In “Bigger Than Christmas,” I wrote that the back-to-school seasons of recent years bring in more money than the Christmas seasons. Those millions of dollars in annual revenue mean that the retail industry is really big business. Through the sale of actual goods.
Then I heard about virtual goods and saw those annual sales. We’re talkin’ billions here, folks, all through the sale of goods that do not actually exist. That’s what I call really, really big business.
Now I don’t know about you but until recently, I had no idea there was such a thing as “virtual goods” nor did I dream that people spend real money for such things.
Through reading various articles, I garnered all sorts of information that set my practical, logical, reality-based, Amish brain to spinning. But don’t take my word for it, type the term into any search engine and see what you get. See if it sets your head to spinning too.
For starters, virtual goods are not to be confused with digital goods. Digital goods are e-books, music, and movies. And unbeknownst to me, I’ve been a consumer of digital goods for several years now. Go figure.
Virtual goods, apparently, are something quite different.
According to Investopedia.com, virtual goods are a “product traded in the non-physical realm, typically in online communities and games. A virtual good has no tangible substance and no real intrinsic value; its value resides solely in what the user is willing to pay for it. The virtual good industry has recorded exponential growth in recent years, in line with the surging popularity of Facebook and other social media sites.”1
And here I thought social media sites, such as Facebook, were free. I did not know that you can buy virtual goods to send to your Facebook pals or that whole worlds existed only in the minds of adults that are every bit as imaginative as the dream worlds of children. Nor did I know that all of them sell virtual goods.
Second Life is one such world.
In such a world, I can create a whole new me. Never mind that the current me is housed in an aging physical body that is evidencing serious signs of wear and tear. Never mind that my eyes don’t work very well anymore or that I don’t have a driver’s license. None of that is relevant in these imaginary worlds because they offer “infinite possibilities” where I can “live a life without boundaries, guided only by [my] imagination.”2
In such a world, a new me can have a driver’s license and drive an Aston Martin or a Ferrari or a Lamborghini if I choose. Ach, let’s not mess around with an either/or decision; I can own and drive all three at the same time if my little ole heart so desires.
And I can own all those cars and as many private jets and spaceships as I want. In fact, I could own a castle, an island, and a planet!
IF I had enough money.
And therein lies the rub. Because, the be-all-‘n’-end-all of any such virtual/imaginary world is, of course, real-world money. Or, more accurately, real-world plastic.
If I’m comprehending this virtual-goods craziness correctly, and if I wanted to become a resident of an imaginary world, I would need to pay real-world money for anything and everything I wanted to own in that world.
What that means, then, is that not only would I need to make real-world mortgage and car payments but also virtual-world payments, right? Why would anyone even do that? Aren’t real-world payments enough? Isn’t keeping up with the Joneses bad enough in the real world? Do we now need to keep up with the virtual Joneses too?
At the same time, the non-Amish part of me can easily understand the appeal of inventing and creating a whole new me. I can also imagine a whole new life. I would love to throw off the restraints of this aging physical body and become the stuff of dreams. I would love to eliminate the really sucky parts of my current life and live in a world that is only limited by my imagination. I would love to sail above this real world seeing all its beauty then soar off into the equally real world of sunsets, stars, and galaxies.
I would love to pull out my plastic and spend whatever I please whenever I please. Giving in to those feelings and becoming a consumer of non-existent virtual goods seems like a great idea.
But then, the Amish part of me reasserts itself and reminds me that, inevitably and inexorably, the end of the month will roll around and the real-world bills will arrive.
Do you see why my head is spinning?
It’s a real—nothing virtual about it—dilemma.