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Nestling somewhere in between MMOs and social networking, virtual worlds are a virtual sandlot for millions of kids worldwide. Think avatar-based chat and mini-games alongside other kids of the same age range and interests, and you'll catch the appeal of these kid-friendly destinations. While a gaming parent might consider virtual worlds mere training wheels for games still to come, kid-friendly virtual worlds seem to fit the attention spans, chatty nature and niche-y interests of kids to a T.
The sheer variety of worlds appealing to children makes it easy for kids to find a spot where they'll want to hang out. As of early 2009, kids could choose from 112 virtual worlds designed for children and teens, according to Engage Digital Media, with more than 80 new worlds under development. The numbers of kids who've found a virtual home in these worlds rivals even the fat figures of MMO big dog World of Warcraft. Research firm eMarketer estimates that in the United States alone, 8 million kids hung out in virtual worlds regularly during 2008; that number is projected to swell to more than 15 million by 2013.