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How IMVU Works

Benefits of IMVU

The majority of IMVU's users are female teenagers, which comes as no surprise given the dress-up aspect and cute, Barbie-like appearance of the avatars. Interacting with other avatars in beautiful 3-D themed settings also appeals to the sense of imaginary play, and artists love the creator program. Since you can earn credits by selling created items (and retain the intellectual property rights to items that you create), it's possible to defray a chunk of the cost.

IMVU isn't the only kid on the block, though. Sometimes it's been compared to Second Life, the virtual world launched in 2003, but the two are pretty different. Second Life is more immersive; it's aimed at adults and isn't Web-based like IMVU. Second Life also has an in-game currency and creators can sell their items. However, it's much more complex in terms of customization, going far beyond clothes and furniture to include purchasing and designing land, vehicles and buildings. The avatars are more customizable and generally look more realistic than IMVU avatars.

A closer competitor is Habbo, a Web-based virtual hotel that launched in 2001 and is aimed directly at teenagers. Like IMVU, Habbo consists of chatting or playing games using customizable avatars in public or private rooms that can also be customized. However, Habbo has a mechanism to filter out profanity, sexual references and indentifying information such as phone numbers and e-mails. It's more limited than IMVU in terms of creativity, although there's still plenty of customizing going on. Habbo offers groups, or clubs, and individual Web pages. There's an in-game currency, but no creator program. Habbo avatars have a very distinctive, cartoon look and feel.

In public beta since February 2008, Rocket On describes itself as a "parallel virtual world" added to existing communities and Web sites. Unlike traditional messaging clients, Rocket On users can use their avatars at any Web site that has embedded a specific line of code into its global header. It's essentially a Flash-based plug-in or widget. For example, logged-in Rocket On users visiting a merchant's Web site will see their avatar (as well as others) walking around, chatting and interacting (even purchasing) virtual items specific to the site. Again, it has some similarities to IMVU, but it's also quite different.

Will graphical instant messaging clients eventually overtake traditional text-based ones? It's hard to say for sure, but it seems likely that with their huge earnings potential, more IMVU competitors will continue to appear on the market.

For more articles on IMVU and related topics, see the next page.