Is Virtual Media on the Rebound?

Who says virtual worlds for tweens and teens are dead?
Once, virtual worlds aimed at teens and tweens proliferated, quickly becoming a popular vehicle for advertisers.
Then the recession hit the nascent industry hard, leading to the disappearance of pioneers such as Doppelganger, and even Nickelodeon’s Nicktropolis. Recently, one of the surviving players in the space, Gaia Online, has stopped referring to its avatar-filled online playground as a virtual world entirely.
But suddenly, several players in the space have announced major milestones. On Thursday, the Finnish company Sulake, parent of the popular teen world Habbo Hotel, announced that in 2010 its revenue had surged by 20 percent versus 2009, landing at $78.7 million. The company’s profits netted out at $2.3 million.
Habbo, which claims to have members in 150 countries, has continued to prove popular among advertisers going after the teen market, including multiple promotions for the Twilight series of movies.
Interestingly, Habbo has moved away from referring to itself as a virtual world—opting for the labels “social game” and “community.” Rival Gaia seems to have taken this tactic, and both companies have integrated their properties with Facebook.
Meanwhile, the tween-girl aimed Stardoll, an avatar dress-up community, is also demonstrating impressive momentum. The company announced on Thursday that it had surpassed the 100 million member mark. Like Habbo, Stardoll is popular globally, though the site’s biggest audience is in the U.S.—where 23 million or so tweens have elected to create and outfit virtual dolls.
Stardoll has also recently inked a pair of licensing partnerships. Mattel, which has advertised Barbie, Fashionistas and Monster High on Stardoll, has agreed to launch a Stardoll-branded product line starting this fall.
Along those same lines, J. C. Penney Company has committed to roll out an exclusive Stardoll brand of clothing and accessories this fall in 300 stores.