In-game purchases in online games
A study of determining important factors
Author: Artem Dvoretskyi Supervisor: Niclas Eberhagen Examiner: Anita Mirijamdotter
Currently, there are a lot different online games. From the perspective of the players – games were created for entertainment, but in terms of game developers – games were created for getting profit.
The aim of this study is to identify factors which cause players to make in-game purchases of “nonprofit” goods in online games. It is important for game developers, since it will help them to increase their profit by providing to the customers (players) exactly what players want.
For this study qualitative research design will be used since this method will help to hear opinions of players.
Outcomes will be useful for game developers and help them to understand what is good and what is not good in their in-game markets.
First of all, I would like to thank my supervisor Niclas Eberhagen for great work and always constructive feedback. It was a pleasure to work with you.
Thank you Christina Mörtberg and Sisse Finken, who conducted our Degree project course, for sharing ideas with students and giving advises during the work.
Also, I would like to thank all participants, who took part in this research. Thank you, guys, for your time and responsiveness.
And of course I am very grateful to my parents, who gave me opportunity to study abroad. Thank you for believing in me and supporting all this time.
1 Introduction _________________________________________________________ 6 1.1 The research problem ______________________________________________ 6 1.2 Previous studies that have addressed the problem ________________________ 7 1.3 The significance and purpose of the study ______________________________ 8 1.4 Scope and Limitations _____________________________________________ 9 1.5 Disposition ______________________________________________________ 9 2 Theoretical background _______________________________________________ 10
2.1 Virtual worlds ___________________________________________________ 10 2.2 Online games ___________________________________________________ 11 2.3 Players ________________________________________________________ 11 2.4 Game streaming _________________________________________________ 15 2.5 The theory of consumption values ___________________________________ 15 3 Methodology _______________________________________________________ 16
3.1 Methodological approach __________________________________________ 16 3.2 Literature review ________________________________________________ 18 3.3 Data collection __________________________________________________ 18 3.4 Data analysis ___________________________________________________ 21 3.5 Validity and reliability ____________________________________________ 22 3.6 Ethical considerations ____________________________________________ 23 4 Results and Analysis _________________________________________________ 24
4.1 Emotional values ________________________________________________ 24 4.2 Social values ____________________________________________________ 25 4.3 Epistemic values _________________________________________________ 26 4.4 Functional values ________________________________________________ 27 4.5 Conditional values _______________________________________________ 28 4.6 Other values ____________________________________________________ 29 4.7 Findings _______________________________________________________ 30 5 Discussion _________________________________________________________ 38
5.1 Factors that have a high level of influence on the decision to purchase ______ 38 5.2 Factors that have a medium level of influence on the decision to purchase ___ 40 5.3 Factors that have a low level of influence on the decision to purchase _______ 41 5.4 Methods _______________________________________________________ 43 6 Conclusion _________________________________________________________ 43
6.1 Contribution ____________________________________________________ 44 6.2 Future Research _________________________________________________ 45
7 References _________________________________________________________ 46 Appendix 1 – Interview questions ________________________________________ 50 Appendix 2 – Information before interview _________________________________ 52 Appendix 3 – Glossary _________________________________________________ 53
List of figures
Figure 2.1 – Age spread of respondents___________________________________ 12 Figure 2.2 – Age distributed by gender____________________________________ 12 Figure 2.3 – Age distributed by gender (quantitative adaptation) _______________ 13 Figure 3.1 – Main points within consumption values_________________________ 21 Figure 4.1 – Ranking consumption values_________________________________ 31 Figure 4.2 – Findings within Emotional values_____________________________ 32 Figure 4.3 – Findings within Functional values_____________________________ 33 Figure 4.4 – Findings within Conditional values____________________________ 34 Figure 4.5 – Findings within Social values_________________________________ 35 Figure 4.6 – Findings within Epistemic values______________________________ 36 Figure 4.7 – Findings within Other values_________________________________ 37
List of tables
Table 4.1 – Factors influencing the decision to purchase_____________________ 38
Every day people invent new ways of entertainment. One of the increasingly popular entertainments are – computer games, allowing to plunge into the adventure, not available in real life (Castronova, 2007, p.5; Friedl, 2003, p.13; Chou and Kimsuwan, 2013, p.1; Wu and Tsai, 2013, p. 205). One of the types of computer games is online games. At the moment there are plenty of different online games, which may differ from each other by a lot of factors. However, no matter how different are the games, they are all software products developed by a single purpose – to obtain financial gain.
There are several basic financial models for online games (which sometimes can be combined):
Set-Amount – with such a financial model player must carry out regular payments (monthly, quarterly, etc.) to get access to the game. After paying the player gets access to the game for a certain period of time. Important is the fact that the fee is charged regardless of whether the player comes into the game or not during the subscription period. After the end of the paid period of time the player has to pay for a new game period (Jong, 2009, p. 34).
Set-Volume – principle of this model is the same as Set-Amount, except that in this model player does not pay for the period in which he can enter the game, but he or she pays for game time that he may be logged in game (Jong, 2009, p. 35).
