Will people pay real dollars for in-game virtual money to help their virtual characters buy in-game goods?
One gamer, who goes by the screen name Haylo, said he spent $10 to $20 real dollars a month on in-game platinum(all nonexistent, of course) to buy weapons and other goods in Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC), but would spend more if he could afford it.
Most video games have some form of currency. In many ways, the in-game economy is similar to a real world economy - goods and services are traded to mutual advantage and are mediated in currency (platinum, gold, credit,etc.).
"With all the things you can buy in game," a gamer said, "it's hard not to want them, just like real-life stuff."
The average Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game(MMORPG) player is 27-year-old -- a demographic drooled over by marketers. Plus, nearly half of all players have jobs, which often means they have more money than time and are the perfect consumers of virtual assets.
On the Internet, many gamers now buy virtual money that only exist as data files stored in a server run by a game company with real-world dollars, and the buying and selling of virtual currencies may be off most people's radar, but it is truly big business.
An online broker, who goes by the screen name Rolala, was not a fan of online
games until his 15-year-old son became interested in Final Fantasy XI.
He then noticed that a large number of gils which are the currencies used in FFXI were for sale on eBay.
"I started hearing about players leaving the game who were selling their assets at cheap prices," he said, "so I figured, buy low, sell high."
But Rolala found his moneymaking options in FFXI "very limited". He switched to World of Warcraft. There, he has leveraged his real-life experience into an online business. He converts his game profits into real money on sites like eBay and GameFees,etc. Earnings can be considerable.
He said he was on track to earn about $120,000 in real money in his first year in this business.
Rolala's business is just one example of how increasingly popular online
role-playing games have created a shadow economy in which the lines between the real world and the virtual world are getting blurred.
"World of Warcraft", the world's largest MMORPG, boasts more than 1 million paying users in North America.
There are many sites like "world of warcraft gold guide" and "wow gold free strategics", teaching gamers how to earn wow gold in game, however many players are still willing to buy gold and weapons to help their virtual characters get a higher virtual status more rapidly. Some virtual goods in World of Warcraft have been sold for thousands of dollars. It obviously creates a large real world market.
Right now, this business is one of the most hotly debated issues on the Internet. Many game companies such as Blizzard who run World of Warcraft discourage profit from in-game properties, though none have found a way to stop it!
Sony Online Entertainment, on the other hand, encourages the practice (albeit within the confines of their own "Station Exchange", their own forum for the sale of in-game properties). It recently announced the first month's figures from "Station Exchange".
According to SOE, over 45,000 characters from "EverQuest 2" have been active on the exchange and have spent over $180,000 USD in one month, half of which have been spent on in-game gold and platinum.
Despite of different attitudes towards virtual currency trade, the number of people who are getting into such business is rising, and the size of market has been expanding very rapidly.The market also creates a competitive environment.
With the rapid growth of virtual currency exchange market, should people accord virtual property the same protection as property in the real world?