Numbers of avs in virtual worlds are hard to figure out, but the other day i was reading this article by Rick Van Der Wal and something didn’t ring true. Sure enough it was the numbers, which I’ll repost here.
These are estimates as provided by Fabric of Folly
Size Active Digital Media Universe: 350,000,000
Active users in ‘online 3d environments without a gaming focus’: 36,550,000
(very) Rough percentage active internet users in Virtual Worlds: 10.44%
You’ll notice I’ve set a few in bold – they’re what I consider serious multi-purpose free-form virtual worlds, as opposed to games or kids stuff. I’m creating a distinction between a VW’s, MMOG’s and avatar based chatrooms here. I’ll also concentrate mostly on Activeworlds and Secondlife, as they’re the worlds i’ve been most active in and am familiar with.
First onto what I’ve left out so you understand my reasoning.
Barbie, whyville, Disney etc are pretty much gaming worlds with a social focus. They’re avatar, chats and so not revolutionary. As a matter of fact they’ve been around since the early ninties, and even in primitive forms in the late 80s. In that way they’re not particularly virtual worlds.
Kaneva is facebook or myspace in 3d, so not a general purpose virtual world either. In that sense IMVU is similar but just scrapes it in on user generated content. From what I can tell WhyVille less so.
As for Entropia, often lauded as a general VW just like the big boys, well I’ll let their homepage speak for itself:
The Entropia Universe is more than a game. The Entropia Universe is for real. Real people, real activities and a Real Cash Economy in a massive online universe.
… looks promising so far…
Join people from around the globe who use the Entropia Universe currency, the PED, to develop their characters everyday on the untamed planet of Calypso.
… erm spend spacebucks on your character on another planet. Nope, it’s a game.
So what about the real virtual worlds?
I’ve never seen good statistics from There.com so I can’t comment precisely. What I have heard though is they’re about on par or slightly better than activeworlds, which we do know about.
Activeworlds says on their site:
Since Active Worlds is primarily an Internet-based platform, the
potential market for all Active Worlds-based products is global. We
currently have over 2 million individual users worldwide who have
downloaded the browser and visited the one UniServer we operate. We
generally receive more than 1,000,000 hits to our universe server per
day, and more than 500 new users download our browser each day. To
date more than 70,000 users have registered to be a “citizen”
of our Active Worlds universe. These users receive enhanced
capabilities in the Active Worlds environment. Users who do not register
are called “tourists.”
OK let’s get the same statistics from Linden Labs and see what the difference is (keeping in mind that activeworlds has been around a lot longer so their total premium accounts figure is going to be higher.
Linden Labs economic statistics page for today says: Total Residents 11,849,438. That’s sign ups, so not counting alternate accounts (2 million by the best estimates i’ve heard) it means that secondlife has attracted just under ten million individual users to sign up for an account. That’s a guestimate, but a pretty good one. So unique logins alone that puts SL about five times the size of activeworlds (which claims 2 million). This doesn’t take into account the fact that activeworlds has been online since 1995 (see history) whilst SL has only been active this century, making it somewhat younger for such a startling figure.
The difference in growth rate can easily be seen by comparing signup rates. Activeworlds boasts 500 new users each day, which may well be mostly unique. From what I can see Secondlife boasts about 15,000 signups a day, which is down from the peak average around 20,000 a day last year, but even so. If we don’t get tricky with the numbers somehow (eg. throw a few away for alt accounts) it simply looks like SecondLife is growing at thirty times the rate of ActiveWorlds.
Total accounts also doesn’t factor in that people leave. All those eleven-million sl accounts have arrived since I’ve been in world (just over 18 months). Activeworlds has a long history, and has been trading since 1995 as a virtual world, and 2001 as a commercial one. The average churn rate for VW users who do become residents is about six months according to some. We must assume that many of those accounts have left activeworlds over that time and a significant proportion of their two million residents are no longer there. This has happened to secondlife as well, but over a much shorter period.
To summarize this point – SecondLife has about as many fake accounts as Activeworlds has total accounts. When it comes to real accounts the difference is staggeringly large. If you imagine that over the 12 or 7 years the activeworlds figures represent, some users have left, then the difference in size between SL and AW are obvious. You’ll notice in the figures from the top ten at the start of this post, all the virtual worlds I’ve pointed out are about the one million users mark.
So if it’s not the total accounts figure it must be something else. If it’s premium accounts or active accounts… let’s see.
Well it’s not as simple as that – to be a member of activeworlds you have to pay to do anything apart from stand around in orange overalls (from memory). So since 2001 there have been 70,000 users registered to be a “citizen” of activeworlds. Many may no longer be paying. We can compare that to two figures in SecondLife, neither of which is particularly illuminating except to create a stark contrast.
