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Think Big. Move Fast.

Wagner James Au has a great post on GigaOm about Gaia. Gaia is a casual immersive MMORPG that describes itself as:

“The world’s fastest growing online world hangout for teens.”

In an interview with Gaia‘s CEO, Craig Sherman, he quotes that Gaia has gone from 0.5m unique users/month midway through last year to 2.5m UU/mth last month. (nb Comscore only has them at 700k UU/mth in March). Furthermore, he claims 300k users log in each day for an average of 2 hours per session, and in their forums area they are getting an average of 1m posts per day for a total of over 1 billion posts so far. And its mostly (85%) US traffic. Impressive stats. Gaia has been pretty quiet about its growth until recently, but Susan Wu was finally able to get them to break their silence by getting Craig to speak at her panel at Web2.0 Expo last week.

Casual immersive worlds have not previously been as popular in the US as they have been in Europe (Habbo Hotel) or Asia (Cyworld). ( I draw a distinction between casual immersive worlds and games such as Runescape and World of Warcraft). Even press darling Second Life, currently reporting 1.7m log-ins in the last 60 days, is lagging Gaia‘s usage.

Interestingly enough, Gaia isn’t the only casual immersive world that is getting meaningful usage in the US. The original casual immersive world, Neopets, is still going strong, with 4.2m UU/mth in March according to Comscore.

Neopets® is the greatest Virtual Pet Site on the Internet. With your help, we have built a community of over 70 million virtual pet owners across the world! Neopets has many things to offer including over 160 games, trading, auctions, greetings, messaging, and much much more. Best of all, it’s completely FREE!

Club Penguin, who Susan also got to speak for the first time on her panel at web2.0 expo, is also growing like crazy – 4.1m UU/mth in March.

Club Penguin is a kid-friendly virtual world where children can play games, have fun and interact with each other.

* Kid-friendly chat
* Lots of fun games
* Nothing to download
* Lots more!

Webkinz, who I mentioned last week as one of the few sites getting their users to visit more than 10 times per month, is also at 4.1m UU/mth.

Webkinz pets are lovable plush pets that each come with a unique Secret Code. With it, you enter Webkinz World where you care for your virtual pet, answer trivia, earn KinzCash, and play the best kids games on the net!

And a dark horse entrant that I was unaware of until recently – Millsberry, run by General Mills (the manufacturer of cereals), is getting 2.2m UU/mth.

Millsberry is a fun virtual city for you to explore. You create a citizen of the city and discover Millsberry through his eyes. You’ll need to make sure he takes care of himself, so you’ll need to get food (from the shopping area) and make sure he exercises (by playing games), but you’ll also get to go on adventures, solve mysteries and have all kinds of fun while visiting Millsberry!

.

Even Lego has announced its plans to release a casual immersive world in 2008

These worlds are all exploring different business models. Some are mainly ad supported (Neopets, and effectively Millsberry), others rely on subscriptions (Club Penguin) that deliver certain privileges, and others rely on transactions, either in the real world (Webkinz) or for digital goods (Habbo Hotel, Gaia.

Its worth noting that all of these are websites with no download required. This has likely helped them grow more quickly than other casual immersive worlds such as Second Life and IMVU, which are also growing fast, but not as fast.

One can’t help but notice that all of these immersive online worlds are targeted at kids and teens. If demographics are destiny, then we can expect more and more people to interact with each other in casual immersive worlds over the next few years. Susan Wu thinks so too, and her prediction about web 3.0 (are we there already?) is that it will be:

continuing down this path of improving the user experience of living and socializing online. This story is about human context, social proximity, and a sense of place.

I think she is right. What are your thoughts?

UPDATE, April 26th, 2007: Barbie is now also getting in on the action with Barbie Girls.

UPDATE, April 29th, 2007: Techcrunch reports that IAC’s Zwinky is also launching a casual immersive world. In this case, they are also employing a different business model than the other virtual worlds as the toolbar that enables much of the functionality includes a search box and will be usable both when the user is and is not “in world”. Note that the search box occurs to the LEFT of the URL box… This tactic worked great for previous IAC products such as Smiley Central and Cursor Mania.

