Podcast 8: Envy and Microtransactions

Hey. FYI, my Patron supporters got this podcast a few days early. Support me on Patron to do the same and get audio versions of other articles.

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?

To get the podcasts delivered straight to your device of choice, search for “Psychology of Games” or use one of these links:



5 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.

  2. Pingback: 10/9/15 – Pacing, Architecture, Envy, Netflix, and Asymmetry | Game Design Digest

  3. Pingback: 100Likes.Ru — Дайджест игровой индустрии: октябрь 2015

  4. Pingback: Дайджест игровой индустрии: октябрь 2015 - 100Likes.Ru

  5. Ok, wow, this was one hell of a interesting topic!

    I know I am late to the game, over a year later, but it just made me very curious about some things

    So on one hand there is an effect of the „negative envy” in situations when we think that someone didn’t deserve it, so like the example of the iphone – someone got the iphone from their father, participants thought he didn’t work for it and felt the „black envy” (I really liked that distinction in Russian). But on the other hand you were talking about the gamers whom someone might envy their scores and therefore say that they are so good because „they don’t have a life”.
    I wonder, is there any research on what causes what, or how these situations differ? Or can we only talk about the correlation?

    And I am curious about the research mr van de Ven spoke of, the one about checking thoughts on microtransations – was it ever checked if the participants used microtransactions themselves? And if so, did it have any effect on their opinion on the other player who won thanks to the bought upgrade? I would imagine that having bought some powerups themselves, they might judge their fellow customers less severly, but then again, maybe that would be just the reason why they were more harsh, especially that the microtransations are rather infamous and cursed on the forums and among gamers?

    Last but not least, at the very end (around 38th minute I think) there was mentioned a research on something called set completion by Ella…. and that I didn’t hear, would you be able to tell me her surname (and probably name)?

    Sorry for too many questions, but I am just super intrigued!
    Have a great day and keep up the awesome work!

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.