Virtual Worlds Draw Big Investment In First Quarter

webshotVenture capital firms and angel investors around the globe have pumped more than $184 million into virtual worlds-related companies during the first quarter of 2008, according to a new report from Virtual Worlds Management.

"It's worth noting that at the younger level, the lines between virtual worlds, games, and social networking blur heavily," said Joey Seiler, editor of VirtualWorldsNews.com. "If nothing else, it highlights the trend of users merging their activities into one immersive space."

The big winner was 9You, a China-based virtual world and casual games development firm that snagged a $100 million investment from Temasek Holdings. In the U.S., however, the companies that received investments varied from enterprise-facing virtual events hosting firms, to adult and kid-friendly entertainment properties.

For example, Menlo Park, Calif.-based virtual events vendor Unisfair scored a $10 million investment from Norwest Capital Partners and Sequoia Capital. Past event hosts have included IBM and Rogers Publishing. Meanwhile, Waltham, Mass.-based EveryScape closed a $7 million funding round led by Dace Ventures. The company crafts 3D models of metropolitan hubs like New York, Miami and San Francisco, and allows business owners to customize their virtual storefront, as well as place dynamic ads within the grid.

On the entertainment side, Mill Park, Calif.-based Fluid Entertainment secured $3.2 million in financing from Trinity Ventures to help build out its vision of an eco-friendly virtual world for kids. And Pasadena, Calif.-based Numedeon, parent company of the educational tween hub Whyville, snagged $1 million from BankInter's Venture Capitol Group (along with angel investors).

Overall, some $16 million was invested in youth-oriented virtual worlds globally, leading Virtual Worlds Management's analysts to conclude that the youth market, in particular, is heating up. Currently, there are 60 kid, tween and teen-facing worlds live, with another 53 in development, testing or conceptualization phases.

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