Okay . . . I do have a Second Life account and I have been in Second Life enough to understand the appeal and potential of virtual worlds. Especially in terms of how I could use virtual worlds to demonstrate and explore economic concepts. I’ve used other sorts of virtual worlds such as MinyanLand developed specifically for teaching economics for middle school kids. So I get it.

But I’m still wrapping my head around the concept of virtual economies and how much money is being spent inside virtual environments.

A recent Newsweek article shares some of the current data on virtual purchases – that is, real money spent on fake things.

The total U.S. market for virtual goods was worth just over $1 billion in 2009, according to Inside Network, a market-research firm. That’s up from $500 million in 2008. The market will grow to $1.6 billion by next year, Inside Network says. Worldwide, the market may be worth as much as $6 billion, according to the Virtual Economy Research Network in Helsinki.

Not a bad gig if you can get it.

The problem? If someone is making money somewhere, someone else will find a way to steal it.

Early on in Second Life, software was developed that could clone and copy any in-world virtual object. This allowed real thieves in a fake world to really steal fake things and virtually sell them for fake money that could be exchanged for real money. Real Second Life folks found a way to defeat the real software that was stealing fake things.

Problem solved.

But a recent lawsuit against the owners of Second Life alleges that they are allowing the manufacture and sale of “knock off” virtual items inside Second Life. Basically businesses inside a virtual world are suing because the virtual items they have created are being duplicated and sold for less than the original.

So . . . we’ve got fake fake goods finding their way into a fake world, driving fake businesses back to reality. Fake fake Rolex, anyone?

The cool thing about all of this is that we’ve got some great economic teaching moments here. Supply and demand, opportunity cost, limited resources, costs and benefits, free trade, competition, centralized economic policy . . . it’s in there.

So don’t let the fake stuff fool ya, it’s all pretty real. Get in there and play around a bit.

Some handy SL teaching resources:

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