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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.

Boomtown: The Real Money Behind Virtual Goods

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

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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