Virtual worlds are supposedly passé. Most people passed them by and moved on to social networks like Facebook. But social entertainment site IMVU is going strong as it celebrates its ninth anniversary, and it is soon making its move to mobile devices.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company still has more than 3.3 million monthly active participants, and it is on a $55 million revenue run rate. That’s small, considering it has 111 million registered members, and Facebook has risen to more than 1 billion. But it is plenty enough for a good, profitable business and a tight-knit community of fans.
IMVU no longer bills itself as a virtual world. It’s now an online social-entertainment destination. That’s marketing. But the site was always more like a collection of virtual places where people created custom 3D avatars to chat and interact in their own virtual rooms. The core audience is 65 percent female, and the average age is 25. About 50 percent are in the U.S.
“We monetized through highly retained, long-term users,” said Brett Durrett (pictured), chief executive of IMVU, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat.
Durrett said that IMVU will extend its experience beyond the desktop with two new mobile apps for both Android devices and the iPad. That will let IMVU customers stay in touch with their friends on the go.
IMVU 2Go for Android will be available as an app in the Google Play store in late April, and IMVU for iPad will launch in the second quarter.
The service has thrived because it boasts the world’s largest virtual-goods collection. Individuals have created more than 15 million virtual goods — many of them fashion products to adorn avatars — and 16,000 new ones become available daily. The catalog, almost entirely customer made, is an example of the power of crowdsourcing. The IMVU Shop has contributions from more than 500,000 people known as Creators. Some of those Creators generate more than $100,000 a year through the sale of virtual goods. About 600,000 fans come back every day.
IMVU started in 2004, and it has 150 employees. It began as an online chat client and evolved into an online social-entertainment site. Former CEO Cary Rosenzweig tried to cash in on the rise of social gaming with the launch of Flash games on the site. But that effort wasn’t a smashing success, and IMVU under Durrett removed many of those titles.
“The games were not contributing much,” Durrett said. “They didn’t fit the core identity of the site, which is about creativity and self-expression.”
It seemed like the site was perfect for teenage girls, but more than 50 percent of members are over 18.
The company knows it can’t coast on the success of its Web consumer base, which it serves with more than 50 updates a day. It has to get an audience in mobile where people are shifting their attention to.
“We are late to the game on tablet and mobile, but it is a great opportunity,” Durrett said.
IMVU has raised $30 million to date from venture investors Menlo Ventures, Allegis Capital, Bridgescale Partners, and Best Buy Capital. Durrett said the business will celebrate its ninth anniversary with a big company party.