Environments as an overal term for the industry, their definition:

An NVE is an online platform in which participants are immersed in a three-dimensional representation of a virtual space. Other, analogous, terms for
NVEs in the market are metaverses and virtual worlds.

It's not a 100% definition as the industry also includes 2D spaces. I'd like to use it as a term for the entire universe whereas I would reserve the usage of the metaverse for a specific section in the industry.

So how big is the market we're talking about?

A very good kick off was given at the Virtual World Conference in San Jose (10-11 October 2007) by Christian Renaud. He put in some good effort to come up with a list of about 75 Virtual Worlds with subscription numbers.

This subscription pie is based on the number of subscriptions per virtual world. Adding up to a grand total of 465.000.000 registered users. Wow, that's huge. That's the entire population of North America, or the entire population of Western Europe. And this is not even counting the Asian (Ralph Koster estimates the number to be close to 2000!).

This might be an unbelievable number. We have to put that into perspective. People do sign up a lot, then drop out. The current number of registered users in Second Life is about 9.2 million of which close to 2 million are active. Christian Renaud estimates the total number of active virtual world residents to be close to 50 million. Still, the number of signups is impressive. Let's take a look at the Social Network list on Wikipedia; it gives a list of 85 community sites totalling 1 billion registered users. Like web 2.0 sites, we do travel a lot. We sign up, play around and then move to the other world / site. And there's people like me. I'm registered at about 15 Virtual Worlds.

A division by Universe

This is the division of the NVE's I'd like to make

How do we use these worlds?

A quick and easy split up is to say we use these worlds for social activities (i.e. Social Network Worlds) and for personal recreation (online gaming). But we also start to use these worlds for business purposes: online meetings, training, simulation, promotion, recruitment etcetera. Where does the business fit in? There's a number of platforms out there that could be considered as being typical business environments. Like Qwaq with office applications and Forterra which focusses on training and simulation. And then there are the intraverses. These have a business oriƫntation as well. The chart below shows the division by usage focus. There is business on Second Life, but Second Life is not focussed on business.

What is my audience?

Each world has its own culture and its own demographics. The chart below gives an overview of agegroups. It's not a demographic of the VW residents but an overview of worlds focussing on a specific agegroup. Teen Worlds are growing fast in the sector. There's no world yet that has a focus on elderly people yet. The virtual residents are generally young people. But there will be a market for elderly people, I'm sure. One of the problems of a lot of elderly people is a lack of social contact. We'll be seeing our first virtual elderly home in a few years time.


In a virtual world there probably is no discrimination by gender. For example. Construction is an industry in which we usually find very few women. Perhaps it's prejudice, but the genereal thought is that women can't carry a load of bricks. Physical inhibitions don't count in virtual worlds. Another point is that we use avatars, representations, choosing whichever form we like. I know enough men dressing as women or vice versa in Second Life. Likewise, most worlds are open to both man and women without specifically aiming at a gender. There are a number of worlds however that are specifically targeted at teen girls. I've called them Girl Worlds. They're usually running on an extraverse, being brand driven. Examples of these are

Here's a chart of the marketshare these worlds have:

Finally, it's an enormously varied landscape. Different cultures, people and habits. A wide variety of engines are used to drive these worlds. Some are java-based, some are desktop applications that connect to grids and some are using streaming technology. It's almost impossible to try and define these worlds, let alone find ways for unified communications, interoperability and portability for the sector.

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