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Growth Projected for both Virtual Worlds and Virtual Goods

Two encouraging and thought-provoking articles were published last week, both generally about the growth of virtual worlds and virtual goods. Backed by extensive statistics, or at the very least, some very cool charts and graphs, KZero is predicting immense growth in virtual worlds. “Growth Forecasts for Virtual Worlds – 900 by 2012” www.kzero.co.uk/blog. This is driven in part by the kids, tweens and teens market, but also by growth from those of us further along the age spectrum. Children’s online/virtual world interest leans heavily toward entertainment, and KZero expects that trend to continue. Among adults, however, growth is expected to move beyond social networking and entertainment, into education (well, and gambling). The specific types of additional virtual worlds KZero expects adults to be drawn to is not as clear. Financial advice in world with live calculators? Interactive healthcare models? Live situational parenting seminars? The possibilities are not only endless, but incredibly exciting.

The second really interesting piece was an Op-Ed about virtual goods by Victor Keegan in the Guardian, “Is Virtual Boom Our Industrial Revolution?” www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/sep/09/victor-keegan-virtual-world-revolution One particularly remarkable aspect of growth in both virtual worlds and virtual goods, and perhaps surprising at first glance, is the growth among lower income individuals, particularly in developing nations. The spread of technology and internet access has grown so fast and is so prevalent, that income – the ability to gain access to both a computer, or more commonly, a mobile phone AND internet access – no longer presents a barrier that existed even five years ago. In fact, this prevalence was worrisome for hardware and software makers alike at the start of the recession – what next if they’ve saturated the market?

But that prevalence is benefiting many other companies: And this demographic is driving an increased interest in virtual goods. Can’t afford an outfit by Armani? Your avatar in Second Life can. Victor Keegan points out that virtual goods present several fascinating benefits which will very likely lead to their long-term use:

  • Virtual goods are faster to create, market and use, which appeals to a younger demographic, as well as to businesses
  • Their inexpensive creation means manufacturers of all types of products can test-drive designs in virtual worlds, and choose the most popular to recreate for the real world.
  • Virtual goods are also environmentally responsible: no flowers were harmed in the creation of your birthday bouquet!

“If the move towards virtual doesn’t become a revolution in its own right,” says Victor, “it will only be because the virtual and real worlds will have merged to the point where it is difficult to distinguish them.” Wow. But don’t worry, those of you who are still technology-phobic, I still want a real cake on my birthday, not just a virtual one from Facebook.

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