A new study finds that only a minority of Americans are buying virtual goods, but average spending is up 14% in 2010, to $99 from $87 last year.
The report from market research firm Frank N. Magid Associates and in-game commerce company PlaySpan shows that 13% of the U.S. population bought a virtual item in the last 12 months, up slightly from 12% a year ago.
Most people are buying them from within online games (57%), followed by official Web sites outside games or virtual worlds (38%), and e-commerce sites like PlaySpan, (16%). Not surprisingly, young men 18 to 24 make up the single biggest demographic among virtual goods buyers, at 31%. Nearly a quarter (23%) of boys ages 8 to 11 and 12 to 17 each were also customers.
In addition to males 12 to 34, Asians, Latinos and African-Americans are the fastest-growing population segments in the virtual goods market.
IPhone owners, virtual world regular visitors, and frequent gamers are the heaviest virtual goods buyers, according to the study. IPhone owners in particular are a rapidly growing customer base, increasing from 28% of buyers last year to 44% in 2010.
Free Web-based games and social networking sites are the top sites for buying virtual games, with a net of 48% purchasing through a social site. Credit cards and PayPal were the top payment methods, with each cited by 51% of those surveyed. The next closest contender was Facebook Credits, Facebook's virtual currency for buying items in games and applications on the social network, with 16%.
That proportion should continue to grow as Facebook Credits spreads to more games on Facebook through the company's new five-year agreement with social games company Zynga and wider usage as a payment option in other apps.
The Magid survey was conducted May 7-12. It was a nationally representative online survey of 2,412 people, of whom 1,955 were between the ages of 18 and 64 and 457 were between the ages of 8 and 17.