Avatar Theory

Avatar Theory

Ching-I Teng, Shao-Kang Lo
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-611-7.ch008
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Online games are a popular application in electronic commerce. The number of customers playing a single online game has reached as high as 9,000,000 (Blizzard Entertainment, 2008), indicating the relevance of online games to marketers. When playing online games, customers focus on avatars, which represent them in the game world (Vasalou & Joinson, 2009). Recent studies have addressed the role of avatars in online game play (i.e., Lo, 2008). However, few investigations have attempted to improve practitioner understanding of avatars, limiting the wider utilization of avatar design in improving customer satisfaction. This phenomenon is perhaps owing to the lack of avatar-related theories. Theoretical investigations are necessary to clarify how customers use avatars to satisfy their needs when playing online games. This chapter thus presents Avatar Theory to outline fundamental propositions related to avatars. Avatar Theory can provide a background theory for subsequent avatar studies related to online games, demonstrating the value and potential impact of Avatar Theory within the literature on electronic commerce. Since gamers can select, play, change, discard and play multiple avatars, this chapter develops the Avatar Theory in order to understand these avatar use behavior.
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Understanding Online Game Customers

Online games are Internet applications that customers can play with other customers. Online games are very popular electronic businesses. A single online game can have as many as nine million customers worldwide (Blizzard Entertainment, 2008). The size of the online game market is expected to exceed $13 billion by 2011 (DFC Intelligence, 2006), demonstrating it is economically important and deserving of research attention.

Since online games are an important sector, recent studies have endeavored to understand online game customers. Knowledge of customer demographic variables is fundamental and intuitive. Griffiths, Davis, and Chappell (2003) found that most online game customers are male, and more adults than previously imagined play online games. Griffiths, Davis, and Chappell (2004) confirmed the findings of their previous study and further found that online game customers most appreciate the social aspects of online games.

Customer demographics are influential, as are customer personality traits. Personality traits are psychological sets that systematically influence individual behavioral and psychological patterns (Zimbardo & Weber, 1994). Teng (2008) may have been the first to discuss personality differences between online game customers and others. Controlling for the influences of gender and age, Teng (2008) found that online game customers reported higher scores than non-players in terms of openness (the tendency to be creative and imaginative), conscientiousness (the tendency to be efficient and systematic), and extraversion (the tendency to be talkative and assertive). Jeng and Teng (2008) further linked personality traits to customer motivations to play online games. Furthermore, Jeng and Teng (2008) found openness to be positively related to discovery and role-playing motivations, conscientiousness to be positively related to escapism motivation, and extraversion to be positively related to teamwork motivation. Jeng and Teng (2008) explained the findings of Teng (2008) using customer motivations as an explanation. Restated, the customer needs satisfied by online games are a crucial issue.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Customers: individuals who play online games.

Discarding avatars: gamer actions that permanently destroy the avatars they own.

Theory: logically connected arguments that predict or explain phenomena.

Gaming motivations: the psychological impulses that drive gamers to play online games.

Online Game: online software application that allows customers to use their computers to play via the Internet.

Avatar: player representations in online games.

Avatar appearances: the outward appearance of avatars, including outfits, facial appearance, hair-style, body shape, accessories, weapons, decorations, vehicles and halos around avatars.

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