Selling virtual goods for real money is an increasingly popular revenue model for massively-multiplayer online games (MMOs), social networking sites (SNSs) and other online hangouts. In this paper, we argue that the marketing of virtual goods currently falls short of what it could be. Game developers have long created compelling game designs, but having to market virtual goods to players is a relatively new situation to them. Professional marketers, on the other hand, tend to overlook the internal design of games and hangouts and focus on marketing the services as a whole. To begin bridging the gap, we propose that the design patterns and game mechanics commonly used in games and online hangouts should be viewed as a set of marketing techniques designed to sell virtual goods. Based on a review of a number of MMOs, we describe some of the most common patterns and game mechanics and show how their effects can be explained in terms of analogous techniques from marketing science. The results provide a new perspective to game design with interesting implications to developers. Moreover, they also suggest a radically new perspective to marketers of ordinary goods and services: viewing marketing as a form of game design.
Keywords: online games, social networking, virtual world, virtual goods, business model, sustainability, captology