PopCap recently released their 2011 Social Gaming Research report, which looks at U.S. and U.K. Internet users’ social gaming behavior and interests. The results of this study suggest that those who cheat in social gaming also cheat in the real world (detailed results can be found here). The research was conducted by Information Solutions Group, who used a web survey where U.S. and U.K. inhabitants that play social games on the Internet for more than fifteen minutes a week answered questions about their cheating habits for part of the project. Altogether, they collected 1,201 qualified responses, 801 from the U.S. and 400 from the U.K. Based upon the survey results, 101 or 8% of the social gamers surveyed have used hacks, bots, or cheats in an online social game occasionally or regularly.
The research found, on the whole, that “nearly half (48%) of people who admit to cheating in social video games also admit to cheating in real life—compared to just 14% of those who don’t cheat in social video games. From stealing hotel towels to cheating on their taxes, social game cheaters are nearly 3.5 times as likely to be dishonest in the real world than non-cheaters.” Specifically, 53% admit to cheating on tests in school, 49% have cheated while in a committed relationship, and 43% have cheated on their taxes. This is compared to 16%, 15%, and 8% in non-cheaters, respectively.
Cheaters were more likely to be male (54%), younger (72% are under 40 years of age compared to 49% of non-cheaters), more socially connected (75% of cheaters versus 50% of non-cheaters have made friends as a result of playing the games), and have a higher income (64% of U.S. cheaters earn at least $50,000 versus 44% of non-cheaters; 58% of U.K. cheaters earn at least £24,999, compared to 46% of non-cheaters). 80% of cheaters play at least once a day, and 62% reported that their gameplay has increased over the past three months; whereas only 68% of non-cheaters reported playing at least once a day, and 40% indicated that their gameplay has increased in the same three months. 55% of social game cheaters, versus 23% of non-cheaters, have purchased virtual currency; and 86% reported being somewhat or very likely to purchase items to gain short-lived advantages compared to 42% of non-cheaters. They’re also more than twice as likely to play on multiple devices and are more likely to seek out information about games through online searches or blogs.
Other statistics included showed that 57% of the cheaters play Farmville, whereas only 9% play the lowest-ranking game, Zuma Blitz. The majority of players regardless of cheating status played social games on Facebook (91%).
Analysis: These results make sense, actually, so long as you recognize that cheating in social games doesn’t lead to these behaviors. It just means they’re correlated. The online world is an extension of the real world, so it makes sense that if you’re likely to cheat in one place, you’re likely to cheat in the other. And if you take it more seriously and play the games more and are maybe less aware of the consequences of cheating (e.g. you don’t see the results of your actions), you’re going to be more likely to do it. The reason males may be marginally more likely to cheat than women is that, in general, men are socialized to be more competitive, and with increased competitiveness comes an increased motivation to cheat.
One strength of this research was the fact that social game cheaters reported higher levels of cheating across a variety of different scenarios. The scenarios included were: cheating on tests in school; taking cups or towels from a hotel; parking in handicap spots even if they’re not eligible; cheating while in a committed relationship; taking packets of sugar, jam, or butter from a restaurant; taking magazines from a waiting room; or cheating on taxes. Some of these are obviously more serious than others. They also balanced these out by asking participants if they’ve often participated in the less serious grievances, like taking cups or towels from a hotel.
All in all, these findings seem like common sense, but it’s nice to see some hard numbers. I would like to see this research look at a larger number of people so that better conclusions can be drawn. A sample size of 101 is not big enough to draw any kind of solid comparisons with non-cheaters.
However, while these results make sense in theory, a lot more research needs to be done before anything definitive can be said.