  • http://elapsedtime.blogspot.com hunter

    ~2002 we (second life) were at an event with Bing Gordon (chief creative officer at EA) where Bing said something that has stayed with me: “virtual worlds will be a rite of passage for every teenager” (paraphrased). The chance to interact with various types of people, to play “dress up” and experiment with different identities was (IS) just a formative part of adolescence.

    Let’s hope that we see more and more spaces which incorporate creation and other high order bits, not just consumption. I’d like teens to come away from these spaces with increased life and professional skills, not just blinged out avatars.

  • http://www.satine.org/ Charles

    Absolutely. Some more examples: Tencent QQ in China, a virtual items chat and games service with an economy that is starting to affect trade of the Chinese RMB; and Nexon’s Maple Story which was written up in March.

    http://www.3pointd.com/20070319/maplestory-already-raking-in-us-dollars/

    I think what’s interesting about this next wave lies in your term, “Casual Immersive World”. I believe that CIWs are to games as Reality TV was to scripted television; more user participation and improved “online living” using the well established metaphors from gaming.

    Charles

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  • http://nabeel.typepad.com nabeel hyatt

    Good point Hunter. I don’t have the quote right in front of me, but a USA Today article on virtual worlds tried to put it in perspective – “virtual worlds will be to this generation what rock and roll was to boomers”

    That said, even though I have a ton of respect for GAIA, Webkinz, etc – I don’t think the Beatles have hit yet.

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  • http://www.praized.com/blog/mapping/pages-jaunes-launches-paris-in-3d/ Sebastien Provencher

    Interesting. I just discovered this morning that Pages Jaunes Groupe, France’s official directory publisher, has just launched 3D navigation of Paris and Rennes. Smart! I think kids & teens will love navigating 3D representations of the real world when they grow older.

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  • http://www.aolsearch.com dariusz

    My 6-year old daughter saw one of her friends on Webkinz.com. She immediately asked for a companion Webkinz stuffed animal and I reluctantly agreed. A week later she visits the site several times a day and spends at least 30 minutes per session. As a product/marketing guy, I am truly impressed! As a parent, horrified! Our kids need real friends, fresh air, and physical activity. While social networking for kids is a natural fit with what kids want to do and will do as teens, it concerns me that they can spend so much time wasting time.

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  • http://webkinz.publicsecrets.net/ hasan

    Good webkinz article.Thanks.

  • http://workathome.1shoppingsite.com/ Warwick Motley

    The youth segment is becoming more and more the targeted market. We seniors are getting left behind.

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  • Sanrei

    One big difference Gaia has over all of these “Kiddie” websites? Gaia is for people aged 13 and older.

    Gaia also is a PG-13 environment. Not G. Not PG.
    Last I heard, you can’t say even the most tame curse words on Neopets without getting warned and banned.

    Gaia is popular as a hangout which is aimed at TEENAGERS. Not kids.
    It is popular because it provides an interactive hangout for people with more mature interests. I’ve found that the sites you have listed are not to my tastes as they are simply far too immersed at attracting kids and tweens.

  • Shiyiya

    Sanrei is right – there is even partial and complete nudity art in the arena, and there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell you could get away with that on NP.
    One of the main differences between NP and Gaia, however, is that NP is your pets, and its just a game, and Gaia is you, or at least an avatar of yourself, and it’s possible to take it quite seriously. It’s hard to take an Aisha seriously.

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  • Sindy

    Do kids not go online to read articles anymore, are they all on virtual worlds such as Club Penguin, Webkinz etc. What about sites like these, will they survive: http://www.kidzworld.com, http://www.sikids.com, http://www.bonus.com, http://www.nick.com. Let me know your thoughts.

  • d

    any noe now virtual worlds other then gaia clubpenguin and habbo hotel? plz anwser

  • http://lsvp.wordpress.com jeremyliew
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  • http://www.runescape2money.com rs2money

    Runescape is by far the best online multiplayer game compared to others around such as Habbo Hotel. One thing that you should be aware of is that this game is of a high addiction level, and can get you sitting on it for hours on end.
    I hope the site can help u

    http://www.runescape2money.com

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  • http://www.lamelime.com Jamie

    I also heard that http://www.lamelime.com and myyearbook.com are up in the 1 million dollar range! And the people that started them both are under 14 year’s old!

