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

Ben Marder, David Gattig, Emily Collins, Leyland Pitt, Jan Kietzmann, Antonia Erz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-83
Number of pages12
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Early online date14 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Free-to-play
  • Motivation
  • Online games
  • Purchase
  • Virtual-items

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Psychology(all)

Cite this