Research firm Magid and Associates posted data from a new study showing that 12 percent of Americans bought virtual goods in the last 12 months.
Sponsored by digital marketplace PlaySpan, the study, titled "A Closer Look At Virtual Worlds, Virtual Goods, Microtransactions & Downloadable Content", surveyed 1,927 people aged 12 to 64 last April, with gender, ethnicity, and age range samples modeled after U.S. census numbers.
The study describes virtual goods as both simple (e.g. virtual points, music) and complex items (avatars) that are purchased and exchanged online in games, virtual worlds, and social networks.
51 percent of virtual goods purchasers couldn't recall how much they spent in the past 12 months, but those who could reported spending an average of $30. 27 percent of those who could remember their purchases said they spent less than $50, while 15 percent spent over $100.
"The fact that lots of people are reaching into their pocket to buy virtual goods is impressive," says Magid and Associates, "but it is even more impressive that some of those consumers are spending considerable dollars.
The firm continues, "As this market grows, if consumers continue to spend $50 or more on virtual goods, this will be a multi-billion dollar market."
Women aged 25 to 34 represented 17 percent of the respondents who purchased virtual goods, the largest group out of those surveyed. Males 12 to 17 and 18 to 24, as well as females 12 to 17 and 35 to 44 were the next most likely groups to buy virtual goods, as all four categories took up 15 percent of the total.
"This broad set of demos for people buying virtual goods is impressive," notes the research firm. "Even some of the very oldest (and traditionally less tech-savvy) respondents still have just under 10 percent having bought a virtual good."
"As the games, social networks, and virtual worlds offering such items grows, there is good reason to believe that all the age and gender groups will grow too. This is clearly not a business just for one age group or one gender."
Though Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were the second smallest ethnic group surveyed (4 percent), they represented the largest ethnic segment of virtual goods buyers (16 percent).
That group was followed by Miscellaneous respondents (15 percent), Latinos (14 percent), Caucasians (12 percent), and African Americans (10 percent).
The study showed that 46 percent of those who made purchases visit virtual worlds regularly, while 28 percent are iPhone owners and 27 percent play social games on social networks.
Magid and Associates adds that "frequent gamers across platforms are also heavy virtual goods buyers", highlighting data that shows around 20 percent of participants who purchased virtual goods said they played PC, handheld, mobile, and free web-based games.
The study also demonstrated that most of the surveyed consumers buy from authorized sources, as 29 percent said they purchased items from an authorized reseller, another 29 percent from the marketplaces of virtual worlds or games, and 25 percent from official sites for virtual worlds or games.
To contrast, 8 percent of virtual goods purchasers bought their items from an unauthorized reseller, and 7 percent from another player.