Virtual goods – endless growth?

farmville Over the past year, the hype around virtual goods as the next big thing has continued unabated. Like the hype surrounding virtual worlds, it’ll eventually ease off, but underneath that is the reality of the very significant growth that is continuing. Two recent announcements have really emphasised that growth.

The first comes Ning, who now claim to host more than 1.6 million social networks. They’ve launched Ning Virtual Gifts. Pretty much anyone can create their own gift and sell it or buy someone else’s to give as a gift. Nothing particularly new there, but Ning’s size makes it one of the more interesting market tests for monetised virtual goods.

The second interesting development comes from social game creator Zynga, who has confirmed that US $487,500 has been raised for the welfare of children living in Haiti, via the sale of virtual sweet potato seeds within the Farmville game for Facebook. More than 56 million Facebook users play Farmville each month, with 50 million users playing one of Zynga’s social games daily. For mine, the combination of fun and social good has always been one of the best hooks for involvement and Zynga are proving that in a big way.

What these two examples have in common is proof of the widespread adoption of virtual goods. Virtual environments like Second Life have demonstrated the power of virtual goods for years, but the social gaming sphere and upcoming worlds like Metaplace are speeding up the rate of adoption through simple, intuitive interfaces that in some cases are also doing good in the real world. Of course, nothing grows endlessly, but if anything is likely to exceed post-hype expectations, it’ll be the virtual goods you pay small amounts for, in the pursuit of some casual fun.

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