22 percent of global broadband users will register for one or more virtual
worlds over the next 10 years. This will expand the virtual world market to one
billion registrants, with roughly an eight billion dollar services opportunity.
"Despite a multitude of challenges, virtual worlds present a unique marketing opportunity to target a highly sought demographic, and virtual worlds should be part of a company's marketing portfolio," according to Harvey Cohen, President of Strategy Analytics.
Invent a virtual world like the one in Snow Crash, and you should be able to print money. It would be the ultimate online community. But let's assume that you managed to do such a thing; would anyone want to use it?
Think about it: Snow Crash shows a world in which people go online to hang out. It's pretty much the same for Second Life or even World of Warcraft: that's where online friends go to congregate. And who has the time for that sort of thing? Between work, the daily commute, eating, and sleeping, it's a challenge for me to find quality time to spend with my wife. I can barely imagine the changes that would have to go down in my life before I started hanging out in virtual worlds.
I used to have the time for that sort of thing when I was a graduate student. I would certainly have done such things when I was a teenager, except such things didn't exist when I was a teenager. And that's the key: virtual worlds appeal exclusively to those who have time for them. That means kids, teenagers, and kids right out of college. The rest of us are too busy leading our lives to get involved.
So before the your eyes fill up with dollar signs in contemplation of virtual worlds, consider the challenges. Your market will be functionally limited to people between the ages of 6 and 24. Those customers will certainly subscribe to more than one virtual world, since if there's any one characteristic that most young people share, it's a fickle temperament. They will not be there to shop, they'll be there to meet with friends, and they'll see your advertisements and merchandising as an unwanted intrusion. And when the winds shift--as they certainly will--and something new comes down the pike, they'll be gone. Remember Friendster? No one remembers Friendster. Some day it's likely that no one will remember MySpace, Facebook, or Second Life. This is what happens to companies that cater to a fickle, trend-driven user base.
Virtual worlds can and probably will get bigger and more prominent. But we'll still be waiting for Snow Crash for a long, long time.