The Avatar’s new clothes: Understanding why players purchase non-functional items in free-to-play games

Free-to-play online games create significant revenues through sales of virtual items. The argument that the sale of items that provide a competitive advantage (functional items) fuels a pay-to-win culture has attracted developers to business models that are solely based on the sale of non-functional items (items that provide no objective competitive advantage). However, the motivations for purchasing non-functional items remain under-examined. The present study therefore provides an exploration of hedonic, social, and utilitarian motivations underpinning purchase of virtual items within the top-grossing free-to-play game League of Legends. From interviews with 32 players, a number of motivations are identified and presented. In addition, a novel finding is that motivation for purchase may not stem from the value in the item but lie in the act of purchasing itself as a means of transferring money to the developer. © 2018 Elsevier Ltd

Free-to-play online games create significant revenues through sales of virtual items. The argument that the sale of items that provide a competitive advantage (functional items) fuels a pay-to-win culture has attracted developers to business models that are solely based on the sale of non-functional items (items that provide no objective competitive advantage). However, the motivations for purchasing non-functional items remain under-examined. The present study therefore provides an exploration of hedonic, social, and utilitarian motivations underpinning purchase of virtual items within the top-grossing free-to-play game League of Legends. From interviews with 32 players, a number of motivations are identified and presented. In addition, a novel finding is that motivation for purchase may not stem from the value in the item but lie in the act of purchasing itself as a means of transferring money to the developer. © 2018 Elsevier Ltd

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