Partial Pay – this financial model assumes that the player does not need to make any payments to gain access to the game (Jong, 2009, p. 35).
If we consider the Set-Amount and Set-Volume models, it is easy to see how developers get profit. But how do developers get profit from Partial Pay games? A source of profit in such games is in-game purchases (Jong, 2009, p. 35).
1.1 The research problem
Selling and buying virtual items, players create an incredible financial flow: at least
$30 million annually in the United States, and $100 million globally (Castronova, 2005, p.2). Depending on the genre of game or game-developers' fantasy, it can be quite different products and/or services (Castronova, 2007, p.9).
Conditionally such goods and services can be divided into two groups:
“profit” – such products and services are those that provide some advantage in the game. For example, this may include: most powerful weapons, best armor, fastest transport, rare game items, accelerated development of character, in-game currency, etc. (Jong, 2009, p. 35).
“nonprofit” – such products and services are those that do not give any additional advantages in the game and they are just aesthetic. These may include: new skins
(skin, see Appendix 3) of weapons and armor, costumes for character, additional skins of transport (not affecting speed), noncombat pets, etc. (Jong, 2009, p. 35).
Since the reasons for buying “profit” products and services are fairly obvious, in the center of the study will be purchases of “nonprofit” products and services. These goods and services do not affect in-game balance (condition in which players are equal and have equal chances to win) of characters and do not undermine the competitive aspect of the game. Such purchases are not binding and do not directly affect gameplay and players are free to decide whether to buy this or that in-game items. It is logical to assume that players make “nonprofit” purchase exclusively “for fun”, but there is something more behind this (Ho and Wu, 2012, p. 204; Chou and Kimsuwan, 2013, p.2; Wu and Tsai, 2013, p. 207).
1.2 Previous studies that have addressed the problem
Many researches were conducted in the field of purchases in online games. These researches were conducted by different researchers using different methods and approaches. However, many researchers agree that such phenomena as in-game purchases are an important component of online games in particular and e-business in general (Jong, 2009; Ho and Wu, 2012; Castronova, 2007; Castronova, 2005; Chou and Kimsuwan, 2013; Wu and Tsai, 2013). Thus, it can be argued that this area deserves further study.
In addition, there are many different players who do not like each other, and researchers argue that it is not so easy for game developers to satisfy needs of all these players and convince them to buy in-game goods and make profit for developers’
company (Ho and Wu, 2012; Chou and Kimsuwan, 2013; Wu and Tsai, 2013). So, to be more successful in the field of in-game purchases game developers need to have more knowledge about needs of players, need to understand what players are think, and how players make decisions in in-game markets.
A number of researchers used quantitative research design (Wu and Tsai, 2013; Ho and Wu, 2012). It is not a deficiency but qualitative research will help to consider the issue from the other side and find some new useful facts and information.
For some researches most of respondents were adolescents (Wu and Tsai, 2013) which are more dependent on their parents and not from their own desires. Besides, according to other studies, adolescents represent a smaller part of the audience of people who play online games (Vorderer and Bryant, 2006; Yee, 2006).
Some other researches have been limited to the borders of the country (Chou and Kimsuwan, 2013). They have studied purchase intention of online game prepayment card in Thailand. Such a research is useful for online games market in that country, but does not show the situation in general. In addition, this study was focused on the prepayment card, and does not affect other types of gaming purchases.
Also, some researches have been limited to the genre of games (Ho and Wu, 2012) that can significantly affect the result of the research. There are a lot different types and genres of online games and each of them attract different types of players. So, selecting a different genre or even not considering the genre as a factor, can lead to getting new useful results.
1.3 The significance and purpose of the study 1.3.1 Significance of the study
Multiple sources said that the number of players playing online games is continuously increasing (Dong, 2009; Wolf and Perron, 2003; Vorderer and Bryant, 2006;
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Tosca, 2008). Increasing the number of players, in turn, leads to increased financial turnover in the markets of gaming industry. Thus, more research in the field of in-game purchases is needed.
Received data will be useful for the game developers, and help them to understand better the needs of their clients (players), which will increase the developer-company's profit. In additional it will allow players to get more fun out of the game (but this study is not focused on this perspective). However, this study may be of interest to other companies. Pace (2008) noted that different Global businesses like Sun Microsystems or even IBM have invested a lot of money (hundreds of millions of dollars) into the research of virtual worlds.
1.3.2 Purpose of the study
The purpose of this study is to gain a better understanding of how players make decisions to purchase “nonprofit” goods in in-game markets in order to provide the desired product and increase number of in-game purchases. This is something that has to be studied more in depth. Since different companies are investing money in this area, and game developers get a large portion of the profits from in-game purchases, they all want to know what happens in the game markets, and that the virtual goods they provide will be in demand. To more fully understand human nature, you need to dig deeper than quantitative surveys can do. In this case it is better to provide qualitative interviews, and see what players think about in-game purchases of
“nonprofit” goods in details.
Since stakeholders are interested in increasing the number of sales of in-game goods in the game market, they need to know and understand why players buy what they buy.
