Exploring the Effect of In-Game Purchases on Mobile Game Use with Smartphone Trace Data

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Exploring the Effect of In-Game Purchases on Mobile Game Use with Smartphone Trace Data


  • Kristof Boghe imec-mict-UGent, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Laura Herrewijn Center for Persuasive Communication, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Frederik De Grove imec-mict-UGent, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Kyle Van Gaeveren imec-mict-UGent, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Lieven De Marez imec-mict-UGent, Ghent University, Belgium


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Abstract:  Microtransactions have become an integral part of the digital game industry. This has spurred researchers to explore the effects of this monetization strategy on players’ game enjoyment and intention to continue using the game. Hitherto, these relationships were exclusively investigated using cross-sectional survey designs. However, self-report measures tend to be only mildly correlated with actual media consumption. Moreover, cross-sectional designs do not allow for a detailed investigation into the temporal dimension of these associations. To address these issues, the current study leverages smartphone trace data to explore the longitudinal effect of in-game purchase behavior on continual mobile game use. In total, approximately 100,000 hours of mobile game activity among 6,340 subjects were analyzed. A Cox regression with time-dependent covariates was performed to examine whether performing in-game purchases affects the risk of players removing the game app from their repertoire. Results show that making an in-game purchase decreases this risk initially, prolonging the survival time of the mobile gaming app. However, this effect significantly changes over time. After the first three weeks, a reversal effect is found where previous in-game purchase behavior negatively affects the further survival of the game. Thus, mobile games without previous monetary investment are more prone to long-term continual game use if they survive the first initial weeks. Methodological and theoretical implications are discussed. As such, the current study adds to those studies that use computational methods within a traditional inferential framework to aid theory-driven inquiries.

Keywords:  computational methods; continual game use; in-game purchases; monetization; smartphone trace data; survival analysis

Published:   13 August 2020


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v8i3.3007


© Kristof Boghe, Laura Herrewijn, Frederik De Grove, Kyle Van Gaeveren, Lieven De Marez. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.