If we compare paying secondlife customers then we’re onto “premium accounts”. I only have the published economic statistics for last september, but at that time 91,015 residents were paying for premium accounts. That was for that month, not over the entire history of SL. Some come, some go. If we knock off the churn for activeworlds it looks quite different.
Pulling the “6 month average churn” figure out of the aether (well out of the mouth of Corey Bridges from Multiverse actually) we’d assume AW’s active premium accounts would be much closer to 10,000. As SL’s premiums have continued to grow since september (with a brief dip recently) we can assume that SL has about ten times as many paying customers as AW. However you don’t have to be a paying customer to live in SL, earn virtual cash and do stuff….
The other figure that probably compares better with activeworlds residency is SL “active users”. They can do everything premiums can do apart from own land. We can be generous with AW and say that – back of the napkin – there might be quite a few folk who might wish to run around in world without any powers or rights and just chat. Let’s say that’s 20,000 or so. We compare that to the number of folk who’ve run around SL in the last fortnight and we get Residents Logged-In During Last 14 Days – 508,561. So there’s a big difference again. LL defines active residents as those who have accumulated at least 60 minutes in the last 60 days so it’s probably closer to 1.25 million in the figures they publish in their PR.
So there you have it. Based on solid figures from Linden Lab and some guestimates from Activeworlds, the active user base of SecondLife is about sixty times the size of activeworlds. Q.E.D. … well not quite.
These figures however, are patently wrong. This is partly due to the difficulty of getting propper statistics out of these companies, and partly cause of something I spilled on the napkin while working them out. Then again my estimates here are in stark contrast to those of the original article which says they’re both about a million. I know my figures aren’t exactly right, but I suspect neither of us has the whole picture. My best guess is that his stats are also wrong. Given that activeworlds still services their population with “one UniServer” while LL bought online “over 9,000 server CPUs” this year alone, I’d say my figures are closer to the truth.
This is not to poke fun at Mr Van Der Wal, simply to alert anyone who cares to read it that virtual worlds figures aint what they put in the PR. There’s plenty of very poor press going around with very silly numbers in it, both from the news makers, and the virtual worlds folk themselves. Given the poor acuracy of the numbers in the press you’ll often find reputable sources getting the stats very wrong indeed.
I encourage anyone following virtual worlds for professional purposes, and SecondLife in particular, to keep an eye on Mis Tateru Nino’s posts in Massively. She can be relied on to cut through the lard when it comes to silly numbers.
This is why, though I don’t agree with all of Prok’s views on things, I think he’s worth watching. A very well thought out group of predictions here. Unfortunately typepad think’s I’m spam – which may well be true – so I’ll have to post here instead.
1) LL will not opensource in 2008 – I think they’ll partially opensource but they’ll never completely opensource their server tech. Their business model rides on it. But they will opensource enough to allow interoperability, under the influence of the IBM parthership on technology, as that IS in their interest and gives their platform competative advantage.
2) Yups – they’ve announced interoperability and they’ll move on that as quick as they can, which will be slow 😛 But given a year I think we’ll see something.
3) Indeed 2008 will not be the year kaneva and other neiche worlds take off, but will be the year that folk figure out that there may be some kinda use for them. It’ll be the year that these startups start to realize that their walled garden aproach is going to stunt most of their growth and start making moves on inter-world connectivity. New worlds are more effort to join than new web2.0 apps and nobody want’s to deal with all the multiple clients. Phones will grow this year as wap2.0 takes off. If i had the money i’d be buying stocks in thumb medication and spectacles.
4) LL will open up another grid. FIC theory asside I think this is a solid prediction. I’d bet you a lindy IBM might be a “special friend” in this instance. Folk say they have their own grid and tech, but they’re well known for developing multiple technologies that compete for the same space anyways.
5) A blackout will mess with virtual worlds – I think there’ll be some kinda disaster, these things happen and statistically we’re due for one. When it happens I think virtual worlds will be the least of our problems. Local banking and comms chaos, and financial markets reacting to say the sudden disapearance of wall street for a day, would probably distract folk long enough from VR that they wouldn’t miss it too much while it was gone.
6) Rumors of the demise of SL have been greatly overblown. It’ll keep chugging along and the lowered expectations will allow it to continue to do what it does best rather than beeing seen as the next big thing. People will start to use it for useful stuff rather than exciting stuff (and social things are useful too from a utilitarian perspective.) So SL will steadily grow in a meat and 3 veg kinda way.
7) an attempt WILL be made to sue for fraud regarding the banks in SL. This is because at some point someone will have forgotten to tick all the indemnity boxes in their “contract” for services in sl. Further to Prok’s prediction I think a parliamentary probe will prompt a government to try and legislate in some kind of way regarding virtual worlds and property, currencies, buisiness practices. This will cause leftie activists to get up in arms about said legislation. This will not be because they’re lefties, but because governments just don’t get it, and everyone will be a bit upset about it. That is unless they’re the litigous types that stand to make a buck out of suing folk because of the changes in law, or gain competitive advantage due to increased legislative burden on their competition.
