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Real Kids in Virtual Worlds

Whe-e-e-ere are you?

Kids today still play baseball and cut out paper dolls. But increasingly they are playing online—in virtual worlds.

Altogether in 2008, an estimated 8 million US children and teens visited virtual worlds on a regular basis, and eMarketer projects that number will grow to over 15 million by 2013.

Virtual world usage among children in the US is already quite strong and getting stronger. eMarketer estimates that 37% of online children ages 3 to 11 use virtual worlds at least once a month. By 2013, 54% will.

In addition, 18% of online teens will visit virtual worlds on at least a monthly basis in 2009, according to eMarketer, and by 2013, 25% will.

“Unfortunately, as with social networks, advertising has not kept pace with usage,” says Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, Kids and Teens: Growing Up Virtual. “Not surprisingly, the hype and fizzling out of Second Life, combined with the tough economy, have made some marketers skittish for virtual worlds in general.”

But things are turning out differently for virtual worlds aimed specifically at the youth audience.

According to Virtual Worlds Management, as of January 2009 112 virtual worlds aimed at children under 18 were already up and running worldwide, and another 81 were in development.

“The rate of development in virtual worlds targeted to the youth audience will slow as economic pressures mean less money for venture capital and for advertising to support new worlds,” says Ms. Williamson. “But there is no denying that creating avatars and exploring virtual worlds are growing activities for many children and teens.”

Virtual worlds reside in a sweet spot between online games (which are intensely popular among children) and social networking (similarly popular among teens).

While the vast majority of virtual world users are children and teens, adult users are more likely to be parents monitoring their children’s use of virtual worlds.

According to a late-2008 survey by Accenture, 9% of adults said they spent at least 1 hour per week in a virtual world. But Forrester Research found in 2008 that only about 3% of adults engaged with virtual worlds at all.

Currently, virtual world advertising is a small business, but it has interesting growth potential.

“Advertising in virtual worlds gives marketers new insights into how consumers perceive and interact with their brands,” says Ms. Williamson.

To explore the engagement opportunities that branded worlds themed to real-world products offer, find out more about the new eMarketer report (Note: Interactive Report—available only to Total Access subscribers), Kids and Teens: Growing Up Virtual.

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