Gartner: Five Laws For The Virtual World

    April 24, 2007

Virtual worlds are set to take off and by 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users will have a presence in a virtual world according to Gartner.

Gartner analysts are studying the buzz surrounding virtual worlds and the role businesses will have in using them. They recommend that clients research and experiment with virtual worlds but should refrain from pouring large sums of money into them until the environment is stable.

"The collaborative and community-related aspects of these environments will dominate in the future, and significant transaction-based commercial opportunities will be limited to niche areas, which have yet to be clearly identified," said Steve Prentice, vice president and analyst at Gartner.

"However, the majority of active Internet users and major enterprises will find value in participating in this area in the coming years."

Corporate involvement in virtual worlds will remain low when compared to individual use by consumers, as companies attempt to create solid business models. Gartner has outlined five laws for companies planning to test the waters of the virtual world.

The first law states that virtual worlds are not games or a parallel universe (yet). "Growth in virtual worlds is significant but lower than it appears; the overall population of non-game virtual worlds is still small compared to massively multi-user online games (MMOGs) and the totality of community-oriented and niche-targeted environments," Mr. Prentice said.

The second law is that behind every avatar is a real person. Gartner believes that people cannot be fooled by the fantasy elements in the virtual world and that there are unwritten rules and expectations for behavior as culture develops. Companies need to be concerned with their corporate reputations.

The third law is to be relevant and add value. "Do not expect to undertake profitable commercial activities inside most virtual worlds in the next three years," Mr. Prentice said.

The fourth law is to understand and contain the downside. Gartner points out that companies should be prepared for interruptions that can range from strange behavior from new residents to vandalism.

 The fifth and final law is that it is a long haul. Gartner predicts, "There is significant probability that, over time, market pressures will lead to a merging of current virtual worlds into a smaller number of open-sourced environments that support the free transfer of assets and avatars from one to another with the use of a single, universal client."