Hundreds of thousands of people are now making money from games and online communities due to the growth of the virtual economy.

With many employees furloughed or facing unemployment, and numerous industries going through uncertainty, a growing number are turning to the virtual economy, according to foresight business L’Atelier.

The virtual economy

The virtual economy refers to jobs, assets, marketplaces and traders that operate fully online. This can include gaming platforms, such as Fallout and Minecraft, and virtual worlds such as Decentraland and Second Life.

With the coronavirus pandemic predicted to cost the economy between $5.8tn and $8.8tn, according to Asian Development Bank, many are looking to virtual ways of earning income.

In order to examine the impact of the virtual economy, L’Atelier has published its first report on the new job opportunities that have come out of the virtual economy. It has catalogued 20 of the most common jobs in the virtual economy.

According to the report, the virtual economy now employs hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world, generating a total income of $66.2bn in gross value added, the equivalent of Bulgaria’s GDP.

Resistant to disruption

“Even as the global economy suffers the enormous impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virtual economy continues to grow,” commented John Egan, CEO of L’Atelier.

“The virtual economy is already huge: more than 2.5bn people participate in the platforms which make it up and it has a total value of well over $100bn a year, making it larger than the global film industry. It is also resistant to disruption in the physical economy, making it a powerful way for people to socialise, create and earn an income during lockdown. As a result, all manner of virtual jobs are becoming increasingly attractive to millions of people, from gamers and developers to teachers and entrepreneurs.”

Perhaps a more widely known example from the virtual economy is e-sports, with approximately 100,000 income-earning esports players worldwide. Professional gamers can earn between $25,000 and $3m annually from tournaments, partnerships, sponsorships and ad revenue.

Stemming from this is game streaming, in which players, around 40,000 people globally according to L’Atelier, generate income from streaming gameplay on platforms such as Twitch, Mixer and YouTube, with the most successful streamers making up to $1m per year.

L’Atelier also analysed some of the less well-known key ways people are making money from the virtual economy. It found that over 150,000 people globally generate income through “farming” in-game items from games such as Runescape. Players obtain valuable in-game items, which are then bought for virtual currency which is converted into real money. Individuals can earn up to $25,000 per year using this method.

Another income source is creating assets for virtual worlds, such at objects or items of furniture, with 40,000 people currently working as digital asset creators, earning up to $122,000 per year.

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Around 400,000 people also work as online community managers, maintaining event schedules on platforms including Twitter, Discord, Facebook, and Twitch.

“We expect to see a marked acceleration”

With the coronavirus shutting down countless entertainment venues and shops across the globe, some are turning to virtual experiences for entertainment or social interaction. For example, people are paying to attend virtual nightclubs and fashion brand 100 Thieves has created and sold virtual versions of their clothes on popular game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

“The virtual economy is an opportunity for almost anyone to augment or replace their real-world income through a relatively shock-resistant economic system,” commented John Egan, CEO, L’Atelier.

“The virtual economy is also distinctive in that it is possible for almost anyone, young or old, rich or poor, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, location, heritage or social status, to succeed as long as they have the intellect, decisiveness and the technical capability.

“We expect to see a marked acceleration in the growth of the virtual economy as people commit more and more of their professional and personal lives to digital platforms and mixed reality. Society, culture and economics will be transformed as virtual tycoons, decentralised government and digital nations emerge within the virtual economy.”


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