Society | DOI: 10.1145/1924421.1924429
The popularity of virtual goods and currencies in online
gaming is changing how people think and act about money.
CLIcK InTo ThE world of so- cial online gaming and, these days, you’re almost certain to encounter much more thanavatars, demons,
and battlefields. As growing throngs
of players dive into these environments—in games as diverse as FarmVille, Mafia Wars, World of Warcraft,
and Second Life—they’re often buying
and selling virtual goods using virtual
It’s a multibillion-dollar trend.
According to market research firm
In-Stat, the demand for virtual goods
hit $7.3 billion in 2010, up from $2.1
billion in 2007. Moreover, In-Stat predicts the figure will reach $14 billion
by 2014. Another consulting firm,
Magid and Associates, reports that the
percentage of Web users trading virtual goods will grow from about 13% to
21% through 2011.
Virtual goods also accounted for
the vast majority of social-gaming revenues last year, with 60% of total revenues, more than lead generation offers
(26%) and advertising (14%), according
“It’s clear that people are willing to
pay real money for all sorts of virtual
goods,” explains Vili Lehdonvirta, researcher at the Helsinki Institute for
Information Technology and visiting
scholar at the University of Tokyo. “As
in the physical world, objects take on
meaning based on perceived status,
scarceness, and emotional value.” In
today’s gaming universe, coveted items
include homes, weapons, space stations, and, yes, horse manure.
screenshots © FarMVIlle
Yet behind the façade of glitzy interfaces and alluring virtual objects
lies a medium that’s driving changes
in the way governments, researchers,
legal experts, and the public think
about goods—and in the way people
behave. Although virtual goods and
Due to the growing popularity of games such as FarmVille from zynga, consumers’ demand
for virtual goods reached $7.3 billion last year, according to in-stat.
virtual currencies aren’t going to
overtake their physical counterparts,
they are making a mark on society
and affecting everything from culture to business to government.
“The casual game sector is growing
enormously,” observes Edward Cas-
tronova, associate professor of telecom-
munications at Indiana University. “It’s
not just your teenager in his mom’s
basement fragging monsters all night.
It’s everyone else. These games fill little
holes in the day—while people wait for
a bus or phone call.” Virtual economies,
he says, are global and real. They’re forc-
ing marketers, tax collectors, and others