The commercial and free virtual world research firm eMarketer have made a bold prediction that within five years, virtual worlds may see an exponential growth of up to 55%. That's an encouraging sign for VWs in general because they are slowly gaining the acceptance of even adults nowadays. Because of its online nature, there has always been a running assumption that VWs are only for children and young adults. But VWs have proven to be a bustling community with its own economy, sensibilities and even culture.
This parallelism with real life has given it a new buzz among adults, sensible moms and the baby boomer generation. The projections of eMarketer detail the consumption of virtual world consumption by young children to rise from eight million to fifteen million users. An estimated 54% of these young children will range from the ages of 3 to 11. The percentile for teens as of the year 2013 would be at 25%. Although virtual world marketers are gearing to include the demographic of the young urban professionals, family-oriented adults and stay-at-home moms, the majority of the buzz surrounding VWs still remains in the domain of the young children. As of today, there are about 150 commercial and free virtual worlds for kids.
This trend will only continue five years from now. eMarketer points out that a good reason why VWs are a hit among children is its integration of the perks of video games and social marketing. After all, if children can get their fix on these two highlights of the Web 2.0 phenomenon in one place, they will definitely keep coming back. Moreover, children have a strong affinity for camaraderie in the online setting. Concerns about child safety are common with parents regarding the use of their children of these VWs. Exploitations and harassments do happen in these virtual world communities. But with the awareness brought by media literacy and previous reports of abuse, administrators of VWs are keen to maintain high standards of child protection in these online communities.
With the multitude of commercial and free virtual worlds in the World Wide Web, having a strong sense of protection for users is good for brand identification. This is why virtual worlds are hard at work to maintain a good reputation for child safety. For VWs catering to the adult demographic, such safety concerns are not that important.
The premium is for the user experience inside these online communities. There are two kinds of VWs and their focuses are clearly delineated: the massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) and the social networking virtual worlds. As one can observe, adults are looking for an optimized experience in these virtual worlds - unlike virtual worlds for kids which try to give everything for children. However, advertising in VWs as of late has still not turned into a full-fledged industry because marketers are still feeling out these virtual worlds. According to Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, Kids and Teens: Growing Up Virtual: "Unfortunately, as with social networks, advertising has not kept pace with usage. Not surprisingly, the hype and fizzling out of Second Life, combined with the tough economy, have made some marketers skittish for virtual worlds in general." With the strong market competition, it can be forecasted that VWs will keep on improving their services - whether for children or for adults. And with this competition in mind, the forecasted 55% increase of virtual world usage by the research firm eMarketer seems to be reasonable and following its timetable.