It Girl, FarmVille Show Growing Social Gaming Trend: Avatar Customization

Avatars have been popular for nearly as long as the web itself, and customizing them has been a key part of gaming and virtual worlds, from Second Life to IMVU to other sites worldwide. Likewise, paying for avatar decorations has been an important source of virtual goods revenue for many games.

But the concept has gotten relatively little attention among social game developers. Most games have been focused on mechanics like harvesting and baking, and while those typically do provide players for avatars, the offerings have been slim.

That’s changing, though, as can be seen in CrowdStar’s new Facebook virtual shopping game, It Girl, and in a new addition to Zynga’s hit farming simulation, FarmVille.

It Girl launched in public beta around a month ago (see our early review here), but it just went fully live, and as you can see, it’s very focused on avatars. The game has users going through stores in a virtual city, trying to collect the hottest outfits to wear while battling each other, with the winner determined by who is dressed the best. The focus, of course, is to find the rarest and most valuable garb to assemble into the most powerfully stylish outfit.

The concept has been in the works for much longer. Crowdstar has been offering games in Japan for the past year, and learned from local publishing partners and its own observations that avatar customization was helping to generate impressively high revenue per user. Executive chairman Peter Relan tells us the company saw that the games that monetized the best focused on building up avatars.

Its Japanese experience helped form the avatar system in It Girl, a growing game that’s now up to nearly 4.88 million monthly active users and 703,000 daily actives, according to AppData. The result so far, Relan says, is three times the ARPU of the company’s other games.

Zynga has also made avatar customization more front and center in FarmVille. Although the company has provided basic avatars and outfits since the game launched last year, it has greatly expanded the possibilities now, including shirts, shoes, bottoms, accessories, and also costumes for Halloween. Some of the outfits are free, but others cost either FarmVille Cash or Coins, and also offer experience points if purchased. While they don’t appear to currently offer any in-game functionality, they have other social value for users.

Users can already have their avatars wander around to friends’ farms, and do things like tend their crops in exchange for more points. Now, those avatars can be fully decked-out in polo shirts, ghost outfits, or anything else. It’s not clear if Zynga was inspired by its own efforts in Japan and what it saw there, other avatars in games, or even CrowdStar, but the feature — even if it was added to an already-mature game — appears set to make users happier, and bring in more money.

For more on virtual goods, including revenue growth in the US market and best practices, be sure to check out our Inside Virtual Goods reports.