IMVU Music Opens: Think iTunes For Avatars

Users of IMVU, the popular web-based virtual chat room network profiled on GigaOM last June, can purchase songs from a catalog of 1 million tracks, either as a stream to be played within IMVU or as DRM-free MP3s they can play anywhere.

RocketOn Adds Monsters, Quests for Launch

Judging by the geek cocktail buzz I keep hearing over RocketOn, the web-based “parallel virtual world” being developed by the Bay Area startup with the same name, I’m not the only one excited about its Sept. 15th launch. RocketOn CEO Steve Hoffman and Co-founder Eric Hayashi stopped by the GigaOM office this week to give me a preview — including an advance look at some recently added features that should help boost RocketOn as it comes out of alpha.

While RocketOn is web-driven, it isn’t a virtual world chatroom like Lively or IMVU; instead, the web itself is your playspace. A Flash-driven browser plug-in with Java and open source code running the back end, RocketOn adds a transparent layer onto every web page you visit; your avatar sits atop of the layer, where it can socialize with other users. In the screenshot above, for example, three RocketOn avatars engage in shenanigans on top of GigaOM. The girl on the left is commenting on the funky glasses worn by the guy pictured in Stacey’s post, while the two dudes on the right are watching a heated battle between their pet monsters. Read More about RocketOn Adds Monsters, Quests for Launch

Google’s Lively Is a Different Beast

Second Life is either peaking or busy crossing the chasm, depending on who you believe. IMVU stealthed its way to tons of users. Club Penguin found its windfall by figuring out how to reach children safely. Blizzard had revenues of $1.1 billion last year. Qwaq makes private virtual worlds for the enterprise. And there are dozens more. Do we really need another?

Then along comes Lively. At first blush, as James points out, it’s a me-too play. But Google’s other projects may mean it can do things other virtual worlds can’t.

First, of course, there’s advertising. Google can sell wall space. All those walls are good real estate for interstitial video ads. And social ads are better: Recommendations in your friends’ rooms cut through the advertising clutter, which makes Lively a good vehicle for social advertising without inviting the Beacon Creepy Stalker Guy along for the ride. Read More about Google’s Lively Is a Different Beast

How Lively? Google’s Me-Too Virtual World

The other virtual shoe finally dropped today– after a year and a half of rumors, Google (GOOG) now brings us Lively, a web-driven mini-virtual world. Not a contiguous, immersive, fully user-created metaverse like Second Life, as it turns out– so it’s not really a direct competitor– but a series of virtual world chatrooms more akin to IMVU. (However, IMVU has a virtual economy of user-created content, while Lively does not, least not yet.)

On first glance, Lively seems too similar to several existing (and very large) MMOs, making it an also-ran without a key market distinguisher to be truly compelling (besides being from Google). You can stream YouTube videos in these rooms and embed rooms on websites, and it’s got appealing cartoon visuals and a fairly intuitive interface, but that’s true of numerous online worlds already out there.
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Fresh Look At IMVU, Mini-MMO With Big Numbers

Flying under the proverbial radar for the last four years, the web-based virtual world chatroom IMVU has released new jaw-breaking data: Since April 2004, it has amassed 20 million registered accounts, with 600,000 of those active monthly users. By comparison, Second Life took five years to acquire about 550,000 active users.

The company, well known to web surfers because of its ubiquitous ads, is now earning $1 million a month in revenue, 90 percent of that from the sale of virtual currency and 10 percent from banner ads embedded in its interface, CEO Cary Rosenzweig said. That works out to about $1.66 a month per active user. By VC Jeremy Liew’s estimate, market leaders Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin are earning $1.30 and $1.62 monthly average revenue per user, respectively. How did IMVU grow?

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What Makes Gaming Social?

While it may temping to lump every game that has chat or a shared leaderboard under the social gaming umbrella, to do so muddies the water of a category that just may be the natural progression from social networking. It’s time to define what we mean by social gaming, so that we can better focus on the actual value we are creating for the players themselves — and avoid the trap of slapping a sparkly new phrase on any gaming startup that wanders onto the scene.