In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Holly Finn asked a different question:
Which is dumber--buying "The Knot," a beautiful Bottega Veneta handbag made of woven satin and trimmed in python, or buying a tractor in the online game "FarmVille"? The first is real and costs $1,380. The second is virtual, priced under $20. I know which I'd choose. But then, I like python.
Frankly, I would choose the FarmVille tractor. This is not because I like FarmVille - I have never actually played it - but because spending $1,380 for a purse seems a tad exorbitant.
This minor disagreement aside, Finn raises an excellent point in her article, stating that, "The value of most things--perfume, cars, houses, handbags--is, in fact, largely virtual... So today, why do we continue to label things 'virtual' and 'real'?"
Finn went on to mention a collection of studies showing how virtual world experiences affect real world perceptions and actions. For example, Stanford researchers found that subjects who participated in chopping down virtual trees were more likely to conserve paper and recycle in the real world.
With this virtual spillover into reality becoming so evident, the social stigma attached to purchasing virtual goods in online games or social sites is coming to an end. A 2010 report found that the value of the United States virtual economy could reach $5 billion by 2015. It's apparent that people are starting to realize that the only difference between buying a new outfit for your champion in League of Legends and buying a turquoise polo from Express is that you have to put the Express polo through the wash (and probably iron it afterwards).
By the way, the British gamer who bought that aforementioned $22,000 virtual island earned a return on his investment in less than a year. He did so by selling virtual land parcels and collecting taxes from other gamers. How's that for entrepreneurship?