Virtual Economy

The commerce and opportunities of the virtual world

Virtual Economy Business Model Pattern

Virtual Economy Business Model Pattern

The Virtual Economy business model pattern involves the creation and exchange of value within virtual environments, such as online games and virtual worlds.

This model enhances user engagement, generates revenue through virtual asset sales, and creates real-world value from digital interactions. Implementing a virtual economy requires designing balanced economic systems, providing proper incentives, ensuring accessibility, monitoring and iterating, and managing compliance.

What is the Virtual Economy Business Model Pattern?

The Virtual Economy business model pattern refers to the emergence and development of economic systems within virtual environments, particularly in the context of online games and virtual worlds. In these digital realms, users engage in the creation, exchange, and trade of virtual goods and services, often using one or more in-game currencies. The virtual economy model allows for the monetization of user interactions and the generation of real-world value from purely digital assets and experiences.

Why is the Virtual Economy Business Model Pattern Important?

The Virtual Economy business model pattern is significant for several reasons:

  • Engaging User Experiences: Virtual economies enhance user engagement by providing opportunities for meaningful interactions, achievement, and self-expression within the virtual environment.
  • Revenue Generation: Virtual economies offer multiple avenues for monetization, such as the sale of virtual currency, premium items, or access to exclusive features, allowing platform owners to generate revenue from their user base.
  • Real-World Value Creation: The exchange of virtual assets and currencies can create real-world value, as users invest time, effort, and money into acquiring and trading digital goods, which can be sold for real money on secondary markets.
  • Emergent Gameplay and Innovation: Virtual economies often give rise to emergent gameplay and user-driven innovation, as players find creative ways to leverage the economic system for their own benefit, leading to new forms of interaction and value creation.
  • Insights into Economic Behavior: Virtual economies serve as valuable testing grounds for understanding human economic behavior, as they provide controlled environments where economic theories can be observed and tested in a simplified context.

History and Some Virtual Economy Milestones

  • 1990s: Early virtual economies emerge in online games like Ultima Online and EverQuest, where players trade virtual items and currency.
  • 2003: Second Life launches, creating a virtual world with its own economy and currency (Linden Dollars) that can be exchanged for real money.
  • 2006: Entropia Universe introduces a virtual currency with a fixed exchange rate to the U.S. dollar, allowing for easier monetization and real-world value creation.
  • 2009: Bitcoin is created, sparking interest in decentralized virtual currencies and their potential for use in virtual economies.
  • 2011: Valve’s Steam Community Market enables users to trade virtual items from various games for real money, creating a thriving secondary market.
  • 2017: CryptoKitties becomes one of the first successful blockchain-based games, demonstrating the potential for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in virtual economies.
  • 2020s: The rise of the Metaverse concept sparks renewed interest in virtual economies, with major companies like Facebook (Meta) and Microsoft investing heavily in the space.

Key Concepts Of the Virtual Economy

By understanding key concepts it becomes easier to navigate the complexities and opportunities of the virtual economy landscape, creating engaging and sustainable economic systems that drive user engagement and real-world value creation. As the Metaverse concept continues to evolve, the importance of virtual economies is likely to grow, making it crucial for companies to stay informed and adapt their business models accordingly.

  • Key Concepts to Understand: a. Virtual Currencies:
    • In-game currencies that hold value within the virtual environment
    • Can be earned through gameplay, purchased with real money, or traded among users
    • Examples: Linden Dollars (Second Life), V-Bucks (Fortnite), Robux (Roblox)

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs):

  • Unique digital assets that are verified on a blockchain, ensuring scarcity and authenticity
  • Can represent virtual items, artwork, or even virtual real estate
  • Allows for true ownership and trade of digital assets, creating new opportunities for value creation and investment

Decentralized Finance (DeFi):

  • Financial systems built on blockchain technology, enabling peer-to-peer transactions and complex financial interactions without intermediaries
  • Allows for the creation of decentralized marketplaces, lending platforms, and investment opportunities within virtual economies

Play-to-Earn (P2E) Models:

  • Games that reward players with virtual assets or cryptocurrencies for their engagement and skill
  • Enables players to generate real-world value from their in-game activities
  • Examples: Axie Infinity, The Sandbox, Decentraland


  • The ability for virtual assets and currencies to be used across different virtual environments or platforms
  • Allows for greater liquidity and network effects within the virtual economy ecosystem
  • Achieved through common standards, APIs, or blockchain-based solutions

