A very good article came across Techcrunch last week about the online economy for virtual goods. In it, virtual goods are touted as the next big business model for online businesses. People already spend $1.5 billion per year worldwide on stuff that doesn’t really exist.
Yes, I said $1.5 billion . . . and growing. Most of these online items involve some sort of personal accessory (bling for your online self, a virtual pet, a new sword for your World of Warcraft character) or a gift for someone else (virtual flowers, pixelated puppies). The prevalence of this online trend shows that materialism isn’t really about the material, it’s about the virtual effect that material produces for you.
Ok, that statement’s a little bit nebulous – let me get more specific. My favorite consumer good in understanding why people buy things, and how they think about it when they buy things, is sunglasses. In college I had a friend who never went anywhere without her shades on. It actually was a little annoying, because I could never see her eyes when I was talking to her. When I eventually asked her why she wore her shades all of the time, she told me she had sensitive eyes and needed them.
Over the years I have repeated the same experiment over and over with habitual shade-wearers, and there seems to be a whole segment of our species that has a vampire-like inability to deal with natural sunlight. I can’t imagine their suffering 100 years ago before the invention of sunglasses!
Ok, of course that isn’t the real reason why people wear shades. The real reason is they make you look cool. Heck, they make you FEEL cool. I bought a pair for Vegas last week that looked a little like Elvis’ famous shades, and damn if I didn’t feel a little Jailhouse Rock when it was time to double-down at the blackjack table. Oh . . . and that girl in college was one of the cooler ones I’ve known.
But back to virtual goods. There’s no fooling yourself when you buy a pair of virtual shades, or anything else virtual. You don’t need this stuff because it doesn’t really exist. But it still gives you the same satisfaction when you have it. Anyone who doesn’t understand that, and doesn’t understand why the market for virtual goods WILL work, is still wearing their shades and thinking they are doing it because that sun is so bright.
UPDATE: Shades do have health benefits, they prevent cataracts. Of course, this is mainly the case if you are a fisherman in Chesapeake Bay, as the study mentions . . .