PayPal says that an astonishing 12 million unique users pay to play various Facebook games each and every month of the year.
On one hand, 12 million people out of Facebook's user base of approximately 750 million isn't all that terribly much, representing only 1.6 percent of the total. On the other hand, when 12 million people are coughing up various sums of cash, month in and month out, to play games like FarmVille and Treasure Isle, well, that's not something at which noses should be upturned.
"In massively multiplayer online games, the number of paying gamers keeps going up," said Carey Kolaja, PayPal's senior director of emerging opportunities. "The perception about digital goods is that they lead to micro transactions, which are small. But the average purchase for a paying user is in the mid-20s (in dollars). It is on a positive trajectory."
40 percent of adults play online games and 70 percent of all gamers use PayPal, according to the data released by the company, and there's plenty of growth yet to come. Its recent move to Xbox Live resulted in a "significant jump in transactions," and in-game currency purchases are also on the rise.
Roughly 19 percent of currency purchases in MMOs are under $10, while amounts from $10 to $50 account for 54 percent of purchases and amounts over $50 account for the remaining 27 percent. In social games, sub-$10 purchases make up 33 percent of the market, 58 percent of purchases run between $10 and $50, and nine percent are for amounts in excess of $50. The most popular games among PayPal customers are World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Bejeweled and FarmVille.
eMarketer estimates that the virtual goods market in the U.S. will be worth more than $1 billion in 2011, while the international market is valued at around $6 billion. Something to keep in mind the next time you're tempted to sneer at a Zynga game.