Why People Buy In-Game Items With Real Money?

Vitor Dal Pra
7 min readJun 22, 2020
Photo by Emmanuel on Unsplash

This is the question that led to my graduation thesis. Recently, I saw someone tweeting this very same question. It was the trigger I needed to revisit my dissertation in a digestible format, something I have wanted to do for a while.

eSports are on the path to become mainstream. Even if games aren’t in your day-to-day, there is a high probability that you already heard about Fortnite, League of Legends, or Counter-Strike. In the core of the movement, the previously mentioned games are all free-to-play — you don’t need to buy the game to play it.

So apart from all the eSports sponsorship and organization, how do these games make money? One can purchase in-game items and pay to have access to a myriad of characters, with unique skills and playstyle. These in-game items don’t have a functional purpose. In video game jargon, they are called cosmetical items, which translates to the fact that they won’t give your character a competitive advantage in the game. For the game I studied, League of Legends, these cosmetic items are called “skins” because they don’t only change the character’s clothing, but also its full appearance like hair color, for example.

But why would someone buy a piece of clothing for an in-game character that does not make the character faster or stronger?

To start to answer that question, think about all the times you bought something that you didn’t need. Why did you buy it?


Photo by SCREEN POST on Unsplash

Right now, I’m sure you know we don’t only buy for clear functional reasons. Sheth, Gross, and Newman (1991) defined a research model to explain consumption intention called Theory of Consumption Values (TCV), which consists of 5 values: functional, social, emotional, epistemic, and conditional. When organizing a trip, you may prefer to go by plane because it’s faster (functional), but you may be buying this trip because it’s Christmas (conditional). You want to see your family (emotional, social). The TCV model predicts and explains why someone buys or uses something.

Vitor Dal Pra

I’m passionate about the gaming culture, design and good stories.