Typology of 3D virtual worlds
1. Purpose (Content of Interaction): Porter focuses on the interests shared by the community
members that shape and focus the discourse in the community. Applying this idea to gaming,
social networking, and virtual worlds, we emphasize whether a game has a strategic, tactical,
or thematic appeal; whether a social network is themed (i.e., has a specific purpose) or open;
and whether a virtual world has an age focus, a content focus, or is open. An additional
characteristic of the “purpose” element, we believe, is the degree of augmentation vs.
immersion of the activities of the world members. Some worlds, especially fantasy worlds,
offer virtual environments, quite separate from the real world, in which people can immerse
and explore behaviors and activities untypical of their real self. Other worlds, for example
those focusing on education and training, offer virtual opportunities and social networks for
people to augment their real-world activities and social networks.
2. Place (Location of Interaction): Porter discusses the “place” attribute in contrast to the
geographically bounded nature of real communities, and focuses on the types of location and
presence cues offered by the virtual world to enable its members to formulate a psycho-
sociological sense of place. We also consider the realism of the world's rendering of the
environment (whether it is 2D, 2.5D or 3D), the place-changing behaviors supported by the
world (i.e., walking or flying or teleporting), and whether world members are geographically
collocated or dispersed in reality.
3. Platform (Design of Interaction): Porter focuses on the degree of “interactivity” supported
by the virtual community, in terms of whether it enables synchronous or asynchronous
communication or both. In discussing this attribute, we also include the type of client that the
members use to interact with the virtual community, and the types of interaction technologies
supported by it. For example, whether the client is available on a browser or requires a
special “download-and-install” process defines, to some extent, how frequently and in how
many contexts the members can be in world. Furthermore, different worlds support a
different degree of freedom in communication; some dictate a limited set of expressions from
which their members can choose; others enable their users to select between public vs.
private communication channels; yet others support communication through audio and video.
4. Population (Pattern of Interaction): We follow Porter by focusing on the size of the group
and the types of social ties among the group members. We also consider distinguishing
characteristics of the target user market, in terms of its age, gender and geography
5. Profit Model (Return on Interaction): Porter focuses on revenue or non-revenue generating
environments. We elaborate on Porter's taxonomy by examining whether the world supports
(1) a single purchase price or registration fee (i.e., fixed fee); (2) fee per use (i.e., variable
fee); (3) subscription based (and on what basis subscriptions are made); (4) advertising-
based; (5) pay-as-you-go extras (virtual assets including clothing, land, and software); and (6)
sale of ancillary products, which are accompanied by passwords for accounts in virtual
worlds where virtual versions of the products enable combined real and virtual play.
Source: Messinger, P. R., Stroulia, E., Lyons, K., Bone, M., Niu, R. H., Smirnov, K., et al.
(2009). Virtual worlds -- past, present, and future: New directions in social computing.
Decision Support Systems in Emerging Economies, 47(3), 204-228. doi: DOI:
Institution Purpose Place Platform Population Profit model