8) a libel suit will be filed – considering how litigous folk are becomming about next to nothing I think this is a good bet.
9) I disagree. There seems to be no slowing in the growth in litigation around IT contracts, intellectual property, and general legal opportunism. There will be other Stroker Serpentines who do have a legal leg to stand on who will win, and that’ll renew the hopes of those folk who seek to legislate or legally poke virtual world businesses for revenue.
This includes governments, and while some will seek to tax virtual worlds the competetive advantage will go to those countries that leave them alone (as vw business bottom lines will be 10-30% better off in terms of running costs, which can be passed on to their clients/consumers). Those who implement VAT will find that the cost of implementing it, accounting it, and the impossibility of enforcing it produce significant competetive disadvantage as it drains money from service provision into accountants pockets and prompts offshoring.
10) I’ll have to trust Prok when it comes to speculation on the real estate markets.
11) China !!! but not SL. South East Asia too – there will be virtual worlds with much higher per capita penetration and truly staggering populations – but they’ll be isolated to language groups that use non roman or cyrillic alphabets (ie ones that use characters for words rather than an alphabet). This is more due to the funamental difference in the way folk type and the difficulty of adapting language services to the many idiosyncratic input methods these languages use.
12) big corporations will not be using sl more. Yups, but small corporations will. Big corps already have strong slow moving communications infrastructure full of legacy systems and culture. They’ll need McKinsey on it for a year before they figure out their key messages for their internal comms rollouts and will have spent hundreds of thousands before they even move on these things. Their workers may develop local ad-hoc cultures that involve VW’s but that won’t be on the corporate radar.
Small fast moving or cash strapped companies will begin to use SL for internal communications (or other worlds). There are some things it does cheap and cheerful that cost significantly more for a pro non roll your own solution – telepresence and ad-hoc presentations for example. This will be a growth market – well not really a market, more DIY.
13) Something like a csi style murder or suicide will happen. The world is big. Just about everything happens somewhere, sometime. The odds are in it’s favour and I think this is a good bet. I shudder to think what the gonzo media will do with it.
14) The mainstream blogsphere will start using sl – yup. Non geeks are arriving in sl now. I think there’s plenty of folk who, if they have time for blogging, have enough time on their hands and are chatty enough to hang out in VW’s. When your aunt is doing it then it won’t be long before it’s well represented amongst non-geek bloggers.
15) Age verification will proceed – well a bit. For americans who seem to have the world’s largest data footprint it won’t be surprising that some company you don’t know has everything they need to verify who you are. This is information that, if you lost your wallet you would panic over, but if some company you don’t know has it it all seems ok. Most countries in the rest of the world have extremely strong protections against that kind of data on the public record and how it can be used. So I predict that for most of the world age verification will be slow, buggy and arduous for the next year.
As for red light center, I think that is a great idea. It also got me to thinking about the “use” of kaneva and “social” worlds of that sort, and when they’re purpose specific (such as this sexy one) perhaps the market isn’t as small as I initially imagined. Neiche specific pluggable worlds such as this might take off – particularly if there’s sex or dating involved.
17) advertisers will continue to flop and corporate sponsored arts will continue to rise. I think this is very likely – push media doesn’t work so well on the internets and particularly in VW’s. The current corporate model on the web is to leverage existing communities (such as web2.0 or interest groups) and leave customer service to their main websites – this will happen in SL too. Sponsorship of arts, letters and communities is the cheapest bang for buck in that kind of situation.
18) The emphasis on corporate sponsorship of the arts will take the stress from having to be concerned with copyright theft as events and experiences will become more important than objects and textures. Hear hear! Though corporate folk will also come with their own IP baggage when they put their cash and name to things. The trend however will be against worrying so much, and about time too – the focus on stuff in virtual worlds rather than people as the main revenue model devalues their main strength.
19) TV will feast on SL for free content – this is a given. The residents of sl will not be moraly challenged by it so much though as they’ll get their fifteen minutes, which represents social currency in world. They will still wake up in the morning feeling dirty and cheap.
20) Everyone will have a metaplace. Folk who currently base their revenue model on Your Attention(TM) will hate this as they don’t own it. Folk will monetize it effectively, but you’ve never heard of them. Some will be bought for obscenely inflated prices, and later disapoint their new owners. By that time we’ll be distracted by another shiny thing and not notice.
Well that’s my two cents 😛
When all’s said and done I really do want to pontificate on these interwebs things, but you know – ’tis hard. So on Torley’s recommendation I’m trying the windows live blogging client. Will see how useful it is.
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