It is therefore important to conduct study that can answer the following question:
What factors cause people to make in-game purchases of “nonprofit” goods in online games?
However, sometimes even the buyers can not accurately determine what influenced their decision to purchase, and therefore get an answer to my question can be
problematic. To avoid such incidents, as well as improve the quality of research and results, I used the theory of consumption values. This theory describes the reasons people commit purchases (Hazel, 1923; Sheth, Newman and Gross, 1991), which fits perfectly into the study. In addition, the theory of consumption values become an excellent basis for compiling the interview.
When research will be done, it will be possible to find in more details reasons why players make in-game purchases and why they do not. It will allow to decompose “for fun” on the components and identify important factors and reasons for committing
“nonprofit” purchases. This knowledge will help to provide more satisfaction for players from in-game purchases, as well as allow to attract new buyers. Thus, this study will benefit not only for game developers, but also for the players.
1.4 Scope and Limitations
This research is conducted within the scope of Linnaeus University’s Master’s level program. The study is related to the field of in-game purchases. The research was focused on factors that influence players' decision to purchase. The study was conducted within game community. Data collection was conducted though number of interviews. Number of conducted interviews is 5. Interviews were based on the theory of consumption values.
The study also contains some limitations. Despite the fact that the genre of online games was not taken into account, the majority of respondents had experience of playing and shopping only in MOBA-games (MOBA, see Appendix 3). Also, in this study the type of players was not considered (see paragraph 2.3).
After the introduction in this chapter, chapter 2 contains a description of the virtual worlds, online games, and players who play these games. This chapter aims to acquaint the reader with the world, which represents the video game industry. In this chapter, reader will get an understanding of what online games, as well as find out what people are playing these games.
Chapter 3 explains what type of methodological approach was chosen for this study.
This chapter will explain how elections of respondents were held and how data collection process was carried out. Also, this chapter contains the validity, reliability and ethical considerations of this study.
Chapter 4 contains the results obtained from the interviews. These results were divided into categories which reflect different values that affect players' decision to purchase (Emotional values, Social values, Epistemic values, Functional values, Conditional values). After that findings are shown in view of influence level of
consumption values (1. Emotional values, 2. Functional values, 3. Conditional values, 4. Social values, 5. Epistemic values).
Chapter 5 shows discussion of findings of the study. Discussion showed within factors that have the greatest influence on the purchase decision without binding them to the consumption values.
In chapter 6 conclusions and future research could be found.
2 Theoretical background
This chapter contains a description of the virtual worlds, online games, and players who play these games. Main aim of this chapter is to acquaint the reader with the world, which represents the video game industry. In this chapter, you will get an understanding of what online game is, as well as find out what people are playing these games.
2.1 Virtual worlds
Virtual worlds are increasingly becoming a daily routine for people, whose number is constantly growing (Turkle, 1995; Jones, 1997; Heudin, 1998), and the creation and use of such worlds, currently, is an important part of popular culture around the world (Frömming, ). According to Bartle (2004) first virtual worlds appeared in the 70s of the last century and evolved in five stages: from 1978 to the present day. The first virtual worlds were created on the basis of the text and called MUD (Multi User Dungeons). Over time, virtual worlds are becoming increasingly popular, and have evolved, becoming more complex. Text virtual worlds began to get graphical interface, which allowed to sink deeper into environment of these worlds. Nowadays, this environment can offer a lot of different things like business meetings or computer online games (Wasko et al, 2011).
“We have the opportunity to build new kinds of communities, virtual communities, in which we participate with people from all over the world, people with whom we converse daily, people with whom we may have fairy intimate relationships but who we may never physically meet.” (Turkle, 1995, pp. 9-10)
One of the clearest examples of the use of virtual worlds are online games (Castronova, 2007).
2.2 Online games
According to Castronova ( 5, p. ) online games are “places where thousands of users interact with one another in the guise of video game characters, on a persistent basis: many hours a day, every day, all year round”. These places are designed to attract players, so they are like real cities and fairy-tale cities at the same time. Some facts to get a better understanding of increasing value of virtual worlds:
players explore virtual worlds and move over them in much the same way as people do it using real car to move around in the real world (Castronova, 2005, p.1);
usually players spend in the game about 20-30 hours per week, more active players playing in any free moment. Some players are in the game all the time, and the real world has become for them a place to eat and sleep (Castronova, 2005, pp.1-2);
each virtual world has its own in-game currency. Some of these in-game currencies have begun to trade against the real money (Castronova, 2005, p.2);
in Asia, players can call the police and file a lawsuit if they have lost virtual items because of the unreliability of the game server, or because of fraud in the game (Castronova, 2005, p.2).
There are a lot of different people play computer games. Vorderer and Bryant (2006, p.
293) speak about respondents in their survey. Their results showed that 72% of respondents are male, and only 28% are women. Age range of respondents you can see in Figure 2.1 below.
Other researchers show similar data. Yee (2006) provides information about respondents from his research: from 5493 respondents there were 4705 (~83%) male respondents and only 788 (~17%) female respondents. Age range of respondents you can see in Figure 2.2 below.
