Purpose – Virtual worlds are a typical form of social network syndication. Although the future of the virtual world phenomenon seems bright, not all efforts have succeeded. Therefore knowing how to motivate users and keep them continually engaged and visiting is an important challenge for those who create and manage virtual world websites. This paper aims to address these issues. Design/methodology/approach – The present study proposes a conceptual model from technological, entertainment and social perspectives to examine the determinants affecting users' intentions in their virtual worlds usage. Recognising that human behaviour varies according to different social roles, this study investigated four social roles (habitual, active, personal and lurker), and 729 valid data samples were collected from the Chinese virtual world, i‐Partment. Partial least square and multi‐group analysis were performed to measure the research model. Findings – The results of this study indicate that ease of use, usefulness, social presence and enjoyment are important factors of virtual worlds usage. This study also confirms that social presence and enjoyment are influenced by platform‐based and sociability‐based interactive quality, with sociability‐based interactive quality having a much higher impact on social presence than platform‐based quality. Moreover the proposed model demonstrates different intensities of explanatory power for users' usage intentions according to four social roles, and the results of this study indicate different but insightful findings for each of the four social roles. Practical implications – The virtual worlds practitioners should strive to launch creative and new recreational information or functions on a regular basis to make users' experiences enjoyable. In addition practitioners should initiate special activities or festivals to promote social interaction and devise rules to encourage users to spend more time on the virtual world websites. Moreover virtual world websites must be easy to use – with a user‐friendly interface, smooth moving lines and clear and understandable information – and provide useful functions. Originality/value – This paper is one of the few studies that compares and analyses the behavioural models of different social roles, and suggests that virtual world website practitioners should make use of these findings and provide flexible services to fulfil different users' special needs.
Online Information Review – Emerald Publishing
Published: Sep 27, 2011
Keywords: Social roles; Social presence; Interactivity quality; Social networks