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The makers of Facebook football game I AM PLAYR are offering fans physical Nike merchandise for its fictional club River Park FC.

The freemium game’s primary income comes from selling virtual goods including Nike branded football boots and cans of Red Bull, but it sees the physical goods as a useful marketing tool as well as a secondary revenue stream.

Users can buy official Nike shirts and scarves from the game’s f-commerce site, powered by Zibaba, for £34.99 and £9.99 respectively.

To encourage sales the company has attempted to gamify the process – players are awarded virtual currency and a ‘Superfan Trophy’ if they upload a photo of themselves wearing the team kit.

And there is certainly potential for game maker We R Interactive to shift a decent number of shirts. Despite the game being less than a year old, its 590,000 active members have bought more than 1m virtual cans of Red Bull and 300,000 pairs of Nike boots, and have watched more than 19 years of Nike video.

We R Interactive co-founder Oli Madgett said that Nike and Red Bull became involved with the game when it was still in its development phase.

They saw it as a natural connection as both brands already use Facebook as a marketing tool, and want to specifically target ‘football obsessed’ teens. But instead of creating a Nike branded game, they are partnering with a product that is new and exciting for fans.”

Alfa Romeo has also sponsored several storylines in I AM PLAYR, and around 50,000 people created their own custom version of its MiTo model that could then be used within the game.

Freemium gaming has proven to be a huge source of revenue for Facebook.

Its most successful gaming partner, Zynga, contributed $445m to Facebook’s $3.71bn in sales last year, which equates to 12% of the social network’s revenue.

Other games have capitalised on the sale of physical goods as a revenue source, most notablly Rovio with its Angry Birds merchandise.

However, using virtual currency to buy physical Nike branded sports gear for a team that doesn't even exist is a novel approach.

Madgett shied away from providing an exact figure for the number of shirts sold so far, insisting that the project is primarily about raising the game’s profile - so actual sales figures might not be too impressive yet.

But this project should be applauded for its experimental aspect, especially when you consider that a social innovator like Nike has bought in to the concept. If it works, others are sure to follow.

David Moth

Published 29 February, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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