Podcast 8: Envy and Microtransactions

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Are you jealous? Ever been jealous? Ever been jealous because some other player in a video game had something cool or useful? Or, even better, have you ever made someone else jealous for the same reason?

Many free to play games –and a few premium– have built their business models around jealousy. In-game or in-app purchases for cosmetic items and customization options rake in a lot of money, and developers go to great lengths to make sure that players see all the cool stuff that their teammates and opponents have acquired. That can lead to spending more money to keep up and stand out. Bungie recently announced, for example, that players will soon be able to spend real money to acquire dance animations and other emotes for their in-game avatars. Will seeing other players break out in an impromptu dance party make you want to pay up so you can join in?

And beyond cosmetic items, do we think differently about people who purchase competitive advantages in the form of coin doublers, more powerful weapons, or something else that we had to grind for? For example, Konami recently announced that they were bringing “base insurance” for Metal Gear Solid V’s competitive game. What are we likely to think of people who spend real money on such insurance to keep from losing their stuff when they’re defeated in an online contest?

NielsvandeVenGood questions! To get some answers, I talk to researcher Niels van de Ven from Tilburg University in the Netherlands about how envy can drive us to make in-game purchases and microtransactions, as well as what effect such purchases have on what we think of other players. What happens if you pay to win while I grind it out?

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4 thoughts on “Podcast 8: Envy and Microtransactions

  1. Dota 2 is one of the most popular games on the planet, largely in part because it’s free-to-play. That playerbase has allowed it to become a massive esport, and one of the most-watched games as well. All microtransactions are cosmetic; community creators can even earn money for their work.

    Path of Exile is considerably less popular, currently #33 for most current players. But it was started by a small New Zealand-based indie studio, and has grown tremendously (even having recently moved into a newer office). Extremely active development, and openly communicative development team. Free-to-play, and no microtransactions give in-game power.

    Properly-executed microtransactions in free-to-play games are the ideal future of video games, but I highly doubt developers and consumers will adapt to this anytime soon. But I’m hopeful for a future of games that are both good and free.

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