Pay to Win or Pay to Cheat: How Players of Competitive Online Games Perceive Fairness of In-Game Purchases

Guo Freeman, Karen Wu, Nicholas Nower, Donghee Yvette Wohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The advent of various in-game purchasing systems has led to several ethical concerns in contemporary gaming ecosystems, including the monetary dark patterns in game design and the potential harms on gamer welling by introducing cheating, gambling, and addictive mechanisms. These concerns have resulted in the rise of tensions regarding the impacts of in-game purchases on players who pay versus those who do not pay, such as their perceptions of "fairness"in highly competitive gaming contexts when spending is involved. Using 2,685 Reddit posts from five subreddits of popular online sports and card games that focus on player-to-player competition, we investigate how players of these games perceive fairness of their in-game purchases. This research expands our existing knowledge on ethical concerns and fairness in gaming by highlighting consumers' (players') diverse ethical judgments regarding the increasingly popular monetization mechanisms in modern gaming. It also highlights ethical dilemmas surrounding competition, spending, and enjoyment in online gaming and informs the design of future digital consumption systems for fairer, healthier, and more ethical gaming dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number247
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
StatePublished - Oct 29 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


  • card games
  • competitive online games
  • ethics
  • fairness
  • in-game purchases
  • microtransactions
  • sports games


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