Monday, April 03, 2006


I sometimes like to trawl the world of on-line games to see what's going on. So, I've spent about two hours kicking IMVU into working. It allows for developer content and real money, so I figured, hey, I'll look into it.

I'm not sure I like it.

As far as I can tell, their business has to be built around two types of customers: the short-term "this is so cool! Okay, now I'm bored" teenager and the "ooh, on-line sex!" customer. Because nearly all of the the first type and most of the second type will only play for a month or two, there don't appear to be any reoccurring fees. Just initial fees. And, of course, the ability to buy money. Which, presumably, only a tiny percentage of people do after their second month.

Personally, I prefer a business model which caters to long-term players rather than short-term players, but IMVU is only a pretty chat and a cluttered web page. It would be difficult to keep players more than a month or two. That's the tradeoff: save millions on not having to build a virtual world, but lose customers who would have been addicted to it. Maybe I'm wrong: maybe IMVU is a long-term addictive thing. I just don't see how.

For what it is, it seems quite good. Except a few itsy-bitsy little details.

Being a developer. Actually getting "clearance" to develop costs you $8. That's a bad initial bump. Once you've gotten clearance, you'll actually be able to develop. The developer tool is not polite. I'm not sure why everything else in IMVU is interconnected, but the dev tool isn't. To use the dev tool, you need product ID codes and a rather sizeable outlay of virtual cash to acquire some baseline products. This is on top of the fact that it uses 3DStudio Max and requires you to actually do 3D modeling if you want to do any 3D stuff, instead of a nice simple-initally-plus-optional-Max.

Yikes! The learning curve is just a touch steep for high school students, I would think. Maybe that's the idea: to limit the high school students to creating stickers and therefore allowing the advanced developers to rule the rest of the market. If that was their intention, however, a quick cruise through their catalog shows it failed. Instead, they get about the same ratio as what I've come to consider "normal".

One thing they did which I find interesting is that they put a $20 price tag on buying into the adult world. I can understand their theory. Again, my preference is for a minimal initial hurdle, to lure in the maximum number of players. A large initial hurdle seems to imply that your content isn't really worth anything, since if it was, you'd be raking it in on micropayments and wouldn't have to charge an initial fee. And, no, you can't see the adult content before you buy the adult pass. Hence the feeling that they're trying to cheat you. This is especially silly since people who are interested in that sort of thing are also often willing to pay a mint once they get there.

Another interesting thing is that there's a $20 option to "try it" - this lets you try on all the things in the catalog without actually buying them. At least, for a bit. This is another thing I would have thought would be default. It's just another hurdle towards buying something.

I can understand their idea. It's a combination of raking in the flat fees, teens not usually being able to micropay, and a fast turnover. But the whole thing rubs me the wrong way, and I think it's not as friendly or efficient as it should be.

I think I would have it some other way. Maybe half of any purchase price gets sunk from the game, and the other half gets passed on to the seller. This would produce a constant demand for more cash which, of course, should only be obtainable, at its root, from us. There can be resellers, but they don't have the ability to manufacture cash. There are no other sources.

I would have to do the math to figure out exactly what the percentage is, but the basic idea with this kind of micropay/buy fake money setup is to make money off your money. That is powered by letting people go where they want, build what they want, and do what they want - but only charging for the latter.

Well, has anyone else tried this thing? Any other comments?


Craig Perko said...

Oh, I noticed that even though they boast a million accounts, they have only three or four digits of created material, most of which appears to be stickers. :P

Anonymous said...

Craig -- your site contains many insightful comments. I'd be interested in hearing more if you want to contact me directly at Will Harvey (CEO of IMVU)

KateMoody said...

I'm a developer on IMVU and I love it. I chat with my friends online while created the "next best thing" with the Previewer. I've been on it since 2007, and it's improved a great amount since then. Buying credits with IMVU is, in fact, a rip-off, but if you buy credits from places like, it's about 60% cheaper. Unfortunately, the ratio of n00bs to norms is almost 50:50.