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Virtual Economies Are Exploding: Here's What Is Next

Virtual Economies Are Exploding: Here’s What Is Next Digital goods and services will flourish on the right VR platform.

Some of the largest economies in the world today are digital:

World of Warcraft’s virtual gold mining industry has previously crossed $2 billion in value. FarmVille’s total in-game revenue exceeds $1 billion.

While digital economies don’t exist in physical form, they have real impacts.

For example, frequent space battles in EVE Online result in the destruction of virtual ships and weaponry. In 2014, one battle alone ended in the loss of $300,000 to $500,000 in virtual goods.

Sometimes, the transfer of value is less serious. Virtual horse dung in the game Ultima Online has sold for several hundred dollars, driven by its scarcity. (There were only a few of them on each server.)

Why Virtual Economies Are Exploding

The rise of virtual economies has largely been driven by the gaming industry, with users purchasing avatars, power-ups, and other in-game items. The growth in massive gaming universes has driven increased demand for items that demonstrate prestige, rarity, or usefulness.

According to Vili Lehdonvirta, an Associate Professor at Oxford University:

“People pay real money for virtual items for the same reason they pay real money for any consumer commodity, namely status, identity, membership, class, and performance.”

Because the virtual goods market has been driven by gaming, the array of items traded today is not surprising: weapons used in Call Of Duty, furniture for life simulation games like the Sims, lightsabers for Star Wars Battlefront, and gems used in Clash of Clans.

But while the biggest virtual economies have involved gaming platforms, everyday activities are increasingly conducted in virtual worlds. The impact on daily life will be huge.

The Future of Virtual Economies

With the virtual goods market now exceeding $52 billion annually, up from $...

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