Virtual goods are a growing sector of the digital economy, playing a large role in the developing business models for social networks like Facebook. Internet users in Asia spend approximately $5 billion a year on virtual goods created and traded in online games and apps, and the U.S. economy is expected to reach a similar size within five years.
So what happens when all these virtual assets are put in play and the servers can't handle the load? A post at Slashdot provides a cautionary tale about the importance of sturdy infrastructure to support virtual economies. Players in the science fiction MMOG EVE Online claim that thousands of dollars worth of in-game assets were destroyed when server lag created an uneven playing field in a huge online battle between warring fleets of starships. Game operator CCP Games recently launched an expansion pack, and some gamers say the new code has experienced performance problems (CCP is running stress tests today to investigate the claims). Scandal or sour grapes? As one player noted on one of the EVE forums, "You don't hear the winning side whining about lag very often."
Interestingly, the debate about EVE Online emerges the same day that another space-themed MMO, Planet Calypso, announced that a player had paid $330,000 to buy a virtual space station.