theredbackpack asked: w/r/t companies that sell things of no real value, what's the market like for those who sell virtual goods for games like WoW, other console/PC MMRPG games? i don't know much about that stuff, but it seems like that's been a sustainable (though who knows to what extent) model for selling virtual goods of no intrinsic value for some time now, at least longer than it has been for companies like zynga.
I can’t claim to have that much knowledge about RPGs and the like either, but I think a key difference is this: you pay to buy WoW, right? It’s not an experience that its developer gives away hoping you’ll get addicted to buying pixelated goods. Furthermore, these games are at least a bit more immersive than Farmville. On top of that, I suspect they have more of a teleology. I mean, you can’t win Farmville, right? (Right?) And because of this, I imagine goods in these RPGs to be more goal-oriented, no matter how false the goal.
But this could easily be a bogus distinction. I only really know about Zynga from the news.
One thing I do know that speaks to your point is this (but I only know this secondhand): apparently a game called Team Fortress 2 developed a bizarre bubble economy surrounding hats. Characters could wear hats, which don’t affect gameplay at all, but they became this sort of Veblen good and therefore very valuable despite their worthlessness both within the game and without.
That said, however, it’s not as if Valve (the company that makes the game) is going to go public based on sales of these hats, you know? And I think that’s Zynga’s problem: it misidentified a fad among a notoriously capricious consumer base (tweens) as a real way to make money for the long term.