88 percent of gamers surveyed have bought virtual content, says a study from DFC Intelligence, in partnership with monetization platform company Live Gamer.
Research firm DFC and Live Gamer studied some 5,000 gamers in North America and Europe during the first two months of 2010, and included seven years of Live Gamer's historical data from around the world.
According to the survey, "digital content" also includes music, movies and games, and isn't limited to virtual goods bought through microtransactions, as players can do in popular Western social games like FarmVille
on Facebook or Sony Online Entertainment's family-friendly Free Realms
60 percent of the respondents who said they'd bought something, however, said the content they paid for was an in-game item, not a full game. "In most cases, the digital items are offered in free-to-play products, which are low risk for the consumer," says DFC analyst David Cole.
DFC's report draws a distinction between "large commercial massively multiplayer online games", which are large in size, high in production value, and charge subscription fees -- presumably like World of Warcraft
-- and what the firm calls "MMOG Lite", which provide persistent worlds and character-building gameplay without the same kind of cost investment.
DFC says the "MMOG Lite" category, which presumably includes games like Free Realms
, was worth $800 million in 2009 -- and will top $3 billion by 2015.
"Korea still has the highest current revenue and longest history of all the markets we studied," says Cole. "However, when looking at seven years of actual historical transactional data, it is clear markets like Germany, Japan and the U.S. are not only trending towards Korea, but doing so at a significantly higher spend per transaction," said Cole.
DFC says the stats on adoption of virtual content purchases bode well for virtual item models for other game genres that can "benefit from growing consumer acceptance of digital items."
Says DFC analyst Jeremy Miller: "Furthermore, the success of social networks like Facebook show the popularity of virtual items can extend far beyond games."