The Avatar's New Clothes: Understanding Why Players Purchase Nonfunctional Items in Free-to-play Games

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

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


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 underexamined. 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
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Pages (from-to)72–83
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: 14. September 2018


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

Cite this