Community dynamics that create demand for virtual goods: case Habbo

Update: the authoritative version of the article is now up on Routledge’s site, here. For those who don’t have access to that repository, the pre-print version is still available here .

Early this year, I posted a pre-print version of an article (see Why do people buy virtual goods?) and promised to post more later, as the scholarly publication process can be as slow as the proverbial snail. Here you go: a pre-print version of Virtual Consumerism: Case Habbo Hotel, a sociological study of the motivations and practices of virtual consumers in a popular teenage online hangout. The publication venue is a reasonably prestigious journal called Information, Communication & Society, to whose reviewers I and my co-authors are much indebted.

The bulk of this work was actually completed two years ago. While virtual goods have continued to spread like crazy since then, I believe the motivations for purchasing them remain the same. In contrast to the previously posted article, the main audience of this paper is sociologists. People who are in the business of selling virtual goods to other people might also find some “actionable insights” there.

Incidentally, if you would like to talk actionable insights with me and are in Silicon Valley, I will be speaking at Virtual Goods Conference (part of Engage! Expo) in San Jose this Wednesday at 13:00. Feel free to drop me a message at vili.lehdonvirta (ät) hiit.fi.

Citation: Vili Lehdonvirta, Terhi-Anna Wilska and Mikael Johnson (2009) “Virtual Consumerism: Case Habbo Hotel”. Information, Communication & Society, vol. 12, no. 7.

Abstract: Selling virtual items for real money is increasingly being used as a revenue model in games and other online services. To some parents and authorities, this has been a shock: previously innocuous ‘consumption games’ suddenly seem to be enticing players into giving away their money for nothing. In this article, we examine the phenomenon from a sociological perspective, aiming to understand how some media representations come to be perceived as ‘virtual commodities’, what motivations individuals have for spending money on these commodities, and how the resulting ‘virtual consumerism’ relates to consumer culture at large. The discussion is based on a study of everyday practices and culture in Habbo Hotel, a popular massively-multiuser online environment permeated with virtual items. Our results suggest that virtual commodities can act in essentially the same social roles as material goods, leading us to ask whether ecologically sustainable virtual consumption could be a substitute to material consumerism in the future.

Keywords: virtual property, consumer behaviour, commodification, global culture industry, massively-multiplayer online game (MMO), real-money trading (RMT)

The authoritative version should actually have come out this month, but it seems ICS is a bit behind in their publication schedule.

Also see a related blog article from last year: Legitimizing virtual consumption

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