Date of Award

Spring 2022

Access Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Human Factors


Human Factors and Behavioral Neurobiology

Committee Chair

Dr. Barbara S. Chaparro

First Committee Member

Dr. Joseph R. Keebler

Second Committee Member

Dr. Shawn M. Doherty

Third Committee Member

Dr. Christina M. Frederick

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Evan M. Palmer


Free-to-play games typically have a monetization model that relies on players to purchase in-game items or virtual goods to generate revenue (Nguyen, 2015). There have been several empirical efforts to investigate purchase intention of virtual goods in video games with some focusing on quantitative models of purchase intention. Most of these studies tend to be with virtual worlds and lack the use of validated instruments to measure constructs (Hamari & Keronen, 2017). This research sought to gain a greater understanding of purchase intention of in-game content or virtual goods in mobile games through two studies.

Study 1 modeled purchase intention with factors including satisfaction, addiction, attitudes of virtual goods, social motivations, continuance intention, and play characteristics. A total of 284 participants who played mobile games for at least 5 hours a week completed an online survey examining the relationships between the different constructs. Several structural equation models were generated to find the best fitting model. Results of the final model explained 66.1% of the variance in purchase intention with the factors of attitudes towards virtual goods, monetary value, addiction, enjoyment, and creative freedom. Attitudes towards virtual goods (β = .767) was the most associated factor with purchase intention in the model followed by enjoyment (β = .153), monetary value (β = .148), creative freedom (β = -.127), and addiction (β = .106).

Study 2 examined purchase behavior of mobile video game players with a longitudinal diary study. Eight mobile video game players selected a game to play over the course of two weeks while logging their experience and purchases. Seven of the eight participants made a purchase of in-game content. Analyses of what game elements contributed to purchasing behavior revealed that some participants reported associated dark patterns around their purchases such as paying for enhancements, which is paying for in-game content to make characters stronger to progress in the game. Players also encountered loot boxes that provide only a chance to earn specific items in the game. These results add to Study 1 results by demonstrating that aspects of how a game is designed may impact in-game purchase intention and should be considered in future research.

The combination of Studies 1 and 2 show that both psychological constructs of mobile gamers and aspects of game design may influence in-game purchase intention. Future research could replicate the model from this research in other in-game purchase intention or actual purchase behavior settings such as different types of games genres, platforms, or populations. Other areas of future research include further examination of the impact of dark game design patterns on purchase behavior in other situations (e.g., console, free to play vs. pay to play) and the development of ways to mitigate deceptive designs on player purchasing habits.