Creativity is Currency in the Participation Economy at IMVU
Creativity is currency in the IMVU ecosystem. Creators design products which are merchandised in the IMVU store where 5 million visitors shop each month, spending credits that support the work of Creators.
IMVU’s economy is predicated on authenticating, tracking, connecting, and paying a chain of Content Creators.
Meet Isis, Paris-based fashion designer, whose collection of shoes, jeans, furs, and accessories are sought out by a dedicated following of fans around the world. Her designs are inspired by up-to-the minute “trends, and what I see outside in the streets of Paris.”
If you’ve never heard of Isis, that’s not surprising. Her fashion isn’t made of mohair, cashmere or linen. It’s made of pixels. And it’s for sale on IMVU, the avatar-based 3D social network where people around the world come to meet up, socialize, build friendships, and shop.
And do they ever. Each month more than 5 million visitors log on to IMVU, with many loading up their account with IMVU Credits to enhance their avatars, buy the latest fashions, or purchase a 3D party room from IMVU’s online store.
With an exchange rate of $1 to 1000 Credits, IMVU’s virtual economy represents an inexpensive alternative to traditional shopping. All told more than 43 million products are currently available, designed by more than 50,000 active Creators who upload over 5,000 new products to the IMVU shop every day, from fresh takes on jeans and high end wedding gowns to unicorns, lips that glitter, and eyes that shoot flames.
Once a week Isis uploads new items to the shop at IMVU. Typically she spends six hours a day working on her latest creations, deploying her self-taught Adobe Photoshop skills to make her designs as realistic as possible. “I work very hard on my shadows, my wrinkles, and my stitches,” she says. The hard work is paying off. Thanks to the income she earns from IMVU, Isis is able to afford life in Paris.
So what’s for sale on IMVU? Virtually everything you need to build a whole new world and a whole new you. 3D environments. Granite countertops. Leather couches. Ripped jeans. Perfect skin. Sexy scars. As one of the IMVU Creator evangelists explains, “Once newcomers enter the world of IMVU with a stock, off-the-shelf avatar, often their first move is to go shopping for scalers that make their legs longer, their waist smaller, and their hands a perfect size. Plus, everyone wants a new head.” That adds up to astonishing amount of activity. IMVU records 23 million transactions each month — up more than 100 percent over last year’s 12 million.
Real Money In a Virtual World
According to Kevin Henshaw, Chief Operating Officer at IMVU, IMVU provides an economy, a platform, and the tools to “turn virtual products into real money” using a patented “derivation chain” that enables creators to generate revenue when their digital products are used as component parts of a higher-value digital product.
As Henshaw explains, everything in the catalog is sourced at the “seed level” from an IMVU product. IMVU’s economy is predicated on authenticating, tracking, connecting, and paying a chain of content Creators.
Objects in IMVU are designed from inception to be customized. Creators can, if they wish, design every single stitch, bevel, and flame from the pixel up. Or they can can create open ended “meshes” using 3D design tools that allow other Creators to jump in and add their own unique contributions at any point in the process. Whether Creators use sophisticated tools like Maya or Adobe Photoshop or their open source equivalents Blender and GIMP, the IMVU derivation chain makes it incredibly easy to participate at any level of commitment they want to make. The flexibility and accessibility of IMVU opens a world of creation, participation, and satisfaction for Creators no matter what skills they possess. So if a Creator wants to build an entire house starting with a floor, walls, tables and chairs, or just change the color of a dress, IMVU makes it simple to get involved. For those just getting started, IMVU has made a handful of tutorials to make the process easier, all available in the IMVU Creator Education Center.
As that digital raw material is shaped and reshaped, prices, markups and margins are set. For example, a base price a Creator assigns to a desk might be 300 Credits. The Creator can set the item to be “derivable.” This enables another Creator to customize it and resell it. If someone buys the new creation, IMVU sums up all the pieces, then distributes the wealth to all the participants in the value chain, according to an equation of added value. “We have a patent that covers the allocation of relative value on each contribution on IMVU,” Henshaw says. “IMVU’s derivation chain converts IMVU Credits to real currency, from Australia to Lithuania.”
An ecosystem that enables participation
IMVU’s participatory ecosystem enables anyone to become a Creator, beginning with “meshers,” the creators who design the 3D meshes that others build on. Done right, with a mesh that’s easy for others to texture, a single item can generate Credits indefinitely. The best selling products on IMVU can sell thousands of times.
