Massively multiplayer online gamers spend hours -- so many hours -- working towards obtaining virtual Perfect World Gold gear. Epic armor sets, mounts, player housing, faction ships... the list goes on, and will continue to go on.
Our collective fascination with these intangibles ensures our desire for them -- and for those things beyond a player's reach solely within the virtual realm, real world cash makes all things possible.
This is the research focus of Ph.D. student Vili Lehdonvirta of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, who breaks down our buyer's impulse according to three criteria:
Functional attributes, such as speed, hit points, teleportation.
Hedonic attributes or how the virtual gear looks or sounds, its provenance or its connection to the background fiction of the setting, and of course customizability.
Social attributes, particularly the prestige accorded with ownership of a rare item.
Have a look at his Virtual item sales as a revenue model: identifying attributes that drive purchase decisions for a thorough analysis of why many of us are so inclined to obtain something gold that's ultimately ephemeral, which goes beyond the simpler useful vs. decorative angle.