Governance and Regulation:

  • The systems and rules that govern the functioning of a virtual economy
  • Can be centralized (controlled by the platform owner) or decentralized (managed by the user community)
  • Requires consideration of issues such as monetary policy, fraud prevention, and user protection

Impact on the Business Model

The Virtual Economy business model pattern has a significant impact on various aspects of a company’s overall business model:

  • Value Proposition: The value proposition shifts from providing a static product or service to offering a dynamic, user-driven experience where value is created through interaction and exchange within the virtual environment.
  • Revenue Streams: Revenue is generated through the sale of virtual currency, premium items, or access to exclusive features, as well as potentially through the taxation of user-to-user transactions or the sale of user data insights.
  • Key Activities: The company’s key activities include the design, development, and maintenance of the virtual environment and its economic system, as well as the monitoring and management of the virtual economy to ensure balance and fairness.
  • Key Resources: The company’s key resources include the technology infrastructure that powers the virtual world, the intellectual property associated with the virtual assets and currencies, and the user community that drives the economy through their interactions and transactions.
  • Customer Relationships: The virtual economy model fosters deep user engagement and community building, as users invest time and resources into the virtual world and form social connections with other participants.

How to Implement the Virtual Economy Business Model Pattern

To successfully implement the Virtual Economy business model pattern, companies should consider the following steps:

  1. Define the Core Interactions: Identify the core interactions that will drive user engagement and value creation within the virtual environment, such as item crafting, trading, or player-vs-player competition.
  2. Design the Economic System: Develop a balanced and engaging economic system that includes virtual currencies, item scarcity, and mechanisms for user-to-user transactions, taking into account factors such as inflation, deflation, and market stability.
  3. Implement Proper Incentives: Create a system of rewards and incentives that encourages user participation and engagement, such as achievements, leaderboards, or exclusive benefits for top contributors.
  4. Ensure Accessibility and Interoperability: Make the virtual environment accessible across multiple platforms and devices, and consider enabling controlled interoperability with other virtual worlds or marketplaces to expand the reach and liquidity of the virtual economy.
  5. Monitor and Iterate: Continuously monitor key metrics and user feedback to identify areas for improvement and optimization, and be prepared to iterate on the economic design and incentive structures as needed to maintain balance and engagement.
  6. Manage Risk and Compliance: Be aware of the legal and regulatory considerations surrounding virtual economies, such as tax implications, money laundering risks, and consumer protection issues, and ensure compliance with relevant laws and best practices.

Trigger Questions

  • What types of digital goods, services, or experiences could be valuable and desirable for participants in our virtual economy?
  • How can we design a secure, scalable, and user-friendly platform for creating, trading, and monetizing digital assets within our virtual economy?
  • What blockchain or cryptocurrency technologies can we leverage to enable efficient, transparent, and decentralized transactions in our virtual marketplace?
  • How can we foster a vibrant and engaged community of creators, buyers, and sellers to drive activity and growth in our virtual economy?
  • What governance structures and economic policies should we put in place to ensure the stability, fairness, and sustainability of our virtual marketplace over time?
  • How can we bridge our virtual economy with real-world value and utility through partnerships, redemption programs, or other cross-over opportunities?

Examples of the Virtual Economy Business Model Pattern

  • World of Warcraft: Blizzard Entertainment’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) features a robust virtual economy where players can earn, trade, and sell virtual items and currency, both within the game and on secondary markets.
  • Second Life: Linden Lab’s virtual world allows users to create, buy, and sell virtual goods and services using the in-world currency, Linden Dollars, which can be exchanged for real money on the LindeX exchange.
  • Fortnite: Epic Games’ popular battle royale game has a thriving virtual economy centered around the sale of cosmetic items, such as character skins and emotes, which generate significant revenue for the company.
  • Decentraland: This decentralized virtual world built on the Ethereum blockchain allows users to buy, sell, and develop virtual land parcels using the MANA cryptocurrency, creating a user-driven virtual real estate market.


The Virtual Economy business model pattern has become increasingly relevant in the digital age, as more people spend time and money in virtual environments for entertainment, socialization, and even professional activities. By creating engaging and well-designed virtual economies, companies can tap into the vast potential for value creation and monetization within these digital worlds, while also fostering vibrant user communities and driving innovation in the virtual space.

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