Building on the contributions of meshers are animators and pose makers. These Creators design actions, such as dance moves and still poses, so people can take pictures on IMVU that better express themselves.
Texture artists are the fashionistas of the IMVU ecosystem, constantly adding on-trend 2D patterns and imagery onto the original 3D products. A texture artist might take a blue pair of jeans and use Adobe Photoshop to recolor it in infinite variety. To complete the economic ecosystem are marketers. These are the tastemakers who collect and resell items such as entire outfits, along with bundle-makers who might start with a 3D room, and then add custom furnishings, floor coverings, and lighting. No matter which part of the creative ecosystem they participate in, Creators earn credits as the derivation chain accounts for their contributions and tracks their sales in the IMVU online store.
IMVU invites creativity. Once an original product is made by a mesher, it can be customized, styled, and restyled by anyone at any point in the creative process.
Creativity is the new currency
Just like their real world counterparts with maker communities like ETSY, Shopify, and Folksy, the makers of IMVU are the foundation of a user-generated economy where creativity drives value. According to Victor Zaud, IMVU Senior Vice-President of Marketing, “The majority of IMVU Creators never convert their Credits to cash. By creating products, building a brand and making a name for themselves, these Creators discover the intrinsic reward of deepening their social experience. People participate to make stuff for their friends, their guild, or their role-playing group.”
In other words, creativity is the new status symbol in IMVU. What lubricates the social scene on IMVU is participation: making, styling, selling, chatting, hosting gatherings in special purpose 3D rooms, entering contests, and gifting, which all count as much as buying. Beyond cash extraction, there’s the intrinsic value people are finding as they build connections with others, develop new friendships and deepen existing friendships.
As it turns out the cash value extracted from the IMVU economy is a small percentage of the value of goods exchanged. IMVU’s royalty program sent more than $8 million last year to Creators across 30 countries. Each month, 8,000 people in the royalty program convert Credits to dollars, bhat, or drachmas, which IMVU transfers to their PayPal accounts. Meanwhile the majority of IMVU Creators are earning, accumulating, and spending their Credits, much in the same way tokens function as an indication of value in blockchain-based transactions. In IMVU these Credits become their own currency, universal and independent of national currencies or rates of exchange. Currently IMVU members have banked over 25 billion in credits. Over the last three years spending has increased — from 64 billion in 2016 to 74 billion in 2017 to 90 billion in 2018. At an average of 630 credits per item, that’s a lot of tattoos, six pack abs, and stiletto heels.
For artists like Thailand-based Pastel, “This virtual life is like another life that I can design.” Pastel, who once worked in the fashion industry, calls herself a player, not a Creator. The Credits Pastel purchases on IMVU are spent fueling her self-expression in a virtuous feedback loop of creativity, validation, and connection. For Pastel, and the thousands of Creators like her, who circulate their credits instead of turning them into cash, IMVU provides “the perfect combination of creativity and socializing with people from around the world.”
“IMVU really motivates me to create my art and share it with people” Pastel says. “IMVU is like a fashion magazine I can enjoy endlessly.” After she assembles a new look by matching different products from her favorite Creators on IMVU, Pastel posts the results on IMVU, where 38,000 followers track her latest designs.
In this virtual economy, free from the constraints of the IMF, the Federal Reserve, or fluctuating currency rates, it’s the makers like Isis, the players like Pastel, and the 60 million yearly shoppers who determine where real value lies. That’s the power of an exchange-based marketplace that empowers its makers to create their own world.
IMVU is a global community of millions of users who come together to celebrate the joy of a shared social experience. Far beyond traditional social media, IMVU users create a whole new experience at the intersection of digital connection and face to face relationships.
IMVU is where the real world comes to play. Today IMVU users enjoy the freedom to live the life they create through customizing highly-stylized avatars, connecting with friends in immersive 3D chat rooms, shopping & stylizing new looks, sharing their experiences, and starring in their own animated emoji. IMVU is a powerful and collaborative world, which also offers an opportunity to make real money using proprietary design tools to create looks and rooms to sell in the IMVU Shop.
The IMVU experience is available on the web, a desktop app, and as an iOS and Android app. In the real world, IMVU is located in Redwood City, California.