  • http://R&JInTheLandOfTheDoubleRainbow Renee

    Hello,
    I will admit that I’ve been involved with Neopets since December 2003. There are many adults on this kids site. Our guild is Guild of Booklovers, we have a strict no chat speak neoboard policy, It’s a guild of teacher, librarians and students too smart for their peers.

    I’m trying second life and its difficult, I’m impatient with the learning curve. I let my imagination run my 2D neopian world. Plus I can build my cloud house for free,

  • http://ashton1213 Princess Mikayla

    Is this a post thing for kids or adults? The people on here talk so complex!

  • http://www.organicsocialmedia.com wolf krammel

    Excellent post, I so agree with this. The immersed world concept is getting stronger and stronger, escpecially in Europe.

  • kidster

    hey, im a kid and ive played all these different games, but after a while it gets boring. they need more games out there..
    does anyone know any other fun games for kids areoung 10 years old thats me!
    i know that theres alot of kids outthere looking for somemore online games!

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  • Katie

    Isn’t there any decent games for 12-18 year old that have good graphics that you don’t have to download? I have been searching for a decent site that I can have fun on for teens but have been put off by bad graphics from all the virtual site that you don’t download but am not allowed to download any and would love to go on a free virtual site that you don’t have to download.

  • Katie

    Xivio is a good website its 3D and it has no downloads!

  • http://mmohub.org free mmo

    The speed these games are growing at is amazing. Games like Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel are huge!

  • Shannon

    Gaiaonline is free, nothing to download, and it only takes a few seconds to register. I myself am a “Gaia,” and I’m telling you, Katie… you’ll absolutely love it!

  • http://w jada

    kdoss

  • http://inflatable.idans.co.il מתנפחים

    really?!

  • http://blog.chobots.com vayerman

    Great analytics.

    Games are giving freedom to do unreal things, while virtual worlds allow you to do real things, but a bit faster.

    We are trying to invite kids to research and personal growth at our virtual world – http://www.chobots.com

  • http://www.tootsville.com jolo

    Tootsville.com is one of the best virtual sites for kids to come along. It has a maturity rarely seen in new start-ups. On top of that they are launching an educational side to the site!

  • http://mmohut.com MMO

    Good point Hunter. I don’t have the quote right in front of me, but a USA Today article on virtual worlds tried to put it in perspective – “virtual worlds will be to this generation what rock and roll was to boomers”

    That said, even though I have a ton of respect for GAIA, Webkinz, etc – I don’t think the Beatles have hit yet.

  • http://www.mychildrensbedroomfurniture.com Children’s Bedroom Furniture

    Its funny my neighbor kids often find the craziest games to play online, most of which I have never heard of before. I guess this is why they are all albino. They never get any sun because they are always inside on the internet playing games… Just some food for thought…

  • http://www.freebrowsergamer.com browser mmo

    Gaya is a cool game!

  • alexisez

    so what are you guy going to do

  • http://rpgwallpapers.com RPG wallpaper

    Wow that’s intense lol. I know A LOT Of people that play Gaia. A lot of people also play Club Penguin

  • http://www.kidschairworld.com/index.php kids chair

    Webkinz are very popular. They even have a whole online forum just about webkinz.

  • http://earl-grey-tea.org/ Earl Grey

    I Think Club Penguin is the most popular of those virtual worlds. Neopets is up there to, but its a different kind of game.

  • http://www.crazecostume.us/ John

    Great article. Thanks for taking the time to write this for us!

  • http://www.freebrowsergamer.com browser games

    So crazy!! Great article. Gaia… A lot of people also play now Free Realms…

  • http://www.mimogames.com/ Virtual Worlds for Kids

    True. But gaia is not exactly a kids virtual world. Club Penguin is the undesputed champ at this moment but there are a ton of up and comers vying for the same space. http://www.clubpenguingang.com

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