(Photo by Tommi Lätti; hi-res version)

Dr Vili Lehdonvirta is an Associate Professor, Senior Research Fellow, and DPhil Programme Director at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and a Faculty Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute. His research deals with the design and socioeconomic implications of digital marketplaces and platforms, using conventional social research methods and novel data science approaches. He has a PhD in Economic Sociology from Turku School of Economics (2009) and an MSc in Information Networks from Helsinki University of Technology (2005). Previously he worked at London School of Economics, University of Tokyo, and Helsinki Institute for Information Technology. Before his academic career, he worked as a game programmer. He has advised companies, startups, and policy makers in the United States, Europe, and Japan, including Rovio, Warner Brothers, and the World Bank. His book Virtual Economies: Design and Analysis (with Edward Castronova) is published by MIT Press and translated to Chinese by China Renmin University Press. (LinkedIn, Google Scholar)

See also:
●  My blog posts — collated from various sites
●  Policy & Internet — an academic journal on ICTs' public policy implications that I edit
●  The Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality Group — a research cluster I belong to at the Oxford Internet Institute
●  My faculty page — at the Oxford Internet Institute
●  Amimaru — a company I co-founded that provides internationalization services to the Japanese manga industry
●  My interview at The Setup — in which I talk about my tools
●  TASO 131 — a game I created as a hobby project in the 1990s
●  [in Finnish] Do apps replace regulation? Government in a techno-society — my keynote talk at Liikenne- ja viestintäfoorumi 2015

Latest updates

  • 26 May 2016

    The Social Science Division of the University of Oxford has awarded me the title of Associate Professor, effective 5 May 2016!

  • 10 May 2016

    Presenting a paper on the Institutional Characteristics of the “Platform Economy” at the SASE 28th Annual Conference, Berkeley, California, 24-26 June

See all updates...

Online Labour Markets Research Theme

More work is being bought and sold via websites and apps like Upwork, Mechanical Turk, and Uber. These digital work platforms offer an alternative to established ways of hiring a person or finding work. While national labour markets have been stagnating, transnational online labour markets based on digital platforms have been growing rapidly. The rules or institutional frameworks for these markets are crafted by private technology firms rather than public regulators. I am studying how these new private policy makers are changing the nature of employment, entrepreneurship, and the global economy.

I am the Principal Investigator of iLabour, a major new ERC-funded project on online labour markets' economic trends, institutions, and worker movements. I am also collaborating with Mark Graham and Helena Barnard to study online labour markets' global development impacts.

Lehdonvirta, V. (2015) Why are citizens migrating to Uber and Airbnb, and what should governments do about it? Policy & Internet Blog.

Lehdonvirta, V. (2016) Algorithms That Divide and Unite: Delocalization, Identity, and Collective Action in 'Microwork'. In: J. Flecker (ed.), Space, Place and Global Digital Work. London: Palgrave-Macmillan. (blog, video)

Lehdonvirta, V., Hjorth, I., Graham, M., & Barnard, H. (2015) Online Labour Markets and the Persistence of Personal Networks: Evidence From Workers in Southeast Asia.. ASA 2015, Chicago, Aug 22-25.

Lehdonvirta, V., Barnard, H., Graham, M, & Hjorth, I. (2014) Online labour markets – leveling the playing field for international service markets? IPP2014: Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy, Oxford, Sep 25-26.

Lehdonvirta, V. & Ernkvist, M. (2011) Knowledge Map of the Virtual Economy. Washington DC: World Bank.

See all publications...

Virtual Economies Research Theme


Gamers spend hours earning virtual items. Online stores accept digital currencies like Bitcoin. Marketers are caught buying fake Facebook likes. These are examples of virtual economies: systems where artificially scarce digital markers are produced and circulated like goods. I have studied virtual economies since 2004, explaining why people value virtual items, how developers can construct virtual economies to incentivize and entertain, and how unwanted emergent markets can be countered. I have summarized the results in Virtual Economies: Design and Analysis, co-authored with Edward Castronova and published by MIT Press; and in lectures at the Game Developers Conference (videos).

I have also examined virtual economies' socioeconomic implications, including "Chinese gold farmers" who earn a living by harvesting and selling virtual game items, and virtual gender gaps between women's and men's virtual wealth.

Lehdonvirta, V. & Robleh, A. (2016) Governance and Regulation. In: M. Walport (ed.), Distributed Ledger Technology: Beyond Blockchain. London: UK Government Office for Science, pp. 40-45.

Lehdonvirta, V. & Castronova, E. (2014) Virtual Economies: Design and Analysis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Chinese edition)

Lehdonvirta, V. (2009) Virtual Item Sales as a Revenue Model: Identifying Attributes that Drive Purchase Decisions. Electronic Commerce Research 9(1): 97-113.

Lehdonvirta, V. (2014) Geographies of gold farming: New research on the third-party gaming services industry. CII Blog.

Lehdonvirta, V., Ratan, R. A., Kennedy, T. L., & Williams, D. (2014) Pink and Blue Pixel$: Gender and Economic Disparity in Two Massive Online Games. The Information Society 30(4): 243-255.

See all publications...