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What Can We Learn From the Wealth of Virtual Nations?

Economists look to massively multi-player online games for insight into real-world money questions. 
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Flickr/juanpol

My friend is exasperated with her younger sister, who's been crashing on her couch. Recently she asked her sibling to get up early to let the electrician in, but the sister slept through the appointed hour. She'd been up until dawn, playing World of Warcraft. 

What was she doing for so long inside the game?, I wondered. She might have been counting out bloody coins for a nice new tabard, or sifting through Silverpines in search of spellbooks. Maybe she was extracting a gas cloud for raw motes (a kind of raw resource), or taming sporewalkers (a type of beast). Or maybe she'd been chatting with some other player, one encountered among the 6.8 million that inhabit the Warcraft universe. These are all things you can do to develop your character, build relationships, and make money there.