IMVU prides itself on being the world’s largest avatar-based social network, but it wasn’t always as cool as it is now.
That said, it has always been considered cool in line with the progression of technology over the years.
And while other virtual worlds have come and gone, IMVU is one of the ones that held the course.
In this article, we’ll be covering the nature of IMVU in its early beginnings in 2004, right up to the present day.
And without further ado, let’s get straight to it!
What Is Exactly Is IMVU?
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of how IMVU has changed, let’s kick things off with some of the basics…
IMVU is very much a social network, but unlike alternative social network platforms such as Facebook, IMVU is also an online 3D virtual world.
The idea behind it is that users create their very own 3D avatar, and then meet other people in the form of their avatars in this virtual world (see also “What Happened To The Horrible Histories Virtual World?“).
IMVU encourages creativity, and gives otherwise would-be-strangers the opportunity to interact with one another, share experiences and potentially build long-lasting relationships.
How IMVU Began
IMVU began with founders Will Harvey, Eric Ries, Marcus Gosling, Matt Danzig, in 2004, with the backing of multiple investors.
And it was known as one of the leading practitioners of the lean startup approach.
It began as a very simple program, and was primarily based around instant messaging, much like MSN and Yahoo Messenger.
There would be an Inventory/Buddy list in one part of the screen, and 3D avatar chatting was in a separate window in a café.
Users tended to have a small friends list, and there weren’t many virtual items available to buy for the 3D avatars.
A key feature of IMVU was the crowdsourcing of the creation of virtual goods.
Even in its early days, users could create their very own avatars. But, they had to use a separate app for this called Previewer.
Avatar creators were called developers at first, and creators had the opportunity to become pro developers, if they met certain criteria, and were rewarded with a range of perks.
In order for a user to buy anything virtual goods from the catalog, IMVU had its own economy system.
There were credits, promo-credits, and developer tokens. Credits could be purchased online using actual currency.
Every user would have to buy by going to the browser catalog, so homepage activity was huge.
People would design their homepages with HTML/CSS, and express their creativity through stickers.
There was no limit to how many credits one could send or receive in a day/week/month. Users often invited friends, since this would buy them a lot of credits.
The forum was very different, too pretty much like any other forum website of the time.
IMVU 2007 To 2011
The year 2007 saw the promotion of Kevin Henshaw to the role of Vice President of Business Development, following over a decade of experience with Adobe.
It was also the year that IMVU was selected as a Red Herring Global 100 Tech Start-up.
At one point, users could also create their very own 3D locations for their avatars to meet up, and were no longer limited to just the one café.
There were dance clubs, paradise resorts, mansions, and even whole worlds.
2008 saw the beginning of the Daily Outfit Challenge. Themes would be published in advance and users would submit their entries. It was a big hit.
During this period, IMVU’s virtual goods catalog grew to reach over 6 million items! And on top of that, a further 7,000 items were created every 24-hour period.
IMVU had over 50,000 creators designing new virtual items, who sold these items on to other users.
IMVU In More Recent Times
By the year 2014, IMVU had acquired about 6 million active users. That’s just as many users as there were virtual goods items back in 2011.
And their growth continued. In 2018, IMVU had grown by over 200% in monthly active users, and even went on to become a top 3 grossing app in the social networking category.
One strategy for achieving such figures was to focus on both user acquisition and user retention.
A particularly powerful form of user acquisition came through becoming a cross-platform entity.
Not only is IMVU a PC app, but it also exists on iOS and Android devices. Perfect for attracting the core audience of millennials.
Another strategy was “hooks”, creating personalized experiences within the app that lead new users to get hooked with habits.
But to be honest, these “hooks” aren’t that different to the original ones, avatar creation, making friends, joining chat rooms, dressing up, and shopping.
That said, there are now other “hooks” besides. Avatar moods are a classic example.
These are a series of slight avatar movements or animations, usually with a facial expression, to imitate various forms of expression and behavior.
The IMVU virtual economy is booming, though the currency has new names, abbreviated to predits and dev tokens.
And now, game developers have made it possible for players to simply give credits to one another as a gift.
Now, IMVU sees approximately one million users every day. Moreover, users tend to spend far longer on IMVU than on any other social app.
Approximately 50% of their audience comes from the US with 50% arriving primarily from the UK, France, Canada and Brazil.
It’s now within the top 10 most downloaded social apps in the US, and is also within the top 5 social apps by spend in the US.
What’s more, there’s even the opportunity to earn real money through creating virtual products on the platform.
Today more than 200,000 people make a living selling virtual items this way, and there are no restrictions as to who can do this, thanks to the crowdsourced nature of creation.
So, IMVU has continued to grow amazingly well since its initial inception, and continues to thrive to this day, thanks to strategies such as crowdsourcing, creating hooks, and going cross-platform, so people can take part on the go.
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