KZero, a UK consulting firm specializing in virtual worlds, recently released a chart of registered virtual world accounts, and while it's interesting, many people misread what the chart shows. The firm reports that total registered accounts in virtual worlds has grown to nearly 1.4 billion, which is easy to interpret as actual user growth. For example, Hypergrid Business uses the chart to claim "Virtual world usage accelerates". But when you look at the activity of specific virtual worlds in the chart, you see a very different, very mixed picture.
To take some examples KZero mentions:
- In Q2 2011, Habbo gained 20 million accounts to 220 million total -- however, in press releases, last December, Habbo reported 15 million monthly active uniques, and last February, reported just 13 million monthly active uniques.
- In Q2 2011, IMVU gained 5 million accounts to 55 million total -- however, as the CEO told me last June, IMVU actually has 3 million active monthly users.
- KZero's chart notes that Disney's Club Penguin has 70 million total accounts. However, last May, the Times reported that the world's growth was dropping, then down to 6.7 million monthly uniques.
And as NWN readers painfully know, Second Life now has tens of millions of registered accounts, a number which keeps growing, but less than a million monthly active uniques, a number that hasn't significantly changed for over a year. So total actual users are not at all the same as total accounts, which don't tell us much about which world is really growing, or for that matter, whether the virtual world category as a whole is growing. At the moment, Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel seem to have flat or slow growth, while IMVU is indeed growing (but with monthly uniques still a small fraction of total accounts.)
If anything, KZero's chart is probably most reflective of churn, i.e. consumers (mostly kids) trying one world, hopping over to another, trying out another world, going back to an old one with a new account, and so on. If I were to make a very rough guess, I'd estimate just 5-10% of KZero's 1.4 billion number represents actual, unique, monthly active virtual world users: I.E., somewhere between 70 million to 140 million. That's a pretty big total audience, but just counting total account numbers makes it very difficult to see what worlds that growth is really coming from.