News, research and discussion on virtual goods, currencies and economies globally.

Virtual consumption: the thesis

Lehdonvirta (2009): Virtual ConsumptionMy PhD thesis on people who spend real money on virtual goods is now published. Thanks to everyone for your support! Here’s the publication info:

Vili Lehdonvirta (2009). Virtual Consumption. Publications of the Turku School of Economics, A-11:2009, Turku. ISBN: 978-952-249-019-3 (printed) 978-952-249-020-9 (electronic) ISSN: 0357-4652 (printed) 1459-4870 (electronic)

You can download the electronic version of the thesis from the university library here. The print version can be purchased from the university’s publisher: KY Dealing, tel. +358 2 481 4422, email ky-dealing(at) I also have some free copies to send to people, so drop me an email while they still last!

In Finnish universities, we still have the tradition of Public Defence: to get the PhD degree, you have to demonstrate your learning and argue for your thesis against critique presented by a senior scholar in a public debate/discussion session organised by the university. My Public Defence is this Friday at 12pm at the Turku School of Economics, and my opponent is Professor Celia Lury from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Prof. Lury is a distinguished sociologist who has written many books about consumer culture, branding and the culture industry. I am very excited and honoured to be debating Virtual Consumption with her. Feel free to come and watch. The audience can also present comments!

Attached below is the university’s press release.

Virtual goods offer an alternative to material consumption as social lives move to online networks

Millions of people are spending real money on virtual clothes in online hangouts, digital items in multiplayer games and presents for their friends in social networking sites. This digitalisation of consumption is an inherent consequence of the increasing involvement of communication technology in everyday social activities, says Helsinki Insititute for Information Technology HIIT Researcher Vili Lehdonvirta. Lehdonvirta’s thesis “Virtual Consumption” will be examined on 30 October at Turku School of Economics, Finland.

– You don’t have to be an Internet addict or live in an online community to appreciate virtual goods. Today, around 10 percent of users in a typical online service are likely to be spending money on microtransactions, such as virtual items and gifts. Much of this spending relates to social activities involving friends and family, says Lehdonvirta.

In public discourse, spending real money on virtual goods is frequently dismissed as an irrational fad or as a result of abusive marketing. But Lehdonvirta’s thesis suggests that the fundamental drivers of virtual consumption are found in individuals’ social and hedonic motivations.

– People buy virtual goods for the same reasons as they buy material goods. In online spaces, virtual goods can function as markers of status, elements of identity and means towards ends in the same way as material consumer goods do in similarly contrived physical spaces, says Lehdonvirta.

In his doctoral thesis, Lehdonvirta also considers the economic and ecological consequences of the digitalisation of consumption. According to Lehdonvirta, the present economic downturn may turn out to be a boost to virtual consumption, because consumers spend more time at home and favour small purchases over large ones. The ecological sustainability of virtual consumption depends on whether it continues to spur additional computer hardware purchases or whether it substitutes material consumption by providing an alternative use for money.

– From a macroeconomic perspective, it does not matter what consumers buy, as long as they keep on spending. Virtual consumption might offer an ecological way out of this consumer society’s dilemma, says Lehdonvirta.

According to Lehdonvirta’s thesis, people in East Asian countries such as Korea, China and Japan have been quicker to adopt virtual consumption styles.

– What is considered as an appropriate way to spend your time and money varies between cultures and changes over time. Perhaps in three years’ time, virtual consumption is considered rational in the West, and the rationality of filling your house with expensive objects starts to be questioned, ponders Lehdonvirta.

Further information:
Vili Lehdonvirta
+ 358 50 384 1530

Lehdonvirta studied virtual consumption as a researcher at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, Finland. He also spent two years as a visiting scholar at Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan. Lehdonvirta has a M.Sc (Tech.) in Knowledge Intensive Business from Helsinki University of Technology from 2005. Between 2000 and 2003, he worked as a game programmer at Finnish ISP, mobile operator and content developer Saunalahti, developing some of the world’s first mobile Java games and real-time multiplayer browser games.

Vili Lehdonvirta defends his doctoral thesis in Economic Sociology titled “Virtual Consumption” on Friday 30 October 2009 at 12.00 pm at Turku School of Economics, Lecture hall 11, Rehtorinpellonkatu 3, Turku, Finland. His opponent is Professor Celia Lury from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

An electronic version of the thesis is available at

A photo of Vili Lehdonvirta can be downloaded at