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 oriëntation 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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Friday, October 26, 2007

Defining the Virtual World Industry - input needed

Last week Nick Wilson started to try and define the virtual worlds. It's a pretty hard job to try and categorise this stuff. Currently I'm writing a few chapters for a (Dutch) book on Web 2.0 and emerging trends and am faced with the same question. Could you help out in making some educated guesses?

Defining the worlds

Here's some of the definitions I'm using:

Web 3D seems the most applicable generic term, but there is no such thing as a universal format for Web 3D and it comes in various guises, some more and some less likely to be used as a business platform.

Terms which are most commonly used are Virtual Worlds, Metaverse and NVE’s (Networked Virtual Environments). Virtual Worlds are not 3D by definition, there are many 2D platforms which are also considered as virtual worlds.

A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. This habitation usually is represented in the form of two or three-dimensional graphical representations of humanoids (or other graphical or text-based avatars). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users.[1]

The term NVE was first used by Gartner in a quick study on Second Life, but residents of various virtual worlds prefer to call it the Metaverse, as coined by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 cyberpunk classic ‘Snowcrash’

Another section of web 3D consists of the socalled Paraverse, sometimes also dubbed mirror worlds, since this world is most akin to our own reality.

The Paraverse Parallel Universe is a virtual environment that is based on real
world data such as GIS and satelite information that is overlayed with 3
dimensional objects representing the objects in the real space. Examples of a
paraverse include Google Earth, Microsofts Virtual Earth, Nasa's World Wind and

A large and booming business in the web 3D environment are the online gaming worlds, the socalled MMORPG’s (massively multiplayer online role plaing games) such as World of Warcraft, Runescape etcetera.

Finally, there are all sorts of variations and hybrids such as:

  • Interverse A term used to describe a globally integrated NVE, accessible through a single common client and integrated by a common back plane.

  • Intraverse A term to describe the 3D equivalent of the intranet, a private or corporate NVE residing on an internal network and accessible to users within that network environment only.

  • Extraverse A term used for the 3D equivalent of the extranet which is privately or corporately owned and resides on a private network but accessible by one ore more organisation, but not by the general public.

    [1] Virtual Worlds definition by Wikipedia

    [2] Paraverse definition by Wikipedia

Sizing the worlds

Now it's time to get into numbers. A first excellent start by doing a raw headcount of registered users was done by Christian Renaud at the Virtual World Conference. Now let's see if we can split up some other things:

  1. Networked Virtual Environments can be split up 2 ways: Online Gaming and Social network worlds. How are they divided? 50-50%?

  2. They can also be divided by 2D and 3D, what's this pick 40-60%?

  3. How much of Online gaming worlds are 2D, is that 40%?

  4. How much of Social Network Sites are 2D, is that 50%?

  5. What is the division between Metaverse / Interverse, Intraverse, Extraverse and Paraverse?

    I'm using Extraverse as term for corporate sites, like themed sites, Laguna Beach etc.

  6. I'm also looking at our usage of the web. Like web 2.0 stuff we use it at three levels:

    1. Personal (like gaming)

    2. Social (like Second Life)

    3. Business (like Qwaq or dedicated training platforms)

      What's the spread for these in Virtual Worlds?

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Navigating Uncharted Terrain

One of yesterday's sessions was IBM's talk on Navigating Uncharted Terrain. Here's the announcement:

Wednesday, 11:00am - 12:00pm

Virtual Worlds: The BEST platforms for Enterprise Value
An Examination of Virtual World Platforms From the Enterprise Perspective.
The number of virtual worlds platforms are proliferating from publicly operated virtual worlds to private world engines. Where does an enterprise start when evaluating a platform based on BEST: Business, Economic Value, Social Interaction and Technology? This detailed session will review the leading platforms for enterprise use, talk about the real business value being realized in virtual worlds today and have a look into the future of virtual worlds fit for business.

Speaker: Sandy Kearney, IBM Global Director, IBM 3D Internet and Virtual Business

Here's my notes:

  • Like With the internet we've explored, done a lot of things that we don't want to repeat.

  • It's uncharted terrain with new tools to navigate

  • 3D internet is everywhere, anytime

  • It took IBM 10 years to understand the e-business. It took us 8 months to understand the value of v-business

  • IBM is currently engaged with over 400 clients in v-business.

  • There's an increasing market accelleration.

  • Market trends are guideposts for pioneers.

  • Orienting goals towards Business Value: BEST
    (Business, Economics, Social and Technology goals)

  • There's an enormous value in Enterprise and consumer social platforms: Recognition, interaction, social bonding and a sense of belonging in global enterprises.

  • The IBM Intraverse runs on an Active Worlds platform. A presentation of the intraverse was given at Cornell, and was live-streamed into Second Life to the Metanomics meeting.

  • We're going do see 4D very soon. Already there are people programming their avatars to do stuff when they're long gone. VW's are going temporal.

  • As a community we need to
    - realize business value (leverage the 3D capability)
    - sustain & protect value (ensure 3D internet is fit for business and community)
    - expand value (ensure interoperability, make vw's open and available, easy to use)

  • The desire to be plugged in is growing

  • A universal and generic approach makes VW's more open and available, mass marketable.

  • We're moving from the information age to the conceptual age.

  • Identity management is going to be a very very hot issue in VW's in the coming years.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Intergalactic news (2)

Here's another update on news from the vast expanse of networked virtual environments (NVE's) or simply called virtual worlds.


Big Blue is looking at the Torque game engine, proud product of the Garage Gamers as booster for their virtual escapades. IBM is rapidly advancing inte Virtual Revolution with a stronghold in Secondlife and in creating their own intraverse. They are also looking into the Multiverse which is still in Beta. This adaptiveness is surprising for a moloch from the days of the Digerati, the old school internet pioneers and is earning IBM's guru Irv Wladawsky a true nomination for the Metarati awards.

Shanda Entertainment

The Chinese corp Shanda Entertainment is digging into the world of Massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs. Shanda is China's largest entertainment and online gaming provider, with titles such as The Legend of Mir II, The World of Legend, The Sign, The Age, Magical Land and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Shanda's move heats up the Asian Virtual World competition as 3pointD reports on nve's named HiPiHi and Splume.

Sony / Pinguin Club

The Sony entertainment group is aiming to take over the Pinguin Club according to Mashable with an bid close to $ 450.000 USD. The club is an online gaming world for children which is seeing an even more spectacular growth than Second Life.

The Canadian firm New Horizons launched the club in October 2005 and it has since grown to 4.5 million visitors in March 2007 and is subscription based. To Sony it may well be an interesting new marketing channel for their games, and perhaps merge with their Playstation Home, an alledgely superior virtual platform that will crush Second Life (according to Mashable)

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