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A small but growing percentage of US consumers with internet access are buying virtual goods, according to a new study from PlaySpan and Magid Associates.

Virtual Goods Grow 8% in Popularity Since ’09
As mentioned above, 13% of online consumers have bought virtual goods online in the past 12 months, representing a roughly 8% increase from 12% who had done so in 2009. Furthermore, 21% of virtual goods buyers will buy more virtual goods in the next 12 months. In this study, virtual goods are defined as non-physical objects that are purchased and exchange on the internet in games, virtual worlds and social networks. Virtual goods can be simple items such as virtual points, tokens, or more complex items such as avatars.

Virtual Goods Buyers Spend Average of $92
On average, virtual goods buyers aged eight to 64 spent $92 on virtual goods last year. Among the 12-to-64-year-old demographic, average spend increased almost 14%, from $87 to $99, between 2009 and 2010.

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Virtual Goods Buyers Skew Male, Asian
Virtual goods buyers strongly skew male. Growth is especially strong among the male 18-to-24-year-old demographic (increase from 15% to 31% of online consumers in this demographic since 2009). Growth was also notable among males aged 25-34 (increase from 12% to 21%) and 12-17 (increase from 15% to 23%). In contrast, growth among most female demographics was flat or negative, with only the 18-24 age group showing positive growth (from 8% to 14%).

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Looking at the ethnic demographics of virtual goods buyers, Asians are the fastest-growing segment, with 26% of Asian online consumers buying virtual goods in 2010, compared to 16% in 2009. Latinos follow, increasing from 14% to 20%, while African Americans increased from 10% to 15%. There is a slight decrease in the percentage of Caucasian online consumers purchasing virtual goods (from 12% to 11%).

Free Web Games, SocNets Leading Purchase Sites
Free internet-based games and social networks are by far the most popular sites for purchase of virtual goods. Thirty-seven percent of virtual goods buyers purchased virtual goods from a free web-based game in the past 12 months, and another 29% purchased them at a free-to-play multi-player computer game.

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Furthermore, 31% of virtual goods buyers purchased virtual goods at a non-game social networking site, and 29% purchased them on a game on a social networking site. The most popular purchasing resource which requires some sort of additional expense, a connected console marketplace, was only used by 21% of virtual goods buyers.

iPhone Owners, Virtual World Users, Gamers Heaviest Virtual Goods Buyers
Broken down by usage of different online resources and technology devices, the heaviest buyers of virtual goods are iPhone owners, as 44% report buying virtual goods in the past 12 months. Although only 11% of those who have purchased virtual goods in the past 12 months bought them in a virtual world, 41% of regular virtual world users have done so. Weekly handheld, mobile, PC, console, and free Web-based gamers all report virtual goods purchase rates between 23% and 33%, with weekly handheld gamers leading.

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Interestingly, although social networks are a leading resource for purchasing virtual goods, only 20% of social network gamers and 16% of regular social network visitors report buying them in the past 12 months.

Virtual Goods will Help Drive Mobile Web 2.0 Tech Adoption
Social web services, including virtual goods, will be one of the key drivers of the mobile web 2.0 technology market, according to a recent study from Juniper Research. The rise in the number of mobile subscribers accessing web 2.0 is creating a boom in mobile browsing, data and messaging traffic.

Contextual and location-based advertising, combined with premium services and virtual goods, are expected to set the mobile web 2.0 market apart from the desktop web 2.0 market. Juniper analysts also suggest that mobile subscribers are more willing to pay for services and already have a billing mechanism in place.

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