Nick Focuses on Virtual

Posted on: 04/3/08 10:15 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Virtual worlds are huge with kids today… and they are about to become even bigger.

Nick announced today that it’s developing an entire virtual world, “involving games, avatars and a strong social-networking component, based on network hit ‘Spongebob Squarepants.'”

What is a virtual world you ask? Our own David R. Smith in his recent Youth Culture Window article on virtual worlds defined them as “3 dimensional internet communities that couple the attraction of online social networking with the appeal of online gaming.”

Have you heard of Gaia Online? Club Penguin? Webkins (I’ve blogged about them)? Neopets? Nicktropolis? These are just a few examples of these online worlds where kids can create a character (avatar) and live in an online la-la land.

Are these just for kids? Nope. They’ve been around long enough that many of today’s younger teenagers have grown up with them. Ypulse‘s Anastasia listed virtual worlds first as one of the biggest trend with teenagers in 2007. Anastasia shares…

I have no doubt that virtual worlds, like Habbo Hotel, Zwinktopia, Gaia Online, There and MTV’s worlds have become a hit with millions of teenagers. I just don’t sense that it’s teens en masse quite yet. But I think eMarketer got it right when they predicted that “by 2011, 53% of them will be going virtual.” This year, the real explosion of virtual worlds happened for kids and tweens. Club Penguin and Webkinz can almost be seen as the mothers or fathers of the next wave of virtual worlds for kids.

Rueters reported today about Nick’s development of an entire virtual world and…

Nick also is expected to announce that it is developing Monkey World, a social-networking and massive multiplayer game based on an original concept and not tied to any of its existing franchises.

The network also will announce that it will increase the interactivity on its Neopets site through a new virtual world called World of Neopia, and will add a paid tier to Nicktropolis, the overarching virtual world that’s divided into sections based on Nick television shows and other properties. SpongeBob, Monkey World and Neopia also will have paid tiers when they launch next year.

Nicktropolis currently averages about 1.5 million visitors per month, and executives said the paid tier will preserve that traffic by charging only for additional features like personalization. The company declined to disclose pricing details for the new tier or say what it might charge for various virtual words, though it’s likely that pay tiers could be a key part of its revenue strategy.

It sounds like eMarker’s prediction of 53% of teenagers going virtual by 2011 might not be far off.