Gaming the gift: The affective economy of League of Legends ‘fair’ free-to-play model

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With its release in late 2009, League of Legends (Riot Games) has influenced the game industry in several profound ways. Known for its vast popularity and its pivotal role in pioneering live streaming and electronic sports, League of Legends is also noteworthy for its model of ‘fair’ free-to-play. Described by Riot Games and many industry professionals as ‘fair’ due to its lack of any ‘pay-to-win’ content (Graft, 2013; Nutt, 2014), this model of free-to-play has gone on to influence a paradigmatic shift towards ‘games as a service’. In this study, the model of ‘fair’ free-to-play is critically framed as a lucrative affective economy involving reciprocal gift exchanges between players and commercial games developers. Drawing on 49 qualitative Reddit responses from players who buy in-game skins, this study positions the microtransactions of League of Legends as a notable example of affective economics that is bound up in reciprocal forms of commercial exchange. Framing this hybrid model of co-creative relations alongside examples from game, fan and Internet studies, it is the critical aim of this study to frame the microtransactions of League of Legends as an instance of affective valorisation. Paralleling the affective economics of various digital platforms, it is the view of this study that microtransactions in games should be considered as part of the same political economy of the Internet.




Jarrett, J. (2021). Gaming the gift: The affective economy of League of Legends ‘fair’ free-to-play model. Journal of Consumer Culture, 21(1), 102–119.

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