It should be noted that the graph of Figure 2.2 does not show the quantitative relationship between the sexes in the age groups. It shows the percentage distribution of men and women in different age groups of the total number of respondents of each sex (4705 male and 788 female). Thus, this chart does not show the total number of respondents from the research of Yee (2006), and the author does not provide such chart in his article. Instead, he provides the numbers themselves. Adaptation of that graphic in quantitative equivalent, you can see in Figure 2.3.
Figure 2.1 – Age spread of respondents (Vorderer and Bryant, 2006, p. 293)
Figure 2.2 – Age distributed by gender (Yee, 2006, p. 316)
Figure 2.3 – Age distributed by gender (quantitative adaptation)
In additional it is possible to divided players into several types. According to Vorderer and Bryant (2006, p. 91) these types are:
the Competitor (such players play to be better than other players);
the Explorer (such players play to discover the boundaries of the game world);
the Collector (such players play to get the most stuff through the game);
the Achiever (such players play to attain the most championships over time and be best in rankings over time);
the Joker (such players play for the fun alone and enjoys the social aspects);
the Director (such players play for the thrill of being in charge. such players want to orchestrate events);
the Storyteller (such players play to create or live in an alternate world and build narrative out of that world);
the Performer (such players play for the show they can put on);
the Craftsman (such players play to build, solve puzzles, and engineer constructs).
2.3.1 Why do people play games?
Csikszentmihalyi ( 99 ) speaks about his concept “flow”. This concept describes “a state of concentration and satisfaction that person experiences when performing an activity – anything from playing a musical instrument to climbing a mountain”. Flow,
typically refers to different activities that go beyond the everyday routine, and include a certain sense of playfulness. Obvious, that different people will achieve it through different activities, which depend on the preferences of people, but in general the experience of flow can be characterized by a number of elements of enjoinment, which you can see below (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990):
a challenging activity that requires skill (not something spontaneous, but something goal-oriented and with some rules);
clear goals and feedback;
the merging of action and awareness (attention totally absorbed by the activity);
the paradox of control (the sense of exercising control in difficult situations where your abilities are pressed to the limit);
the loss of self-consciousness;
the transformation of time (either time passes very quickly or a second at a key moment of the activity is experienced as lasting for a long time).
If more specifically about the games, it is not easy to find an answer on that question, and different researchers provide different explanations.
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Tosca (2008) in their book mentioned that:
“People also play games because of the emotions they elicit.
Multiplayer games in particular can create a whole palette of “social feelings” in the gamer; a player might run the emotional gauntlet during a game, feeling anything from rage to joy to betrayal, all because of the trials and tribulations of his on-screen persona. These emotions – even the negative ones – can offer a powerful incentive to keep playing.” (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Tosca, 2008, p. 151)
Other researchers, Vorderer and Bryant (2006) in their book describe several theses of “why people play games?”
“Players play games to control their environment” (Vorderer and Bryant, 6, p.
92). Like any other form of entertainment games give a possibility to escape from real world. But by reading a book or watching a movie, people just escape, and by playing the game, players become active participants in the world they escape into.
“People play games to vicariously experience something they know of but otherwise only as an observer” (Vorderer and Bryant, 6, p. 94). Virtual worlds give players the opportunity to visit places that can only be imagined. This category often includes fantasy and history. This is why many players like to play war game simulations or sports games.
“People play to vicariously live elsewhere and elsewhen” (Vorderer and Bryant, 2006, p. 94). People want to see the places and other epochs which are not available.
For these players it is important to have the environment seem as real and be as fully fleshed out as possible.
“People play to compete (but in a structured way, with rules)” (Vorderer and Bryant, 2006, p. 95). Competitive games give people a way to express their combative, aggressive tendencies in a safe, socially acceptable way. People playing these games, feel satisfied because they won somebody and they might say that they are better than other players.
“People play to explore fantasy relationship safely” (Vorderer and Bryant, 6, p.
96). Some players lacking social life may try to make up for this deficiency in the games via the interaction with other players.
Nevertheless, despite the different definitions and explanations there is no clear and unambiguous answer to the question “why do people play games?” (Vorderer and Bryant, 2006).
2.4 Game streaming
Nowadays a lot of multimedia services, and especially video-related services such as video streaming, video conferencing, media broadcasting and e-learning have gained great popularity (Maani, Chen, Katsaggelos, 2012; Ramzan, Park, Izquierdo, 2012).
These services allow you to translate the desired material via the Internet in real-time.
Among the many areas of application of these services there is also video-games streaming.
Each streamer may have his own reasons to stream, but the point is always the same: the player is streaming in real time gaming process, and people who wish can watch for this. In most cases streamer interacts with the audience by communicating with viewers, answering questions, giving advices etc.
2.5 The theory of consumption values
The theory of consumption values explains the reasons why consumers decide to buy or not to buy any specific product, why consumers give preference to some product but not to other. Sheth, Newman and Gross (1991) described five values of the theory of consumption:
Emotional values relate to those characteristics of the product which affect feelings of customers, such as pleasant memories from the past, aesthetic preferences, etc.
