About VERN

Virtual Economy Research Network (VERN) is a communication hub for scholars, students and developers interested in virtual goods, currencies and economies. It was launched in September 2006 and is maintained by Helsinki Institute for Information Technology.

VERN’s purpose is to promote academic research in the area, serve as a research resource, and enhance communication between scholars and developers. The main features of the site are a blog, a discussion forum, a bibliography and a list of research links.

The VERN blog publishes news, analysis and research by regular contributors from the academia and industry. Guest articles featuring new approaches to the topic are also occasionally published. Contributions are selected by a team of editors, currently Vili Lehdonvirta and Juho Hamari. To contact the editors, please send email to vern(├Ąt)virtual-economy.org.

The VERN bibliography collects references to books and scholarly papers related to virtual goods, currencies and economies. Started in 2004, it is the most extensive public listing of research in the area. Any registered user can submit new entries to the bibliography, which will be moderated by the editors. To register an account, click here. Registered users can also start discussion threads and suggest links to the link list.

Virtual goods, currencies and economies

Virtual goods, also known as virtual assets and virtual property, are artificially scarce resources that exist in online spaces. Examples of virtual goods include powerful characters in massively-multiplayer online games (MMOG) and virtual items and gifts in social networking services (SNS). Many platforms that contain virtual goods also have virtual currencies and markets, forming systems that can be called virtual economies and subjected to economic analysis.

Virtual goods and currencies are frequently bought and sold for real money. In 2007, the volume of this real-money trade (RMT) was estimated at 2.1 Billion USD per year globally. Much of it takes place on so-called secondary markets, where MMOG players purchase characters and currencies from other players and professional “gold farmers”. Game operators are also increasingly selling virtual goods to their players themselves, particularly in the Asian market. This has challenged subscription fees as the primary source of revenues for online game operators and given rise so-called free-to-play games.

Besides games, virtual goods are available on a variety of platforms that people use for computer-mediated social activities. Korean social networking site Cyworld, Chinese instant messaging service Tencent QQ, Finland based teenage “virtual world” Habbo and U.S. based social networking site Facebook are examples of very popular online services that sell virtual goods to their users. Typical goods are graphical items that are used to enhance one’s virtual presence, given as gifts to other users or employed as tools in activities. Some platforms like Second Life and IMVU encourage users and third-party content developers to create new virtual goods and components for sale.

The emergence of virtual goods, currencies and economies presents companies and societies with a number of new problems. What factors contribute to consumer demand for virtual goods? How should virtual economies be designed and regulated? What is the legal status of different kinds of virtual goods and currencies? What can we learn from virtual economies that can be applied in other contexts? Virtual Economy Research Network serves as a place for exploring these issues.

VERN Blog contributors

Current contributors:

VERN blog alumni: