22% of broadband users expected to be active in virtual worlds within ten years

Here in London we’re experiencing a rare combination of happenings this week – it’s the start of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships AND the sun is shining!

In contrast, this time last year I remember floating about in Second Life visiting IBM’s virtual tennis championships and chatting online to the developers about how they were able to replicate the real world happenings at Wimbledon in Second Life – including the rain.

That same week, The Guardian was promoting SecondFest its three day Second Life virtual music festival and pretty well every other week throughout the summer some new ‘virtual world first’ was being announced – including several from nonprofits.

One year on, when you stop to look back, you realise just how much Second Life hype there was and just how it has died down as the whole subject of virtual worlds has slipped into the Hype Cycle’s Trough of Disillusionment.

However, while not so frequently in the headlines, serious consideration of the commercial potential for virtual worlds has continued. One of the most interesting items I’ve seen on this in recent months is a report released by the consultancy Strategy Analytics, entitled ‘Market Forecasts for Virtual World Experiences – from Habbo Hotel to Second Life and Beyond’

Their market forecast predicts that over the next ten years some 22% of broadband users world-wide will have registered with one or more virtual worlds. In commercial terms, they believe this will equate to a market of some one billion virtual world consumers worth around $8 billion of ‘in-world’ revenue.

While acknowledging that less than 10% of virtual world registrants currently become active users, they expect this to rise to 27% by 2017 as the technology improves and new virtual worlds emerge providing more social and educational applications.

Now, the $8 billion market value does sound like a lot of money (let’s face it – it is a lot of money) but to put it in context this is actually less than the $10.44 billion estimated to have been given online to US charities last year.

Call me a geek, but I remain convinced that we will see virtual worlds becoming an increasingly important online fundraising environment over the next decade. However, these figures do help frame just where they might lie in the future fundraising mix. If the Strategy Analytics valuation turns-out to be accurate then it doesn’t look like virtual worlds will be delivering the lions share of your online income in 2017.

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