The overall numbers are surprisingly high (more on that in a second), but worth noting about UK-based virtual-world market-research firm KZero’s latest data is the growth figure: “the largest quarterly increase since we started tracking in 2008” – an increase of 214 million accounts between Q1 and Q2 2011, KZero says. This is kid virtual-world users we’re talking about. The fastest-growing worlds were “[UK-based] Moshi Monsters (up 16m to 50m), [Boston- and Logan, Utah-based] Poptropica (up 26m to 170m), [Helsinki-based] Habbo (up 20m to 220), [Mountainview, Calif.-based] IMVU (up 5m to 55m), [Stockholm-based] Minecraft (up 5m to 10m) and [also Stockholm-based] Stardoll (up 22m to 116m).” KZero notes that these virtual worlds represent a spectrum of play activity and sociality: e.g., dress-up, nurturing/pets, casual gaming, chat, and user-created content.” The biggest age group is 10-to-15-year-olds, with 652 million accounts at the end of this past June, compared to 385m (ages 15-25), 320m (5-10), and a mere 42m for 25+-year-olds.
As for those totals, note that they represent accounts, not users. A 10-year-old can play in ClubPenguin, Poptropica, and Minecraft, for example, in the same day, often at the same time. And then there’s the high churn – people, especially kids, don’t close accounts, they just move on. “If I were to make a very rough guess,” writes author and virtual-world analyst Wagner James Au, “I’d estimate just 5-10% of KZero’s 1.4 billion number [for all virtual world users] 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.” [Here‘s a bigger, more legible version of KZero’s bubble chart for 10-to-15-year-olds.]