Monday, January 11, 2010

(Semi) Virtual Goods

Have just read this set of slides on the Asian economy in Virtual Goods by Benjamin Joffe. It seems there is a $7 Billion business in the area of selling things via virtual environments, ranging from Online Game Gold, to Mobile Apps. and all Avatars in between. The US market is hitting $1 billion, so this is a world wide phenomenon reputedly at $52 Billion in value.

This gets me thinking about the nature of virtual goods, and their value to a consumer. I buy virtual goods in a form, they are iPhone apps., iTune songs and movies. In my research, I also buy the odd virtual product in Second Life, as I am not prepared to spend time modelling chairs and desks for my business process demonstrations.

While this virtual goods economy is growing, it is also bounded somewhat by the usage of such goods in virtual environments, and a lot of people don't spend that much time in such spaces. What will be interesting is the merging of such worlds via forms of augmented reality and newer display systems that are emerging, including forms of paper-like electronic displays. Thus virtual goods become more and more integrated with actual physical environments. I would then upgrade the walls of my home with a downloaded purchase.

The logical extreme is the extension to 3D printers. Thus you will buy the virtual product (eg. a cup) and print it out for use in the real world. In fact, I wonder if such integration might indeed decrease the popularity of pure virtual worlds, as the integration of real and virtual opens up much more exciting possibilities.

New iPhone/Android Augmented Reality applications, such as Layor, are appearing in a viable commercial form, and so I expect to see a maturation of the integration between real and virtual both in representation, and economies.


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