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VWC Viewpoints December 2007-January 2008

2007: The Year in Review - Look for these Developments in 2008
Technology Analyst, Rob Edmonds

Perhaps, in five years, commentators will recognize 2007 as the year in which virtual worlds began their ascent to become a major new technology medium. Certainly, in 2007, the popular press started to take notice of virtual worlds, and conferences on the topic started to arrive in the United States and in Europe. Second Life and World of Warcraft continued to prove very popular, and many other virtual worlds also saw rapid progress. In particular, children's virtual worlds such as Webkinz grew dramatically, and in August 2007, Disney bought Club Penguin for $700 million. Several large vendors including IBM and Cisco tried to give the corporate virtual-worlds market momentum by evangelizing about the topic at virtual-worlds conferences and other events. Qwaq and Forterra established roles as specialist virtual-worlds providers for "serious" applications, and numerous large companies—including BP, Glaxo SmithKline, Electrolux, and Coca-Cola—experimented with the possibilities of virtual worlds, often using Second Life as a "sandbox" to test out their ideas. Google's fastest-growing search terms in 2007 also provided evidence of the rise of virtual worlds. "Club Penguin" and "Webkinz" were both in the top ten list of fast-growing search terms in the United States.

But despite all the progress, virtual worlds remained a niche market in 2007. Cisco's Christian Renaud was among those people who argued that 2007's virtual-worlds use was tiny in comparison to Internet use as a whole. In 2007 many mainstream users were put off by poor user interfaces, unreliable technology, and a lack of must-have applications for those people wanting to do more than play games, chat to people, and explore environments. Second Life's own statistics provided evidence of this disaffection. As of 19 December 2007, Second Life had more than 10 million accounts (out of a total of about 11.5 million) lying dormant (no logins in 60 days). Developments that showed promise of improving user adoption included a growth in companies' providing orientation islands customized to certain user groups in Second Life, development of better metrics for virtual worlds (including the Metaverse Market Index), and the arrival of Web-based user Interfaces. CBS and CSI New York's teaming up with Second Life also helped bring a new audience to virtual worlds and strengthened the links between virtual worlds and traditional media.

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2007: The Year in Review - Look for these Developments in 2008