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Jim Manico
Jim Manico
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Welcome To Fantasy Island

With fewer dollars to spend in the real world, consumers have been hanging out in virtual worlds -- where their money goes farther, according to operators of such sites.

With fewer dollars to spend in the real world, consumers have been hanging out in virtual worlds -- where their money goes farther, according to operators of such sites.Take Habbo, a self-described hangout for teens that charges a small fee for access to specific site features. Visitors are spending twice the amount of time on Habbo than in days past, the site's EVP told Forbes.com. U.S. users, who account for 25% of Habbo's 10 million customer base, spend around $18 per month buying virtual items. You do the math.

Virtual world Gaiai Online, with 7 million members, and sci-fi multiplayer gaming site EVE Online, with 250,000 members, are predicting continued upticks in their number of visitors, as well. In EVE Online's case, members pay $14.95 per month minimum (depending on their membership level). You can easily spend more than that in a single afternoon at Dave & Buster's.

"As the 'real world' gets worse, virtual worlds get better," Gaia CEO Craig Sherman told Forbes.com. "As things get worse, people spend more time at movies or spend more time on a site like Gaia Online, which provides a relatively inexpensive respite from the offline world."

I'm not suggesting you go off and start your own virtual world -- though it doesn't hurt to know they received more than $345 million in venture financing in the first half of 2008, according to Virtual Worlds Management. And for its part, Second Life is more than hanging in there, though its transactions have declined.

I am, however, suggesting you place yourself -- your name, your products, your services -- in places where your buyers go, whether they're teens and twentysomethings, card-players who can better afford a few rounds of online poker than a jaunt to Vegas, or tech-buying businesses reading reviews online for the purchases they'll make when their cash resumes flowing.

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