Monday, December 28, 2009

Virtual Goods versus

Virtual Goodies

[This article is also available as a PDF]
You've probably been hearing a lot about "virtual goods" lately. These are micro-luxuries - small indulgences - that comfort us in lean times - but now they are virtual, existing in social networks, and emerging "virtual world" platforms.

But virtual goods (and their uses) vary a bit more widely than is usually reported in these articles.

The term is applied in relation to companies ranging from Zynga - who profit directly from user micro-purchases - to IMVU, and Linden Lab, whose business models rely on a symbiotic relationship with user content creators.

In virtual worlds like Linden's "Second Life", these goods can take the form of almost any kind of clothing or accessory, vehicles, custom toys and pretty much anything else you can dream-up (and quite a few things you never would).

But if you've been wracking your brain trying to figure out how to sell a virtual version of your "real-world" products, just stop.

And start making something cool. Then give it away. For free.

Why Virtual Goodies Make Great Schwag

Obviously, once virtual goods are created, it costs nothing to reproduce them. In most cases, you can give out hundreds (or thousands!) as easily as just one.

Now, if you could afford to give out goodies to everyone on the street, just to promote your brand / product / bake sale - you would, right?

Well, now you can. Sort of.

No, of course I won't try to tell you that a virtual t-shirt is the same as real. But by now you've understood that these virtual luxuries have their own, specific value. If not, go read some of these articles and come back.

The point is that you can now afford to give away something that really does have value to the audience.

And this isn't just some pretty (though ultimately useless) brochure, or coupon for next Tuesday - it can be a favorite hat in someone's virtual wardrobe, or the central component in their virtual living room.

In other words: Something they see and/or use often.

Now all you need is to make sure they think of you when they use it.

How to Make Cool Stuff Relevant

Okay sure - maybe that sounds a little easier than it is. Lots of people do need help making cool virtual stuff, but there are always talented folks to lean on if you haven't got the time or chops to make your own content.

But the real question is what sort of virtual goodies would work best for you. It's something you must invest plenty of your own thought in, first.

The best promotional goodies relate naturally to what they promote: If you've got a business that lends itself to this (a shoe store), then the right promo may be obvious (virtual shoes). Other cases may not be so easy, but it is worth the effort to dream-up something that will best represent your brand out in the (virtual) field.

In Second Life, virtual goodies tend to fall into these categories:

  • Clothing and Accessories

  • Functional "Gadgets"

  • Toys (including Games)

While clothing and accessories are always wildly popular, useful virtual gadgets for Second Life also have great sticking power: Residents make extensive use of Twitter relays, job search tools and other gadgets.

And if they like it, they will remember your brand.

Finally, never underestimate the value of pure enjoyment: These platforms are great for delivering small, fun toys and games. These can really help you connect with users, even if it bears only the slightest relation to your product - as long as it's fun!

Depending on the type of schwag, there will be opportunities to include links to your websites, logos, or other branding. Take full advantage of this, but be tasteful about it.

The important part is to make it something worth having - and you've got yourself a first-rate freebie.

Laughing in the Face of Capitalism: Giving It Away

You will be surprised to learn how easy it is to distribute virtual goods for most of these platforms.

For example, with virtual goodies for Second Life, you have the option of making them freely copyable - meaning anyone with your promo t-shirt can give a copy to another user.

Think about this for a moment: It has incredible implications. Your promotional material now spreads in the same manner as free software. For as long as it remains worth having, people will be sharing it.

That beats the lifetime of most other advertising media, by a long shot.

Another great venue (for Second Life) is provided in the form of XStreetSL, now the official shopping portal. Users browse XStreetSL, choose and buy virtual products, and have them delivered directly to their avatar.

And, as you might imagine, free stuff sells very well.

Using XStreetSL, you can set up a vendor presence for your campaign, complete with a catalog of your virtual goodies. Now users have instant access to your virtual schwag, always.

Your cost: $0.

The Real Value of Virtual Good(ie)s

The real value of virtual goods to most initiatives is as a direct promotional vehicle. In this regard they offer some truly unique advantages.

They are a no-cost promotional venue, with no real distribution overhead, through which you can give infinitely copyable virtual goodies.

You see - I told you this was awesome!

Who Are The Wishfarmers?

The Wishfarmers LLC is a small California design and development studio innovating for virtual worlds since 2004.

Check us out at, and let's talk about your crazy ideas!