In no time, virtual goods have become a major piece of the revenue pie at all kinds of internet companies, from social networks to portals. Chinese portal Tencent pulled in nearly $1 billion last year from the sale of virtual goods, while Facebook earns between $50 million and $100 million. With serious questions about whether the digital advertising market will ever return to anything like it's old self, more people are starting to talk about virtual goods as part of the solution moving forward. So what the heck are people buying in the virtual world? Below, the top sellers from three of the leading virtual-goods companies, Tencent, Playdom and Zynga.
Virtual good: Premium instant messaging
What it is: includes more bandwidth for photos, ringtones and other media.
Virtual good: Pet penguins
What it is: for a small fee, users can have an animated penguin running around their desktop and IM client (pigs and bears are also available).
Virtual good: Page decorations
What it is: users pay to decorate their pages with wallpaper and other adornments.
Playdom and Zynga's biggest hits, after the jump
Virtual good: Promotional offers:
What it is: Users fill out a survey about a specific product or brand and receive free virtual currency paid for by the sponsoring brand. About half of the company's revenues come from these kinds of promotional offers.
Virtual good: Clothing
What it is: players of its Sorority Life gamenot surprisingly mostly girlsbuy clothing, shoes, and jackets required for certain parties and social gatheringsand in some cases, even when they're not required.
Virtual good: Weapons
What it is: players of its popular game Mobsters can buy extra firepower to take out a snitch or enemy (they can also pay for fake police badges to gain entry into hospitals and other restricted areas).
Virtual good: Rims
What it is: players of Mobsters: Overdrive pimp their ride with shiny new rims.
Virtual good: Advancement in the game
What it is: users who lack the chops to get to the last level need not worry: they can always buy more energy or even skip levels if they've got the cash.
Virtual good: Poker chips
What it is: players of its online poker game can buy more chips if they run out of the free ones given to them when they start playing.
Virtual good: Mystery crates
What it is: players of Zynga's Street Racing game can buy mystery crates at a discountthe product inside can be worth a lot or nothing. (Example in picture to right)
Virtual good: Home improvements
What it is: in the virtual world YoVille, people can pay for new furniture, or spruce up their backyards with a patio or swingset.
Virtual good: Flame throwers
What it is:The company started selling flame throwers to players of its Mafia Wars game and sold upwards of 20,000 on its first day. Players can also buy white tigers (a not-so-subtle allusion to Scarface)
By Rory Maher