Virtual Goods, Real Money: The Gamification of the Digital Customer Experience

Why is luxury brand Gucci selling its exclusive apparel in virtual worlds where people will never be able to wear them? Because in virtual worlds, people buy virtual goods. In 2021, it’s estimated that more than $100 billion will be spent on virtual goods in gaming platforms alone. This virtual spend creates an enormous opportunity for businesses to generate real money on merchandise for virtual worlds.   

That’s right: people are spending billions of dollars on products that they will never experience in the analog world – goodies designed to be worn by avatars online, land owned in make-believe worlds, or accessories that make gaming more fun. Consumers get the emotional reward out of owning something they love – just in online worlds. Think we’re kidding? Take a look at these examples:

  • Fortnite: players can purchase, download, and access virtual currency solely for use in Fortnite (“V-Bucks”). With that currency, they can buy all kinds of skins, or cosmetic effects that change the appearance of a player’s avatar, such as Brite Bomber or John Wick. Disney has merchandised its Marvel and Star Wars skins to add personality and fun to players’ avatars. Recently, we blogged about Travis Scott making millions of dollars by selling in-game merchandise such as a Travis Scott skin, “back bling” decorations, and even a dance move, the Head Banger emote.
  • Minecraft: the popular world-building game has partnered with brands like Disney and LEGO to offer Minecraft mash-ups, such as Star Wars downloadable content (DLC). The Star Wars experience retails for 1,340 Minecoins, a virtual currency that players purchase with real money. Players build Star Wars themed worlds complete with 36 character skins such as Baby Yoda and Luke Skywalker. 
  • Gucci: even businesses traditionally outside of the gaming sphere are creating their own virtual games where they can have more control over the experience. In 2020, Gucci and developer Wildlife created Tennis Clash. And when you play tennis in Gucci’s world, you better bring your style game: players are encouraged to buy exclusive Gucci fashions for their tennis avatars. It’s a win-win: Gucci gets cash. Players get cachet. And Gucci is not the only brand in on the virtual goods secret. A new game called Aglet centers on buying rare sneakers from brands such as Chanel and Balenciaga. Players earn currency by performing different tasks and can buy virtual sneakers costing thousands of dollars.

What can brands learn from these experiences? Here are a few takeaways: 

  • Virtual commerce is not a byproduct of quarantine living during the pandemic. The real trigger for virtual commerce is the rise of online gaming, which has been happening for years. 
  • Entering this space requires an understanding of how to create a great customer experience for the gaming audience. Gaming is all about rewarding people for achievement. It’s about the eternal appeal of what’s cool. 
  • Not every gaming experience has to center around commerce. Estée Lauder has launched four video games to promote its most popular skincare products. Balenciaga has launched an online game to showcase its newest collection 

To learn more about how to create a memorable experience in the digital world, contact Asher Wren