Social values describe those purchases that were committed under the influence of social factors such as the popularity of a product or brand, social self-image expression.
Epistemic values are those which related with the desire of the customer to get something new. The reason for this may be boredom, curiosity, satiation, etc.
Functional values are related to the functional points of the product such as durability, reliability, price, etc.
Conditional values describe those purchases that were committed as a result of a specific situation or specific circumstances, such as seasonal events, emergency situations, etc.
The theory of consumption values is not new and was described by Hazel in 1923, however, it is still actual and is used in modern researches. For instance theory of consumption values was used in studies which are related to travel packages (Williams and Soutar, 2005) and costumes (Park and Rabolt, 2009), sports marketing (Pope, 1998), organic foods (Finch, 2006), digital market (Turel, Serenko and Bontis, 2010).
This theory was chosen because of its applicability and high degree of compliance with the purpose of the work. In addition, this theory has performed well in many other areas, which shows its efficiency and ability to use in specific areas.
This chapter explains what type of methodological approach was chosen for this study.
This chapter will explain how elections of respondents were held and how data collection process was carried out. Also, this chapter contains the validity, reliability and ethical considerations of this study
3.1 Methodological approach
The main aim of this study is to gain a better understanding of how players make decisions to purchase “nonprofit” goods in in-game markets. To do this the interpretive philosophy was chosen.
According to Walsham (2006) interpretive research is becoming increasingly important and popular than before. By using this approach, researchers are try to understand the specific situation in a specific context. Interpretive perspective helps researcher “to understand the intersubjective meanings embedded in social life ... [and hence] to explain why people act the way they do” (Gibbons, 987,p. ). So this approach is very well suited for this study.
Describing interpretivism Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991) say:
“Interpretivism asserts that reality, as well as our knowledge thereof, are social products and hence incapable of being understood independent of the social actors (including the researchers) that construct and make sense of that reality”. (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991, p.13)
However, it is important to understand that interpretive researchers want to see the situation the same way as respondents do. Thus, the voice of the respondents valued higher than the views of the researcher.
It is also important to remember that each person is different and has its own view of things, so to gain a better understanding of the individual, the researcher must go deeper which will help to interpret and understand the players (Neuman, 2003; Myers and Avison, 2002; Creswell, 2009). It is important to distinguish between people and objects and therefore people cannot be studied in the same way as the various objects:
“Because of an essential difference between them: Unlike (to the best of our present knowledge) rocks, animals, and atoms, humans make, communicate, interpret, share, and contest meaning. We act; we have intentions about our actions; we interpret others’ actions; we (attempt to) make sense of the world: We are meaningmaking creatures.”
(Yanow, 2006, p.9)
Strength of interpretive philosophy is that it gives to researcher different visions and different points of view of different people. It helps to get access to different aspects of question and conduct research, which is “healthy” for society (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005). However, at the same time it could be weakness: interpretive study “draws heavily on participants' experiences and interpretations, and hence is very dependent on these interpretations. To the extent that individuals are confused, unaware, or deceptive, these findings will be misleading.” (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991, p.17).
For gathering data a qualitative approach was chosen.
“Qualitative research is a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible.” (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005, p. 3)
This approach is used to study the population or group, and allows to identify important factors, which can then be measured by a researcher. Qualitative research helps to better see and understand the issue in detail. This is achieved due to the fact that the researcher communicates directly with people in their natural environment, while not expecting to hear any concrete answers in advance. This reduces to a minimum the possible relationship between the researcher and the other members of
the research and to hear personal stories and personal views of each study participant (Creswell, 2007, p.40).
In case of this study qualitative approach is very useful since it is concerned with understanding human behavior from the informant’s perspective, and this is the best form in which I can look for answer for research question. This approach is not about statistical inferences, so I can find out not only “what?” question but also “why?”.
3.2 Literature review
To search for suitable literature have been used services such as One Search of Linnaeus University library, Google search and Google Scholar. During search following main key phrases have been used:
purchases in online games;
in-game markets in online games;
playing online games;
players’ activity in online games
In addition, on some websites were very useful features such as “Similar Books”,
“Other Books by this Author”, “Other people also liked”, “Users who downloaded this article also downloaded”, etc.
Though in this work provides economic context, however, this work is not about the economy but it is about the behavior of players in in-game markets. Therefore, the economic literature has not been used during this study. In the first chapter the financial models that are used in online games were described, however, these models have a very narrow field of application and have been described in the book, dedicated to online games.
3.3 Data collection 3.3.1 Interviews
Interview – a kind of conversation between two or more people consisted in the implementation the interaction between the interviewer and the respondent (the people involved in the survey) by obtaining from the subject responses to advance questions.
Interviews can be regarded as one of the most common methods of obtaining information about the subjects - of survey respondents. Interviews lies in the fact that respondents are asked specific questions, the answers to which allow the researcher to obtain the necessary information, depending on the objectives of the research.
