Virtual goods: In the U.S., $2.2 billion was spent last year on items that don’t actually exist except as strings of code inside online games like FarmVille, Restaurant City, and World of Warcraft. Spending on items such as purple toadstools or elementium deathblades is projected to grow by 30 percent in 2012, according to a research report from Inside Virtual Goods. Major financial companies, including Visa and Amex, have responded by diving into virtual commerce, buying firms that issue virtual coins, gold, and tokens.
Most virtual items cost only a few dollars, but not all. In 2010 an entrepreneur in the online fantasy world Entropia Universe sold Club Neverdie (pictured), a virtual asteroid and nightclub, for a total of $635,000—the world’s biggest sale of a virtual item at the time.
That’s real money. Divorce lawyers are now starting to wonder how to split up the “virtual assets of the marriage” when relationships go sour.