Social and casual game maker PopCap—which was recently acquired by gaming giant Electronic Arts—has published the results of a new survey (PDF) that finds nearly half (48 percent) of people who cheat at online social games like Farmville and Mafia Wars are also cheaters at life, doing things like stealing towels and magazines from hotels and waiting rooms, illegally parking in handicapped spaces, and even cheating on their partners in a committed relationship. In comparison, just 14 percent of folks who say they don’t cheat at social games report cheating in real life.
“How we behave in virtual space and interact with others in social games often mirrors how we act in the real world,” said North Dakota University psychology professor Clay Routledge, in a statement. “With more than 100 million people playing social games regularly, we can expect to see the full range of psychological characteristics represented in the social gaming population—even cheating.”
The survey was conducted by Information Solutions Group for PopCap, and consisted of online surveys of 1,201 respondents in the U.S. and UK who are members of Toluna’s Internet ePanel. To qualify for the survey respondents had to play social games for at least 15 minutes a week. All things being equal, which they rarely are—in theory has a margin of error of about 2.5 percent.
Amongst cheaters, the most common form of reported real-life cheating was cheating on tests at school (53 percent), although some 58 percent of cheaters in the UK reported cheating on their taxes (compared to 33 percent amongst responding U.S. cheaters). Some 51 percent of social game cheaters reported stealing from hotels and illegally parking in handicapped parking spaces, compared to just 14 percent and 12 percent, respectively, amongst non-cheaters. And, perhaps the unkindest cut of all, some 49 percent of social game cheaters reported they cheated on a committed real life relationship, compared to just 15 percent of non-social-game cheaters.
Overall, the survey found that most people don’t bother to cheat at social games: overall, 82 percent of respondents play them straight, leaving 18 percent who cheat. (The UK had proportionately more cheaters than the United States.) Males were also somewhat more likely to cheat at social games than females (54 percent compared to 46 percent) and social game cheaters are, on average, a bit younger than non-cheaters. Interestingly, the survey also found that social game cheaters are considerably more likely to buy virtual items and currency with real money than are non-cheaters, with 86 percent reporting they would be very or somewhat likely to buy a virtual item to gain a short-term advantage in a game. Ironically, this could indicate cheaters are among social games’ best customers—possibly because they are more personally invested at succeeding at the game.