PopCap: People Who Cheat In Social Games Are More Likely To Cheat In Real Life

Social games continued to grow in popularity in 2011 — to such a degree that PopCap’s November study found that 120 million people in the U.S. and the U.K. play social games at least once a week, with 81 million playing at least once a day. In terms of annual growth, that’s a 71 percent increase from the same period in 2010. As one might expect from casual games with their lower barriers to entry, it seems that the appeal of social games is broad, as 35 million of those gamers were new to social games, while 17 percent of those were new to video games altogether.

2011 was a big year for social gaming companies, too, especially in terms of mergers and acquisitions. InsideSocialGames pulled together a review of all M&A activity in the space, which totalled more than $1.7 billion and included big-ticket acquisitions like the sale of PopCap to EA for $1.7 billion. Naturally, with M&A activity and the overall user base on the rise, Parks and Associates predicts that the social gaming sector will generate $5 billion in revenues by 2015.

With social gaming reaching its vanguard, the data available from the space provides a terrific opportunity for comparisons between how people act in the world of games versus how they act in the real world. Today, PopCap released a survey that explores the always interesting topic of cheating. One might think that the social and casual aspects of this type of gaming would deter people from cheating, and for the most part it does, as the vast majority of social gamers play it honest.

Of the 120 million some-odd social gamers, the study found that more than 10 million people cheat at social games in the U.S. and the U.K., which works out to about 11 percent of British gamers and 7 percent of American gamers. Oh, the parallels between gaming and the real world: Of those cheaters polled, nearly half (48 percent) admitted to cheating in real life as well. Whether it be stealing hotel towels or fudging their taxes, social gaming cheaters are almost 3.5 times more likely to be dishonest in the real world than non-cheaters.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, although more women play social games than men (55 percent compared to 45 percent), men were a bit more likely to cheat in social games than women (54 percent to 46 percent). What’s more, cheating seems more a characteristic of the young, as 72 percent of cheaters were found to be under the age of 40.

But here’s the most ironic part of this whole study: 86 percent of cheaters reported that they would very or somewhat likely to buy virtual items in games with cold hard cash. Of course, everyone wants to get ahead, and buying cheap virtual items can lead to short-term gains, but that means that cheaters are potentially some of social games’ (and social gaming companies) best customers. Likely this just means that cheaters are more invested in getting (and staying) ahead in the games of their choice, so spending a little money us just a bump in the road to gaming glory.

Will be interesting to see if advertising in the social gaming industry starts playing to the cheaters. Playing Bejeweled? Want to get ahead, buy these awesome gems!

It’s really not that surprising that cheaters gonna cheat, online or off, but this is just yet another example of how, as more of our daily processes, systems, and services move online and become less personal, there can be unfortunate ramifications. Online, many may be inclined to see fewer inherent risks to cutting corners or cheating. Hey, it’s not a crime if you do it online. Wrong again!

For more, check out PopCap’s complete study here.

Excerpt image from icanhascheezburger.com