Virtual Economy is Booming, Real Economy Still Stinks

virtual-worldWhen a lot of people think of gamers, they automatically think of mostly male teens who sit around a game console or computer screen all day playing alone. The reality is that the average gamers today are in their 30’s and have a significant disposable income to support the expensive hobby. More and more women are also becoming gamers.

A new study recently found that women tend to be more hardcore gamers than men are, but they also tend to lie about how much time they spend playing games. More and more people are also playing games that are closely tied to social networks like MySpace and Facebook.

These gamers often report that they play the games not so much for the game itself, but to interact with friends and family. The virtual economy that was created to cater to the goods that many of these social games sell is booming. BBC News reports that the virtual economy in the U.S. is set to make billions selling goods that don’t really exist. The sale of virtual goods is one of the hottest trends in technology and is showing no signs of letting up.

Venture Capitalist Jeremy Liew said, “This [virtual goods] is just an exploding part of the gaming business right now. It is the most exciting area in gaming.”

Liew’s company Lightspeed Venture Partners has invested about $10 million in virtual goods so far. He said, “We have seen companies go from nothing in the last 18-24 months to tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.”

Virtual goods like fertilizer and seeds in farming games are big sellers and there are a myriad of other games that sell virtual goods to players seeking to get ahead. Social gaming firm Playfish says that virtual goods are key to its success.

Playfish’s Tom Sarris told BBC News, “Virtual items within the Playfish games are the centre point of the way in which Playfish derives its revenue.” He continued saying, “We have two different revenue models. The primary is the sale of virtual goods and the second is in-game advertising, but that is a very minor aspect at this stage.”

Liew says that making the lion’s share of revenue from digital goods is very common for social gaming companies. He says that virtual goods often make up 90-95% of the revenue for the game developers. Virtual goods and the games that sell them are attracting women in increasing numbers and the players don’t consider themselves to be average gamers.

Social gamer Emma Cox told BBC News she only plays to keep in contact with friends and family. She said, “I am not a traditional gamer. I don’t buy console games or go out and spend $40 on a game for my PlayStation.” She continued saying, “I am playing online games for a different reason and it’s instant gratification, playing with friends, showing off to others and have them see all the virtual goods you have bought for yourself and even for them.”

Cox and other players like her buy things like digital birthday cards, bottles of digital champagne, seeds and fertilizer, and other items for virtual games. Gamers and the game firms behind the popular titles liken the buying of digital goods to renting movies. Cox said, “The way we look at it is it’s no different from paying money to go and see a movie or rent a DVD. What you are paying for is the experience and that notion of entertainment.”


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