There are many types of interviews, for example interviews may be structured, semi-structured, unstructured (Hart, 2005; Robson, 2002) or focus group interviews (Hart, 2005).
Interview is used as a method of investigation in a number of social sciences and humanities (psychology, sociology, communication, PR, marketing, etc.), as well as in various fields of human activity (eg, in journalism, in human resource management, etc.). Interview is a good method that can provide substantial depth qualitative information (Hart, 2005).
Interview results are analyzed by comparing the results obtained from interviews and finding similarities and differences between the different respondents (Hart, 2005).
The main data collection method was semi-structured interviews. Depending on the flow of the interview, wording and order of questions can be modified. Semi-structured interviews are very good in such cases, because they allow researcher to have a checklist of topics to be covered and a default wording and order for the questions can be used (Robson, 2011).
Such interviews allow respondents to answer more broadly and in a free form, explaining various aspects where it is necessary, and at the same time it will help to keep a fixed structure of interviews (Hart, 2005; Robson, 2011). The interviews have been conducted in May 2015. Before the start of the interview, respondents were informed of the basic information about the work and its main objectives (See Appendix 2).
In the case of this study such interviews are very good for the following reasons.
Some questions in the interview are interconnected and respondents answering one question may also answer the subsequent question, even if it has not been asked yet. In this case, there is no need to ask an additional question (to which the respondent has already answered). In addition, responding to a question, and then for the next (not yet asked), the respondent builds the logical bridge between these two questions and therefore his or her explanations are wider and with more details.
To proceed with the interview the researcher had to choose respondents. For this purpose Snowball sampling method was used. The principle of this method is to find respondents researcher uses referrals (Neuman, 2003). Thus, after the description of the research to person, I asked if he could recommend someone else who could help me. Requirement for these people was that they should have at least some experience of playing online games (to ensure that players have been familiar with the principle of in-game markets) and that they have already made in-game purchases. The advantage of this method in this case is that Snowball sampling method allows to ensure complete anonymity of the respondents, as the researcher is not familiar with any of them.
To facilitate the search for the right people, it was decided to use the game stream as a “starting point” of searching. First of all I asked the streamer for permission to make
an announcement during his game stream. After receiving permission, I briefly described the purpose of the study and asked everyone who want to help me to send me a private message. After a while, two players wrote me, and later also the streamer himself. I asked each of them if I could conduct an interview with him, and (regardless of the possibility of interview) asked them to recommend (if it is possible) some other people who could help me. I wrote a letter to each recommended person with a brief description of the study, explanation why I have his contact details as well as asking if he could spend some time to interview and if he could recommend someone else who could help me. Some people did not agree to an interview for various reasons, some other did not even answer. Some people had no friends to recommend, some others could recommend only those who recommend themselves earlier.
Five people have participated in this study. The researcher did not know any of the respondents.
3.3.3 Interview structure
Interview construction was based on five values of the theory of consumption values described by Sheth, Newman and Gross (1991). On Figure 3.1 you can see the main points that were discussed within five values of the theory of consumption values.
These points were defined according to examples and explanations of each value by Sheth, Newman and Gross (1991) in their article. Additionally, that examples and explanations were adapted to the subject of research topic (in-game markets).
These points are:
aesthetic preferences is about how a product looks;
lore (see Appendix 3) is about story line of a product;
social self-image expression is about the relationship between the player and his character;
popularity of a product is about the frequency of use of the product by other players;
boredom is about the possibility of in-game purchases to dispel boredom;
satiation is about the desire of players to diversity;
reasonable price is about the financial availability of a product;
quality of the product it is about the impact the product quality;
promotions is about regular game events;
discounts is about a profitable financial proposals;
holidays and seasonal events is about special game events;
charity is about the desire to help others.
Figure 3.1 – Main points within consumption values.
According to McCracken (1988) as well as to Leech (2002) it is good practice to start an interview with general questions or biographical questions which are not really related to the questions of study. Such questions will “open” the interview, and will help respondents to be more confident and feel more freely. That is why Introduction section was added.
To see the questions which were asked see Appendix 1.
3.4 Data analysis
Data analysis process involves extracting sense from the data obtained regardless of the type of data. “It involves preparing the data for analysis, moving deeper and deeper into understanding the data, representing the data, and making an interpretation of the larger meaning of the data” (Creswell, 2009). So, the data analysis has been done in following steps:
1) Transcription of all the interviews. Before working with the data it was necessary to transfer all answers of the respondents from the sound records into text format.
2) Coding of the data. Coding process was carried out in two stages, which are suggested by Neuman (2003): Open coding and then Axial coding. Data coding consists in identifying the important phrases or statements that respondents were talking about. This identifying was conducted during the careful reading of transcripts. Such important phrases and statements were highlighted, which allowed to discard other information that is of no value (Rowlands, 2005).
3) Analysis of the codes. During analysis of data, each of the codes was ascribed to one of the factors that influence the purchase decision. To assess the level of influence of the factors the number of respondents who mentioned this or that factor was taken into account, as well as the way respondents spoke about factors. Thus, a large number of respondents, that notes a factor, increase the level of influence of this factor, and a small number – reduced. If respondents did not report the importance of any factor, the level of his influence diminished, and if noted importance (even if not all of the respondents did so) – the level of influence increased.
