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John D. Sutter for

"These virtual currencies, as they grow, are going to become competitors to real-world currencies – and apparently that's what happening in China. These QQ coins are becoming things you can use at the corner store to top off your bill."

It's difficult to say how large virtual economies have become, because governments don't conduct surveys, Castronova said, but the popularity of online cash is reportedly growing by as much as 20 percent per year.


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