Kati Alha: Spending Money on Free Games

While being extremely successful, free-to-play games have received critique on being exploitative, unethical or simply poor game experiences. One of the key concerns has been how a small minority of high-spenders pay for majority of the game’s income. Still, not a lot of research has targeted these players. We considered this shortcoming when interviewing paying free-to-play game players, focusing on high-spenders.

For our interviewees, paying in F2P games had become a normal activity. Even larger sums were seen as reasonable when comparing how much the game offered in return for the money. Paying in free-to-play games was more spontaneous than purchasing other games, partly because of the easy purchase processes. In many occasions, the value of money was still evaluated beforehand. In this light, most high-spenders saw themselves as sensible consumers, while some mentioned being addicted to purchases, seeing them as an exciting vice.

In general, our interviewees saw the free-to-play model as positive and ethical, although the games inside the model often included characteristic problems: paywalls, pay-to-win mechanics, content gained only through paying, aggressive monetization, and the model generally making exploitation easier. Single games had a great impact in the attitudes of the interviewees, be it positive or negative. Even paying players considered being able to enjoy a game without money as a crucial feature for a good free-to-play game. When paying players feel they are getting their money’s worth and are not feeling forced to pay, paying becomes more of a positive activity.

Want to read more? Go see:

Alha, K., Kinnunen, J., Koskinen, E., & Paavilainen, J. (2018). Free-to-Play Games: Paying Players’ Perspective. In Proceedings of the 22nd International Academic Mindtrek Conference (Mindtrek ’18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 49-58. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3275116.3275133