The growth, however, does not come without a hiccup or two. "Unfortunately, as with social networks, advertising has not kept pace with usage," Williamson says. "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."
Skittish marketers notwithstanding, eMarketer estimates that 37% of children ages 3 to 11 who go online will visit a virtual world at least once a month. By 2013, eMarketer projects that percentage will increase to 54%.
Looking at the slightly older teen demographic, kids between the ages of 12 -17, eMarketer projects that 18% of that segment will visit a virtual world on at least a monthly basis in 2009. That percentage is projected to climb to 25% by 2013.
Interesting among the statistics in Williamson's just-released study, Kids and Teens: Growing up Virtual, is the growth among pre-teens between the ages of 3 – 11 who visit virtual worlds. eMarketer expects pre-teen usage to spike from 28% in 2008 to 37% in 2009, then increasing sequentially in 4 and 5 percent point jumps through to 2013. Increased use of virtual worlds among teens is seen as rising as well, but only in spurts of 1 and 2 percentage points sequentially. [see charts]
In the study, Williamson notes the impact of a slumping global economy on the virtual worlds space: "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."
Still, says Williamson, "There is no denying that creating avatars and exploring virtual worlds are growing activities for many children and teens."
Virtual Worlds News last spoke with Williamson in 2007 when eMarketer last released a detailed study of teen and pre-teen use of virtual worlds.