Ricarda Goetz-Preisner is currently conducting her PhD thesis in game studies at the University of Vienna about inclusive games. By training, she is a political scientist and employed by the City of Vienna, where she has an advisory role on girls and women in digital games. As an independent researcher she publishes in different media, gives lectures and workshops in the realm of cultural studies.
The role of in-game purchases for character customization in games
FROG 2023 – Talk
This talk focuses on spending habits in games – so called in-game transactions – with a gender perspective. In-game purchases refer to the possibility of paying real money for items or different functions in games. Especially selecting cosmetics in a game is a way to customize characters or player´s own avatars in order to change the appearance, for example, when choosing hair color (Ducheneaut et al., 2009) or the gender you play. Identiﬁcation with the avatar can increase intrinsic motivation to play (Birk et al., 2016) and might therefore be relevant to player enjoyment and performance.
As it is the challenge with all game research, to make any overall assumptions about habits or trends in the gaming world is difficult due to the sheer volume of different games. Depending on the focus that might be put on mobile games, PC or console games, the results may vary tremendously. This talk will give some insights on how in game spending influences different game plays with regard to specific games and how these might differ from a gender perspective.
Hamara et al. (2017) looked into the reasons why players would even buy in-game content. They did an empirical study on purchase motivations and the results revealed that the purchase motivations of unobstructed play, social interaction, and economical rationale were positively associated with how much money players spend on in-game content. The results imply that the way designers implement artificial limitations and obstacles as well as social interaction affects how much players spend money on in-game content. However, 90 % of their respondents were male, so no gender perspective might be applied here. Böffel et al. (2022) looked into cosmetic microtransactions for character customization in the game League of Legends, a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). In their study they analysed whether or not the performance of players with cosmetic transactions was better, which in the end it proofed to be not the case. However the authors assumed that even the choice of gender for their participants, satisfied some of their representational needs in the game (cf. 6). By default most games offer a game character designed as a white middle-aged man, if you want to play as someone else, you have to pay. Reza et al. (2022) did research on how players purchase these forms of representation in games. Participants of color in the study reported to be spending more on average than white participants on skins in the games they play. The authors did not include a gender perspective if these purchases differ between women, men or transgender persons which would have made the study even more compelling. Many of the researched studies show that gender is still not applied as a normalized axes which needs to be mentioned critically. As a research subject, choosing gender by paying for it is after the first round of research a new area within game research as this author noticed that most studies researching in-game purchases do not focus on gender even as an axes in their research.
Birk, M. V., Atkins, C., Bowey, J. T., and Mandryk, R. L. (2016). Fostering intrinsic motivation through avatar identiﬁcation in digital games
Böffel C., Würger S., Müsseler J. and Schlittmeier SJ. (2022). Character Customization With Cosmetic Microtransactions
Ducheneaut, N., Wen, M. H., Yee, N., and Wadley, G. (2009). Body and mind.
HamarI, J., Alha, K., (2017). Why do players buy in-game content? An empirical study on concrete purchase motivations.
Reza, A. , Sabrina Chu, S. , Adanna Nedd, A. & Gardner, D. (2022). Having skin in the game: How players purchase representation in games.