Virtual goods are non-physical objects and money purchased for use in online communities or online games. Digital goods, on the other hand, may be a broader category including digital books, music, and movies.[1] Virtual goods are intangible by definition.[2]

Including digital gifts[3] and digital clothing for avatars,[4] virtual goods may be classified as services instead of goods[2] and are usually sold by companies that operate social networking services, community sites, or online games.[2] Sales of virtual goods are sometimes referred to as microtransactions,[5] and the games that use this model are usually referred to as freemium games.

Virtual money


Virtual money (or in-game currency) is used to purchase virtual goods within a variety of online communities, which include social networking websites, virtual worlds and online gaming sites.

A key revenue driver within social media, virtual currencies are specific within each game and are used to purchase in-game goods. Characters or avatars in virtual worlds own things within the context of the virtual world and users will collect each games' virtual currency to purchase land, supplies and various items used to enhance their status and add points. Some virtual currencies are time-based, relying upon measurement of in-game achievements in order to accrue exchangeable points.



The first virtual goods to be sold were items for use in MUDs, early, graphical online multiplayer games on the PLATO system and text-only games on other computers. This practice continued with the advent of MMORPGs. Players would sell virtual goods, such as swords, coins, potions, and avatars, to each other in the informal sector. While this practice is forbidden in most blockbuster online games, such as World of Warcraft,[6] many online games now derive revenue from the sale of virtual goods.[7]

When Iron Realms Entertainment began auctioning items to players of its MUD, Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands, in 1997, it became the first company to profit from the sale of virtual goods.[8] But it wasn't until the mid-2000s, with companies like Korean Cyworld leading the way,[9] that virtual good sales became instituted as a legitimate revenue-making scheme.

Virtual goods may continue to be a primarily Asian phenomenon, as between 2007–2010 70% of worldwide sales were made in this region.[10]



In 2009, games played on social networks such as Facebook, games that primarily derive revenue from the sale of virtual goods, brought in US$1 billion, and that is expected to increase to 1.6 billion in 2010.[11] Worldwide, US$7.3 billion was made from virtual goods that same year.[10]

Estimates of the future market for these small items vary wildly depending upon who is making the prediction. 2013 sales will be US$4 billion according to one analyst[11] and a year later reach 14 billion according to a different analyst.[10]

In 2010, a virtual space station in the game Entropia Universe sold for $330,000.[12]

The popular, free-to-play video game Fortnite: Battle Royale generated more than $1 billion in revenue across all platforms. This revenue comes entirely from in-game purchases, which — in Fortnite's case — offer no competitive advantage to the game.[13]



In online games, virtual goods could be lost due to some unexpected reasons. This brings problems for service providers as well as purchaser. Encryption techniques primarily used for other purposes may, here too, provide functionality. These may include access control, hashing, encryption, digital certificates, and fingerprinting.

Illicit sale


While many companies have embraced exchanging cash for virtual goods, the practice is forbidden in most blockbuster games,[14] which derive income from subscription fees. This doesn't deter all players from saving playing time by illicitly buying in-game currency with real-world cash from an alternate source– violating their agreement with the game's operator in the process.[15]

China outlawed the practice of buying real-world goods with virtual currency in 2009,[16] something that had become popular in some parts of the country.[17]

Virtual goods purveyors


See also



  1. ^ Amazon may benefit as digital goods sales jump, Fri Dec 23, 2011 11:32am EST
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Virtual Goods: the next big business model, Jun 20, 2007
  3. ^ Sales of virtual goods boom in US, 10:32 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009
  4. ^ "Lucrative Alternatives to Online Advertising, October 23, 2008, 5:00PM EST". 2008-10-22. Archived from the original on October 27, 2008. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
  5. ^ a b Uh-Oh: World of Warcraft Introduces Microtransactions Wired's Game | Life blog, November 6, 2009
  6. ^ How to Stay in the Game (Part 2 of 2) Archived 2010-02-07 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b Virtual goods give Web firms new revenue in ad slump, Tue Dec 29, 2009 12:50pm EST
  8. ^ a b The World of text MMOs / MUDs – An Interview with Matt Mihaly, CEO of Iron Realms Entertainment Archived 2008-10-02 at the Wayback Machine, Friday, September 8. 2006
  9. ^ a b Cyworld ready to attack MySpace, July 27, 2006: 11:35 AM EDT
  10. ^ a b c Virtual goods revenue to hit $7.3 billion this year, November 15, 2010 9:51 AM PST
  11. ^ a b A virtual farm turns new ground for game developers, Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:05am EDT
  12. ^ "Man buys virtual space station for 330k real dollars". Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  13. ^ Kaylee Fagan, "Fortnite — a free video game — is a billion- dollar money machine", "Business Insider", July 29, 2018
  14. ^ Poor earning virtual gaming gold, 01:36 GMT, Friday, 22 August 2008
  15. ^ Preston Byers. "Valve sent a cease and desist order to OPSkins". Dot Esports. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  16. ^ China bars use of virtual money for trading in real goods PRC Ministry of Commerce, Monday, June 29, 2009 2100 GMT
  17. ^ QQ: China's New Coin of the Realm?, March 30, 2007
  18. ^ Unlike reality, virtual retail sales are hot, especially for avatars USA Today, 23 Dec 2009
  19. ^ "Changyou Selects PlaySpan's UltimatePay for its Online Game Properties". PlaySpan, Inc. 2010-03-18. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
  20. ^ "Facebook Blog, February 7, 2007". 2007-02-07. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
  21. ^ The world’s most lucrative social network? China’s Tencent beats $1 billion revenue mark, March 19, 2009
  22. ^ ABC News March 15, 2010
  23. ^ "KongZhong Corp (KONG.O): FULL DESCRIPTION". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 2009-11-15. Retrieved 2012-05-28.
  24. ^ About Company Archived 2009-06-01 at the Wayback Machine Nexon Official Site
  25. ^ Playdom Fuels Its Virtual Goods Business Archived 2010-12-29 at the Wayback Machine Press Release,, September 30, 2009
  26. ^ Playfish sees social games as industry driver Wed Nov 4, 2009 6:02am EST
  27. ^ Second Life Marketplace Featured Items Wed April 26, 2011
  28. ^ Runescape begins first microtransaction experiment Archived 2012-04-05 at the Wayback Machine, April 2, 2012
  29. ^ Virtual Products = Real Cash, Oct. 09
  30. ^ Trade Me founder invests in gaming, Mar. 11
  31. ^ Redefining MMOs: The massive money of microtransactions, Sep 11th 2009
  32. ^ The MANN-conomy update: FAQ Valve 2010
  33. ^ Xbox 360: Get the Points Archived 2009-01-23 at the Wayback Machine Microsoft's Xbox Official Site
  34. ^ Zynga's Gaming Gamble, 10.29.09, 12:40 PM EDT
  35. ^ Digital tills are ringing to the sound of an unreal Christmas The Guardian, 17 Dec 2009
  36. ^ Simon Coutu, "Here's How You Make $12,000 In Profit a Day Selling Virtual Guns", "Vice", June 30, 2015