3.5 Validity and reliability
Validity and reliability in research means that researchers are checking the accuracy of the outcomes and results by using certain procedures (Creswell, 2009).
Hart (2012) explains the meaning of validity like the way to ensure that researcher has built into his/her research sufficient robustness with aim to have the confidence for making generalizations.
Internal validity shows how much the conclusions made by researchers are objective and justified. So, researcher spent a lot of time in the research area to achieve some additional experience and knowledge. In this case it was important to find and use different data sources (thematic books and magazines, scientific articles, public reports from game developers) for a better understanding of the situation in the field of in- game purchases. Also, I used many quotes from various interviews, to help the reader understand the situation described by the respondent. In additional, during the analysis the interviews and the transcripts were followed up for several times, which also increases level of internal validity of the results.
Task of external validity is to explain to the reader about the quality of the empirical findings. Interviews were conducted via Skype, thus, the respondents were at home
and feel at ease. Also, before the interview I spent some time in conversation with the respondent on abstract themes, so that they would be more comfortable opening up to me. The respondents were very friendly and had a lot of different stories and examples to tell regarding the research topic. Even when the interview was done we have continued our dialogue, which is make me feel that respondents did not afraid to speak and show up their mind. Thence I believe that external validity in this work is on high level.
Hart (2012) explains the meaning of reliability like possibility to repeat test or observation and then get very similar results. So the main question that is worth asking about the reliability is whether you can trust this study. Since this is a qualitative study, it would be very difficult to repeat. This is due to the fact that each individual is unique, and it is impossible to receive the same answers from different respondents.
Even if the same respondent is questioned again after some time, he or she may give different answers because people change over time. Because of this, all conducted interviews were recorded and then transcribed, which is improves reliability of the work.
In addition, researchers' ability to conduct interviews can be questioned. However, preparation of the interview was made according to the recommendations from the literature, and then researcher has conducted two test-interviews to make sure that interview was well constructed. Furthermore, the interview was based on the theory of consumption values, which gives it a more clear structure.
3.6 Ethical considerations
According to Resnik (2011) ethics of research provides a variety of important moral and social values, such as human rights, social responsibility, health and safety, adherence of the law, or even animal welfare. Resnik (2011) says “Ethical lapses in research can significantly harm human and animal subjects, students, and the public”.
That is why ethical consideration is very important in research.
There are three categories of research ethics: truth, fairness and wisdom, which were suggested by Pimple (2002). These categories help to answer questions “is it true?”, “is it fair?” and “is it wise?”.
“Is it true?” question is about relationships between the research results and the physical world and also can be sound like “Do the data and conclusions really correspond to reality?” (Pimple, 2002, p. 192). “Is it fair?” question is about social relationships within the world of research. This category includes such factors like relationships between researchers, between researchers and participants, etc. “Is it wise?” question is about “relationship between the research agenda and the broader social and physical world, present and future” (Pimple, , p. 9 ).
Research was based on the following ethical considerations, which are divided by Pimple’s categories:
For interviews participants will be selected with the appropriate competencies and knowledge.
Participants will be informed about objectives and goals of the research;
Participating in interviews will be voluntarily;
All data is collected on an anonymous basis;
Results of research will be available for participants.
4 Results and Analysis
This chapter contains the results obtained from the interviews. These results were divided into categories which reflect different values that affect players' decision to purchase (Emotional values, Social values, Epistemic values, Functional values, Conditional values). After that findings are shown in view of influence level of consumption values (1. Emotional values, 2. Functional values, 3. Conditional values, 4. Social values, 5. Epistemic values).
4.1 Emotional values
Emotional values relate to those characteristics of the product which affect feelings of customers, such as pleasant memories from the past, aesthetic preferences, etc. (Sheth, Newman and Gross, 1991, p. 161).
Since any games, including computer online games, are closely related to human emotions, it is logical to assume that emotional values are important for the players in the decision making process. The main points of this section are aesthetic preferences and story of product.
Most respondents said that it is important for them to like their game characters and therefore they are positive about the possibility of customization of characters.
Respondents said that the possibility of customization enables them to transform their game character to the form that corresponds to the aesthetic preferences of the player.
Some players cannot name reasons why it is important to like their game character.
They just tell “I want to see the character looks cool” or “when I play – I want my avatar in the game looks like I like”. However, some players can confidently name the reason – it is the quality of the game for the character. Most players want to play at a
high level, which may depend on the character. Thus, one respondent noted that “If you do not like a hero, you will never be able to play it well”. In such a way the aesthetic preferences of the players may affect the success of their playing.
However, one respondent noted that the ability to customize a player character does not interest him. He also said he did not really matter the fact whether he likes his game character: “Most important is game, and the character is not so important”.
