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Spending Habits in the World of Virtual Games

Many use Facebook as a way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances, but others use it to play games that involve virtual farms, virtual pets, and virtual mob wars. What's fascinating is that in some of these games, a person can buy virtual goods—fertilizer or additional pets or guns. But these items don't actually exist, of course. They are just little computer pictures from little pixilated stores. Nonetheless, if a person wants to have these virtual guns or virtual tools for their virtual farms or virtual pets, they actually pay real money!

Newsweek magazine's Daniel Lyons wrote about this bizarre phenomenon in a column titled, "Money for Nothing." When researching virtual games, he discovered that the total U.S. market for virtual goods was:

500 million in 2008

$1 billion in 2009

[Following updated as of 2/2024]

$19.61 billion as of 2022

$20 billion as of 2023

Kristian Segerstrale, a Finnish economist who has studied this phenomenon, says, “You can learn a lot about human behavior and how people inter-operate in an economic environment. There are a lot of valuable lessons.” One of those lessons, of course, is that people will spend real money for something that isn't really there at all.

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