Who Spends Money to Play for Free? Identifying Who Makes Micro-transactions on Social Casino Games (and Why)

Kim, H. S., Hollingshead, S., & Wohl, M. J. A. (2016). Who Spends Money to Play for Free? Identifying Who Makes Micro-transactions on Social Casino Games (and Why). Journal of Gambling Studies, 1–14. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-016-9626-6
Social casino games are online gambling-like games found on social networking sites. They are initially free to play, however, players are encouraged to make micro-transactions (i.e., in-game purchases) for additional game credits or functionality. As a result, they generate billions of dollars in revenue. Yet, little is known as to who purchases virtual credits, let alone why. In the present research, we assessed whether there are individual differences (impulsivity, reward sensitivity, competitiveness, and problem gambling severity) between who is and who is not likely to make micro-transactions during social casino game play. Moreover, we examined possible motivations for making micro-transactions (e.g., extend play, win back lost credits) and whether the individual difference variables of interest predict reported motivation(s) for making micro-transactions. Results showed that social casino gamers who engaged in micro-transactions reported significantly higher levels of impulsivity, reward sensitivity and problem gambling severity, but not competitiveness. In terms of motivation to make micro-transactions, desire to extend play was endorsed most frequently, followed by a desire to access additional features, chasing lost credits, and to speed up play. Lastly, among participants who made micro-transactions, reward sensitivity predicted making micro-transactions to chase lost credits. These results suggest the personality make-up of social casino gamers is important to understand who is likely to make micro-transactions as well as their motivation to do so—information that could prove useful for regulation of the industry.
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