IMVU is an online chat room community founded in 2004. When asked what the name ‘IMVU’ is an acronym for, Co-Founder Eric Ries said ‘IMVU’ doesn’t actually mean anything. Every Monday his team would meet to toss ideas around and when someone online offered to sell ‘IMVU’ to them it stuck, because after trying it for a while, “it just seemed to work”. The virtual universe is heavily avatar based, and hosts nearly 5 million users daily. Signing up is free, and avatars can chat with people around the world in chat rooms and chat groups that are based in every location that can be created. On the website, it reads that this is a social network where players can make real, lasting friendships and relationships and creativity pays, literally, as real cash can be earned from the items and characters that users make. With a slogan like “the world is virtual, the feels are real”, it does a great job catching the attention of the user who wants to make real connections.
Making real connections
Avatar creation is relatively simple. Choose a gender, then start customizing.
The user starts off with only eight different skin shades to choose from and nine “heads”, or premade features. Maneuvering the character while designing was clunky, and it was difficult to see what hairstyles and accessories like earrings looked like from the side because the character focuses on the user during the turn instead of looking straight ahead. The hairstyles came in natural colors as well as neon pinks, reds, blues, and purples. The range from plain everyday ponytails to hip asymmetrical bobs to voluminous curls. As for clothing, there were around 50 different pieces to choose from including tops, bottoms, and shoes. After the avatar has been created, enter a name for the avatar, your name and email address and your account is created. There’s also the option to sign up through Facebook if you don’t want to use your email.
At this point, you’re prompted to download the desktop or mobile app to continue. For the desktop app, Windows 7 or later with at least 512 mb of RAM free is required. The app opens up to your homepage, with your avatar on the left and a grid with all of the things you can do on the right like ‘Chat Now’, ‘Get Matched’, ‘Shop’ and ‘Friends’. With the ‘Chat Now’ option, your character sits in “Buckstars Coffee” and waits for the system to spawn another player. Most players opt for pre-made rooms, and a visit to the ‘Chat Rooms’ page shows you those. Each chat room has an introductory info box that you can view before you go in. Here, you can see the language that players will be speaking, player usernames and countries, ages, genders, and the option to add them as a friend. You can also see if the room is at capacity, and most cap at 10 people. Rooms can be designed to look like real places and landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Times Square, or a player can make an original area like a park, a pool, or a seemingly endless hallway where pink glittery hearts will cascade on loop. Rooms can also be adult themed and age restricted, which you can unlock with the purchase of an Access Pass. Each user starts out with ‘My Room’, a hip, open layout rooftop apartment for just their avatar (or other players that are invited there) that can be decorated however the user would like.
To move your avatar, you click on different areas of the screen and if there’s a little yellow orb, your character will warp there. There’s a small selection of furniture that your avatar already owns in an inventory box and you can add more of it for free. Everything that you want to use to customize your avatar’s appearance, your room, and your chat rooms are purchased with credits - clothing, accessories, pets, furniture, and even changing your avatar’s name.
Is there a better alternative?
At first, IMVU seems like it has a slight Sims vibe, but only if the Sim had a ton of modifications added. Second Life is another option for those looking for a 3D virtual world. You can do pretty much the same things as IMVU there and more. For example, in Second Life your avatar can move freely and even fly. Avatar physical appearance is more realistic and content creation is much easier and you don’t need to have the VIP status or pay a fee to list your item for sale like in IMVU. If you don’t mind not being able to chat with other users and enjoy life simulation, the Sims is the way to go.
Where can you run this program?
As well as your desktop, you can also play IMVU on a mobile device, both iPhone and Android. On an iPhone, IMVU is a lot more user-friendly. It has a clean, organized layout that doesn’t drown the player in a lot of animations and blinking buttons to purchase things or advertise sales. It is a lot easier to maneuver around the chat rooms, see player profiles, and get to know where everything is. Everything looked a lot better too - you can actually understand what is going on, where other players and places that you can move are located, and where to tap to explore more because things aren’t so low resolution.
With all things considered, we’ll pass on playing IMVU again. The general design is really outdated. Gameplay and interactions are slow, avatars, items, and the scenery and locations are extremely pixelated. If IMVU decides to totally revamp from the bottom up, we’ll consider trying it again in the future.
Should you download it?
No, We don’t recommend IMVU. Loading time on the desktop app is frustrating, given the lack of complexity of the game. Purchasing and customizing options for the avatars and perks are overwhelming, and the quality of items for chat rooms isn’t worth spending real money on. IMVU seems like it should be free to play, but users are being charged to do almost everything. For now, just being able to chat with other players is all IMVU has going for it, and that isn’t enough to make playing a truly enjoyable experience.