Rhodri Marsden: Are we wasting our money when we buy virtual goods?
Wednesday 13 January 2010
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Life & Style blogs
Coachella Festival 2015: from Kendall Jenner to Alexa Chung, stars and festival-goers parade their boho best
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive - it's where the CIA gets its coffee fix
'Game-changing' new way to fight cancer discovered
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a white stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£30000 - £36000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: C# Developer A highly s...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A market leading software...