Rhodri Marsden: Are we wasting our money when we buy virtual goods?

Cyberclinic

It's my friend Penny's birthday today. I've not bought her anything, but Facebook offers me a selection of last-minute virtual gifts: a tiara she can't wear, a whoopee cushion she'll never be able to sit on, or some champagne that she'll never guzzle while sitting on the kitchen floor and weeping bitter tears at the passing of her youth.

These are available for the knockdown price of $1 each, the idea probably being that a price tag somehow makes the giving of a 130-pixel image seem more meaningful. But bunging someone a virtual gift says little more than "I vaguely remember who you are" – after all, Facebook reminded me of the birthday, and Facebook created all the cutesy images and set up the payment system that enables me to buy them. All I have to do is press a button marked "Give gift", and as far as displays of affection go, that must rank somewhere alongside reusing the birthday card she gave me last year by crossing my name out and writing hers instead.

But these non-existent items pull in a lot of cash. For many online ventures, flogging things that merely have on-screen representation is the only meaningful source of revenue, and it's a spending pattern that's fast spreading beyond the Far East, where it first caught on. The global population is due to spend some $5bn worldwide this year on virtual gifts, clothes for virtual characters, 3D representations of objects for our phones or virtual real estate – which does beg the question: are we collectively losing our minds, here?

But thinking about it, humans do have a long and extraordinary history of shelling out for all kinds of bizarre things, from pet rocks to aura cleansing sessions, and while you might pour scorn on someone deriving pleasure from paying £30 to equip their World Of Warcraft character with a Scabbard of Hope, it's still money whooshing around the economy. Indeed, while disbelief and laughter met the news last week that someone has spent an eye-watering $333,000 on buying the Crystal Palace Space Station in the virtual world Entropia, it may be a more savvy business decision than spending the same sum on a flat in Crystal Palace itself.

Thousands of people will, incredibly, pay good money to dock their imaginary spacecraft there. And, unlike the flat, you can be 100 per cent certain that the roof of said space station won't leak or its plumbing go awry. In fact, as travel destinations go, it looks pretty enticing. I'll see if Penny fancies a birthday excursion.

Email any technology gripes to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

    £27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

    Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

    £20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Web Designer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor