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How Mafia Wars can fix the media

August 5, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

The online gaming industry sells $2 billion a year in virtual goods through micro-transactions. What if they sold newspapers?

By John Patrick Pullen, contributor

The Internet is an emporium of inequity. For example, in the massively popular social game Farmville, a little garden gnome will run you 13 Farmville Bucks, which converts, roughly, to $2.75 USD. Over on Kingdoms of Camelot, another successful game hosted on Facebook, the gauntlet of courage costs 40 gems, or four U.S. dollars. Meanwhile, at the website for the Chicago Sun-Times, every movie review that Roger Ebert has written since he started at the newspaper in 1967 is available for free. That's right — these days, 5,000 articles and a cup of coffee will buy you the equivalent of a virtual lawn ornament.

Largely fueled by micro-transactions, subscription fees, and digital downloads, the online gaming industry has built itself from scratch in 2001 to become a $15 billion-a-year industry today. By comparison, the combined market caps for 2010's ten largest newspapers is just under $10.5 billion. Somehow, over the last ten years, amidst all of the media's deliberations of how to — or whether they even should — get readers to pay for online content, online gaming came along and convinced people to pay a little bit at a time for items that they didn't even need and could, if they just kept playing the game long enough, otherwise have earned for free.

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