Are the practices of 'free-to-play' and 'pay-to-win' games new risk behaviours?
“Free-to-play” video games are massively practiced in the general population. The economic market of these games is consequent; social and health issues are not yet seriously studied. Unlike gambling, this area is not regulated. The borderline between online gaming and gambling is becoming less clear with the emerging trend of gambling “gamification” and the introduction of “gambling games” in social games.
This paper explores part of this overlap between gambling and gaming by analysing the profile, practices and game related problems of people who play free video games on a laptop, tablet or smart-phone or on a social network (“free-to-play” gamers), and could spend money to gain gameplay advantage over their non-paying peers (“pay-to-win” gamers).
Data were derived from the 2017 eGames-France survey conducted in 2017. The target population was all French Internet users aged 18 and over. A sample (N = 22,750) was randomly recruited from a huge access Internet users panel, proportional to the distribution of Internet use in the general population, based on gender and age.
A bivariate analysis was used to compare the profiles and practices of gamers. Multivariate logistic regressions were performed to estimate associations between socio-demographic characteristics, gaming patterns and gaming related problems.
Participants completed a set of questions about demographic characteristics, gaming patterns and self-reported gaming related problems.
In 2017, 58.5% of the French internet users had played at least once during the last 12 months to “free-to-play” games and 6.2% had made payments during the game to significantly increase their chances to win or to help them better progress or faster progress in the game compared to players not paying (“pay-to-win” gamers).
“Free-to-play” gamers were more likely to be women, younger people, working people, students or unemployed people, people with a higher level of income and people with a lower level of education, compared to people who did not play these games. Younger people, working people, students or unemployed people, and people with a lower level of education were more likely to spend money on these games.
According to PGSI, the prevalence of at risk or problem gamers (PGSI>=5) among “pay-to-win” gamers was 34.8%. Men, younger people, students, unemployed people and people with a lower level of income were more likely to be at risk or problem gamers.
A third of people who play “free-to-play” games, massively practiced, and spend money on these games to gain gameplay advantage, have risky or problematic practices of these games, in a field not yet regulated and not subject to preventive interventions.