In my original study, EverQuest's productivity was measured at about $2,000 in terms of annual GDP per capita. This was misreported in the press as "Economist finds virtual economy bigger than Russia!" Absurd. No virtual economy could outproduce, in gross terms, Russia's hundred-million-worker economy. I wonder how many sensible people have rejected the whole line of research on the basis of this misreporting.
But let's address the question head on. Is it possible that virtual world economies might make a gross impact equivalent to that of a real country? Actually, yes. Virtual worlds are already that big, economically speaking. More accurately, some unfortunate countries remain that small.
Let's assume in the absence of other data that virtual worlds, on average, have a GDP per capita of about $2,000. As in the original study, this figure would be arrived at by taking the total production of valuable goods and services, whether marketed or not, and using real-dollar exchange rates from places like eBay to assign a value to that production.
Second, let's assume the current population of all virtual world users is about 20 million, and that the average user spends about 20 hours a week in the world. This would imply about (20)x(20)x(52) = 20.8 billion in-world hours annually, or (20.8b)/(365.25x24) = 2.37 million full-time equivalent people (people living there on a 24/7 basis).
I tend to think of these as conservative estimates, but of course I could be wrong. If they are not conservative today, they will be within five or six years.
Here is a list of real countries with populations between 1 and 3 million:
Macedonia, FYR 2038000
Gambia, The 1389000
Trinidad and Tobago 1304000
And here is a list of real countries with GNI (Gross National Income, the Bank's preferred statistic) per capita between $1,000 and $3,000:
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 2820
South Africa 2500
Marshall Islands 2380
Europe & Central Asia 2160
Russian Federation 2130
El Salvador 2110
Micronesia, Fed. Sts. 1970
Iran, Islamic Rep. 1720
Macedonia, FYR 1710
Egypt, Arab Rep. 1470
Serbia and Montenegro 1400
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1310
Cape Verde 1250
Syrian Arab Republic 1130
West Bank and Gaza 1110
(Source: 2002 World Bank World Development Indicators)
(Sorry about the formatting, I am too lazy to do more than cut and paste.)
The following countries appear on both lists:
Virtual worlds, FTE population 2.4m, GNI/capita $2,000
In other words, the virtual economy would be roughly equivalent to the economy of Namibia or Macedonia, in terms of its overall role and position in the real global economy. It may be catching up to Jamaica. No, not Russia. Not even close. But not chopped liver, either.