The market for virtual worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft are worth over £510m a year. That's according to analysts at research company Screen Digest .

In the last few years, the introduction of broadband in the developed world has led to the popularity of (and an addiction to...) a new genre of video game: massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). Games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life are played entirely online in a virtual community of gamers.

Screen Digest estimates that the market for these kind of games will be worth £750m by the year 2011. And while this is not as big as other developing internet markets, it is likely to catch the attention of advertisers who'll be keen to place their ads inside the 'virtual worlds'.

"There's a whole ream of different genres and spaces emerging," the report said.

Shift in games world

"Over the last couple of years, certainly in Europe, the MMOG market has mushroomed partly due to the success of World of Warcraft," the report claims. "There are lots of things driving growth. There has been a shift from what were traditional, core games into a more casual space."

World of Warcraft was the first large scale MMOG to hit the market, and now has around eight million regular players. It's dominance is being challenged by a number of contenders including Second Life, which is a virtual world more grounded in reality than WoW's fantasy escapism.

The market is so promising that Sony recently joined the party/jumped on the bandwagon by announcing a new interactive online virtual world designed for PlayStation 3 owners. Called simply 'Home', it's a similar meet-'n'-greet-'n'-chat concept to Second Life on the PC.

Home is a real-time, online, 3D networked community available on the PlayStation Network. It enables PS3 users to interact, communicate, join online games, shop, share private content, and even build and show off their own personal spaces to others in real time.

The community was officially announced during a keynote by Phil Harrison, president of Sony Worldwide Studios at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.