Analysts estimate that virtual goods could bring in a billion dollars in the United States and around $5 billion worldwide this year — all for things that, aside from perhaps a few hours of work by an artist and a programmer, cost nothing to produce.
I play a bunch of facebook-related games--Mafia Wars (where individuals play the role of mobsters trying to move up the ranks); Superhero City (where individuals play the role of superhero trying to move up the ranks); and Knighthood (where individuals try to build empires including friends and those seized from others). In each, one can spend money to gain points of some kind to develop new capabilities, re-energize the player and so forth.
While doing so can occasionally provide a competitive advantage, I have been mystified most of the time--why spend money on a free game? There has been only one game online that I have invested money in--poker. And that investment has been paid back many times over, I shyly admit. I have pondered paying a monthly fee for World of Warcraft since that does seem to be a heap of fun, but it has become harder to contemplate that step since I currently play a game that pays me money (not always, but over time, I am in the black).
So, this story surprised me:
Zynga says direct purchases of virtual currency and goods will account for most of its more than $100 million in revenue this year, and that the company is profitable.
But it did provide some explanations--that it is easy to buy a fake toy for a kid than a real one. Having a house full of long-ignored toys and games, I am sympathetic to the idea of just getting virtual ones that will not collect dust and will not take up space. Virtual clutter is no clutter at all.