What are ‘microtransactions’ anyway?
Microtransactions are essentially small transactions. They are the equivalent of paying two dollars for a cheeseburger. Two dollars is pocket change for most people and when you want a snack – two dollars is worthwhile for a burger. In terms of media and video gaming, microtransactions are an issue which have slowly risen to the forefront. Many individuals are concerned that microtransactions promote gambling and are ruining the quality of video gaming. It is quite clear that when companies are using microtransactions as a way to bring in money, over making quality games, that something is skewed. But is there a greater danger to consider?
There are few positive ideas when it comes to microtransactions. On the whole most people are concerned that the push to involve microtransactions in large-scale AAA titles affects the gameplay and quality of those titles. However, some smaller developers have created games which utilise microtransactions as a smaller-scale way of funding their game.
For example, Overwatch famously features loot boxes with purely cosmetic items. You can buy these loot boxes but no one is required to buy them to be able to win games. The game works perfectly well without the loot boxes, save as a fun way of decorating characters. Path of Exile also features cosmetic microtransactions. This is a free-to-play title which uses microtransactions as a way for players to own cosmetic items and support the development of the game. The microtransactions support the developers: they do not affect gameplay. And this is about as far as the positive news goes for microtransactions.
EA as a publisher recently made huge negative publicity waves for its attempt at microtransactions in the new Star Wars Battlefront II. This was a game which is an improvement on the first Star Wars Battlefront from 2015, and which is plenty of fun to play. Battlefront II was meant to get rid of the ‘paid-DLC’ issues which plagued the previous game. Only this time EA muddied the waters in its attempts to massively monetise Battlefront II with a system of microtransactions which was tied to the progression system.
This was a system which was simply too complicated, and allowed some players to ‘pay to win’ in multiplayer. Yet as a developer explained:
“You need to understand the amount of money that’s at play with microtransactions. I’m not allowed to say the number but I can tell you that on Mass Effect 3 when multiplayer came out, those card packs we were selling, the amount of money we made just off those card packs was so significant that’s the reason Dragon Age has multiplayer, that’s the reason other EA products started getting multiplayer that didn’t really have them before, because we nailed it and brought in a ton of money. It’s repeatable income versus one-time income … I’ve seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards.”
Why shouldn’t people be allowed to spend their own money?
There is nothing wrong with people spending their own money. Unfortunately, there are enough people spending thousands of dollars on these in-game-payment mechanics. This hurts those who do not want to pay. This creates a culture in which microtransaction schemes like EA’s are acceptable – creating pay to be able to win mechanics. These ‘pay to win’ methods hurt the average person who does not want to spend any money at all.
Some of these people are addicted to micro-payments. Some of these people are wealthy enough that small transactions of one hundred dollars is nothing to them. Others simply play the one game enough that they’re spending their money on their one hobby. Yet, regardless, it seems clear that in-game-payments with real world currency are negative things on the whole. Particularly when publishers are using the money to line their pockets at players’ expenses, without giving a whole lot back.
So what is the great danger?
“I think that any business that thinks that the transaction is ‘you give me money and I give you food, next, you give me money and I give you food, next,’ without understanding that people deeply want to feel restored is in danger – Danny Meyer”
The real cost of microtransactions is the greatest danger. These are the hidden costs. Too many businesses are using models of microtransaction which ignore the emotional human element. Players pay 60 dollars for a game which they believe is complete. Discovering the hidden costs of microtransactions for bonuses is a gut punch. Games like Star Wars Battlefront II therefore receive the full weight of negative outrage because of this.
Microtransactions: All Bad?
Players never ‘have’ to pay for these loot crates admittedly. And indeed, a little self control would go a long way to cutting out these sinister practises. Unfortunately, they work, and because they work companies take advantage of it. When one player can pay for an advantage what is the incentive otherwise?
Even microtransactions in ‘free’ mobile games can be a problem. As seen in this case of a 19 year old who became addicted to gambling through video games. Because far too often, these microtransactions are too easily accessible and are too in your face. It is problematic that it taks a fiasco to reveal the truth. For gamers to then realise that these types in-game-payments are bad for gaming. Because, otherwise, who knows what gamers will have to pay for in the future.
- You could be able to buy your way to a new character
- Gives the company extra money on top
- Some publishers use them for funding 'free to play' games
- Cosmetic microtransactions by themselves are fine
- You have to pay a hefty fee on top of your game
- Who knows what is next for microtransactions
- They are invasive
- They can promote gambling
- Non-cosmetic microtransactions are bad for gaming