Boomtown: The Real Money Behind Virtual Goods

Virtual goods, such as avatars and Facebook gifts, are attracting major brands, celebrities, and venture capital. The money is real.


Nexon's Crazyracing KartRider game sold more than 100,000 Mini Coopers in South Korea, more than BMW's sales of the actual car. It helped that the game's virtual Mini cost less than $10.

2008 annual revenue for Tencent, China's largest Internet portal: $1.05 billion. 88% of revenue comes from virtual goods.

$200 million — Amount of virtual goods purchased in the U.S. in 2008.

Blockbuster, Rite Aid, 7-Eleven, and Wal-Mart sell PlaySpan's Ultimate Game Card, a prepaid card that lets users buy virtual goods in more than 200 video games. More than $50 million in transactions went through PlaySpan's marketplace in 2008.

$992 million — Microtransactions or sales of virtual goods in virtual worlds in 2008, worldwide

In the virtual world Gaia, Nike gave away T-shirts that made wearers run faster. There is now a brisk aftermarket for the shirts.

$1.8 billion — Estimated microtransactions or sales of virtual goods in virtual worlds in 2009, worldwide

$408 million — Amount of venture capital invested in 40 companies in 2008 that rely on virtual goods for at least part of their revenues

The most popular virtual-goods purchases are game characters or avatars, such as Eve Online's Cybs (6.5 billion Isk, $361 U.S.).

In Asia, Coca-Cola has offered gamers virtual Coke cars and a Coke racetrack.

FooPets members spend an average of $25 a month on their cyber puppies and kittens, roughly equal to what people spend on their animals in the real world.

Virtual Greats lets you decorate your avatar with items like Justin Timberlake's fedora ($2).

Nestlé's Purina brand pet food is the exclusive kibble in FooPets's virtual pet world.

382 — Number of virtual gifts available in the Facebook Gift Shop

$5 Buys you 500 credits for virtual goods on Facebook

$30 million to $40 million — Facebook's estimated annual virtual-gift revenue

Add New Comment


  • Seth T

    Your blog came up when I searched for help. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad that I finally came here! Thks for sharing and keep up the good work. I love what you guys are always up too. Such clever work and reporting! Keep up the great works guys I've added you guys to my blogroll

    Seth T. Change of Address Manager

  • Mouli Cohen

    These numbers are staggering, but given the advent of mobile technologies that are reaching all corners of the globe and enabling easier access to payment platforms, one can only expect the figures to grow. Still, with the low cost of entry into the marketplace, it will be interesting to see how new players differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. Certainly brand and celebrity presence add value on some level, but is it the right kind?

  • Michelle Chun-Hoon

    More and more people have a presence online and therefore more virtual sales are being made. If people are purchasing virtual dog food for their virtual pets online, what will come next?