Yesterday, I created an account and logged into the popular 3D chatroom, IMVU. The first thing I noticed was that IMVU had more than twice as many people logged into it as Second Life...the concurrency at that moment was about 97,000.
The second thing I noticed was that IMVU is very tied into other things. If you sign up for a trial of this or that, or install an add-on for your web browser, or many other things, you receive IMVU "credits". These credits are the IMVU equivalent of $L, and you can use them to purchase clothes and accessories for your avatar (but you can't, apparently, cash them out for real money.) So, in addition to being an application, IMVU is an advertising medium.
I spent a short time customizing my avatar. This is much easier than in Second Life...you just make selections of things from pictures of them in your "inventory". There are no Appearance sliders. So...easier, but nowhere near as much creative control.
Then I logged in to one of many "public chat rooms". This one appeared to be a plateau, maybe 20m in diameter, with a number of benches and other seats strewn about. Five or six people were there, chatting.
It had the "feel" of an SL Infohub, although it was much smaller and the occupants were a tad less rowdy.
I soon found out one reason for that...you can't walk about in IMVU. You can swing your camera about very easily, but your avatar remains in a fixed (but animated, like the standing pose in an AO) position. You can't even turn to face the person you're talking to. By clicking on another spot on the ground, you can relocate your avatar there, and you can sit on something in much the same way. But it's all instantaneous, not like moving within a world at all.
And in fact, IMVU is not a world. There is no "geography". There are only "rooms". Some of these rooms may be quite large, and even appear to be an outdoor scene. But they are not connected in any way. You can have your own "room"...I was invited to one by another avatar almost as new as myself. This "room" was analogous to a Linden Home...something that is pre-built and given away free to all members. My new friend's room was a nice, modern studio apartment. Camming outside, however, there was...nothing. Just black space. Nothing exists outside a room.
While IMVU shares many of the features of Second Life, it is much more limited in terms of world simulation, movement, economy, and creative tools furnished to the user. So...why is it more popular? The only suggestions that come to my mind are:
- IMVU is primarily aimed at person to person communication.
- Because it is narrowly focused, it's easier to use than SL. These two features make it popular with social media users.
- IMVU has done a much better job of advertising to the general public than SL. You can buy IMVU credits on plastic cards at your local convenience store!
(If you're a creative type, you CAN create content for IMVU, and earn credits when people buy your stuff. Content is created in third party programs, then submitted to IMVU for approval by their censors and uploading to their marketplace.)
There is a LOT of content available. If you don't mind spending the credits, you can customize your avatar quite extensively. So, the "dress up" part of SL is available here.
But for me, there are three things that I find unacceptable about IMVU.
- No two way currency exchange
- Too much "real world" advertising
- And worst of all, because of the limitations of the world and our movement within it, there is no sense of immersion.