The casual world and MMOG space is getting increasingly crowded. Many of the big media companies are launching virtual worlds now, often targeted at kids. Disney just launched Pixie Hollow, to go with its other virtual worlds, Toon Town, Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Club Penguin, and have reorganized to focus on launching more – investing up to $100m in new online world launches. Nickelodeon, MTV, Cartoon Network, and others are all also throwing their money and brands against portfolios of virtual worlds launches.
Another trend is the expansion of physical toys into virtual worlds. Webkinz led the way here, but many more toy companies are leveraging their offline distribution and brand recognition to create virtual worlds loosely coupled to a physical toy, including Barbie, Beanie Babies, Lego, Build-a-bear, Bella Sara and many more. The BarbieGirls virtual world hit 10 million registered users in 10 months, a remarkable growth rate for a virtual world. (Second Life reports 12.5m residents, equivalent to a registered user, and has been around since 1999).
Startups looking to launch a single title MMO in this environment should think carefully about their player acquisition strategy, and how they will be able to stand out in an increasingly crowded environment. It is not enough to simply build a better product. With such a plethora of choice available, your users may not even get to try you to discover how much better you are. Smart approaches may include explicit plans for viral growth, particular expertise in user acquisition, targeting a less saturated demographic or genre, and novel channel strategies. But the best teams will always find a way to be successful in even this highly competitive environment.