The majority of respondents indicated that they endorse the game-lore and consider it as an important part of the game. Lore allows players to delve into the history of the game or see the game from the other side: not as a process but as a world full of different events and interesting facts. In addition, for some players lore is of added importance:
“Lore – an important part of the game and it is very interesting for many players. Nice to see that the company or organization involved in this and try to make their players enjoyed not only by gameplay, but also by story. That's cool”
However, only one respondent said that lore could affect his decision to purchase:
“skins with deep lore component for me are much more valuable than usual”. The remaining respondents pointed out that they don't guided by lore when deciding on a purchase.
4.2 Social values
Social values describe those purchases that were committed under the influence of social factors such as the popularity of a product or brand, social self-image expression (Sheth, Newman and Gross, 1991, p. 161).
The main feature of online games is the fact that online games are focused on the game with other players (Taylor, 2006). This allows players to interact not only with the game environment, but also with other players (often unknown), who play in the same game. Thus, online games acquire a social component that provides a significant role for the social values. The main points of this section are social self-image expression and popularity of a product.
Talking about the uniqueness of game character, the majority of respondents noted that the uniqueness of the character is difficult achievable, because “all the things that are sold for real money - they are not unique in nature” because any player can buy this item. However, some respondents expressed the view that the unique game characters still visible “because the majority still uses standard free skins”. Thus, the uniqueness gets temporary effect.
Due to the fact that the majority of respondents see unattainable possibility of uniqueness of their game characters – they see no point in trying to make their
characters are not like the others. These players have noted that they make game characters for themselves and not for others players. However, some respondents who accept the fact of the temporary uniqueness of the characters, do not rule out the possibility of buying in-game items to stand out among the other players (even if only temporarily).
Speaking of self-expression in online games, all respondents indicated that a greater or lesser, they imagine themselves on the place of their characters: “I like pretty lean heroes, perhaps because I want to see myself in these heroes […]and imagine what I've been fighting on the battlefields”. However, the most of respondents said that it is not a very important factor, and does not affect the decision-making process. Even if a player wants to express himself by buying the skin, it can happen that for various reasons he cannot do it (for example because of too high cost).
None of the respondents expressed a positive opinion about the popularity of the product. Opinions were divided almost in half: some respondents spoke neutrally about the popularity of in-game items: “I choose something if I like it. I do not care whether this item is popular or not”. Others responded negatively: “when everyone in the same skin – it loses much of its value”. Thus, for the first group of players the popularity of in-game items will not affect the decision-making process to purchase, since, they don't care about popularity of the product. However, the second group may be affected by the popularity of the product – “popular skins is not a priority”.
4.3 Epistemic values
Epistemic values are those which related with the desire of the customer to get something new. The reason for this may be boredom, curiosity, satiation, etc. (Sheth, Newman and Gross, 1991, p.162).
Most games, including computer online games, are entertaining nature, and created for the entertainment of people. However, whatever the game, sooner or later it may get bored, and the players will want to try something new. Therefore, epistemic values are of considerable importance in the theory of consumption. The main points of this section are boredom and satiation.
All respondents noted that boredom encountered in online games, and can be a problem for a player. However, players are sure that it is almost impossible to fight boredom with in-game purchases: “purchase can dispel boredom for a while, but if the game is boring, then I will not play it”. Respondents said that purchases of in-game items help to diversify the game, but “If the game is boring, then I see no reason to play it”, as well as ”If the game is boring, it is easier to find another game”. Thus, none of the respondents would make in-game purchase due to boredom.
Speaking about satiation, respondents note that this factor is present, and almost all respondents said that satiation has a strong influence:
“When any skin bored and you can not look at it, then yes - I want to buy some new. I mean, you still like it, but you cannot look at it. I would say that so often turns”
Most respondents said that the satiation is an important factor, and satiation uniquely affect decision to purchase. Only one respondent said that for him the satiation does not last long and it is enough to take a short break, after which the sensation of satiation disappears.
4.4 Functional values
Functional values are related to the functional points of the product such as durability, reliability, price, etc. (Sheth, Newman and Gross, 1991, p. 160).
Over time, games are no longer a separate product but are increasingly becoming similar to ongoing services (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Tosca, 2008; Fullerton, Swain and Hoffman, 2004). Using the service, the players want it to be high quality, and the price of its use was acceptable. Therefore, the functional values play an important role when deciding on a purchase. The main points of this section are reasonable price and quality of the product.
The respondents, talking about how they determine whether the price of a product is suitable for them, describe two approaches. The first of these is that the player determines for himself a certain limit. If the cost of the desired item is lower than the limit, the player is likely to acquire it. If the cost is higher – then definitely not acquire.
“I set a limit […]If the product is cheaper than limit, then I can think about purchasing. But if it is more expensive, then whatever it was – it's too expensive”
The second approach is that the player estimates the amount of money that is available and on this basis decides:
“If I have the opportunity right here and now to purchase the skin using free resources, then I'll have to look at the quality. But if not, then I will not look for additional opportunities and would not limit myself in something else”
In addition to acceptable price there should be acceptable quality of in-game products. All respondents claimed that they assess the quality of the product: “Poor- quality models are considered in the least”.