In the digital game industry, micro-transactions (MTXs) have been introduced as a new vehicle for profit generation. MTXs are small sum payments for additional virtual content beyond the content players obtain through game-play and progression, which impose new structural limitations and opportunities for game participation on the players. This article explores the perspectives of players on corporate commodification strategies of gameplay. The empirical work consists of semi-structured focus group interviews of players and interviews of podcast hosts. All informants are players of various online games.
By adopting Sayer’s (2004, 2007, 2017) concept of moral economy and de Certeau’s (2011) concept of tactics in everyday life, this study draws two conclusions. First, virtual items and goods obtained through in-game activities or MTXs are a means to communicate skill level, taste, and experience between players as a fundamental part of the moral economy of establishing fair ground for competition. With regard to MTXs, players distinguish among three levels in which agency is maintained or limited. Second, players negotiate these models of commodification and agency limitation in ambivalent ways, both resisting and embracing economic values in the moral economy of play. Furthermore, because of this negotiation, players are generally concerned about the invasive nature of economic values taking priority over the values that guide the practices of play. In other words, there is a moral concern regarding how norms and values in play are compromised or overridden by outside economic pressures.