There is a growing trend by brands and companies to offer virtual goods through gaming and social networking sites, such as Facebook, Second Life and Empire Avenue. Instat reports that the sale of virtual goods rose by 245% from 2007 to 2010, and was worth $7.3billion last year.

This is not a new concept and back in 2002-3 Cyworld in Korea had many major brands on board, allowing users to purchase branded goods using the acorn, Cyworld’s virtual currency. Acorns could be bought using cash and this approach gave a solid business model for other companies to follow. For some years, it has been possible for avid gamers to sell characters and avatars for hard cash to those desperate to get on in the game but without the time to develop characters to the necessary level for their ambition. Now, companies such as Zynga and HitGrab have seen the phenomenal success of FarmWorld and Mousehunt etc enhanced by the sale of virtual goods for real money as well as for virtual currency.

The popularity of games has spread to a wide audience and is not restricted to those who might fall into the ‘gamer’ category, but also to housewives, white collar workers, and silver surfers. Those with a high disposable income are unlikely to flinch at a £5 buy of a virtual item in order to progress in the game, and the advances in micropayment systems and in-game or in-app purchasing has eased the way for the virtual goods market to expand.

Empire Avenue is the latest to offer virtual goods – an XBox – after teaming up with Microsoft, and the addition of a limited achievement will undoubtedly see the kleptomaniacs for such achievements forking out the currency required to purchase the item and then will spread the word they have done so using Facebook and Twitter, thereby helping to evangelise the product and reach a wider audience.

Offering virtual goods and rewards not only allows you to engage with users within a game, but you can also extend these to real world offerings. So, offers companies the chance to offer deals to those checking in to their location, such as free coffees for the Mayor or discounts for multiple check-ins over time. Customer retention is far cheaper than customer acquisition and loyalty rewards and discounts are extremely popular the world over.

Whether you are a tiny pottery in the Yorkshire Dales or a global brand, the rising popularity of games and applications using gaming mechanics, along with the social networks’ growth, mean that this should be a strategy worth your consideration as part of your online marketing plan.

Did you find this page useful?


About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology