Today, several games are now including microtransactions. They have been the bane of many gamers’ existence, and they have made millions for the game companies who push them. However, there is still a debate on whether they should be in games or not. Fans’ opinions vary, but there is a group of gamers that feel they are needless cash grabs. Of course, microtransactions in games might be the one issue that all gamers seem to agree on.
We all feel they are horrible and cause several problems for video games overall. We’ll be discussing this in further detail below. Unlike gamers, the developers are on the fence here. Some fully support their use while others do not like them at all.
Of course, there are even some compromised microtransactions too. It does seem that developer actions seem to indicate they think microtransactions are incredibly useful tools in a game’s creation.
Are they the future of gaming or are fans right to be cautious in spending their money? Like most things, the answer is complicated. That is why we decided to discuss it all below!
What Are Microtransactions?“Microtransaction” is an incredibly broad term that describes any additional purchase in a video game outside of the initial purchase of the game. Typically, they are small additional costs for access to minor benefits, items, or cosmetic pieces in the game. It is not entirely clear when microtransactions first appeared in video games.
The infamous “horse armor” DLC in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion might be the first appearance in a console game. On the other hand, purchasable items have existed in MMOs for years. Plus, expansion packs in video games go back even further than that. Typically, these purchases are small purchases within the game, hence the use of “micro.”
They usually range anywhere from $0.99 to $10. Due to mobile games being the most popular games on the planet without question, developers felt adding extra incentives to games could get people to pay a little more for small aides or assistance. You’ll see these often in games like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush.
With the rise of online gaming on home consoles, however, more microtransactions started appearing in console games and AAA releases. This is where the problem seemed to start.
Why Include Microtransactions?Video games are expensive to make. That is no secret. The cost of video game development has been steadily increasing over the years too. It is becoming increasingly harder for game companies to make their money back. They are so expensive that one AAA game flopping could send a studio into bankruptcy.
Seriously, this has happened before. Just ask Atari, the makers of the infamous E.T. video game that flopped massively. It led to over half a billion in total losses for Atari. Eventually, they were out of the video game console world entirely.
Video game developers needed a way to make more money off a game without spending an excessive amount of money, and this led to the inclusion of microtransactions. In the past, new levels, characters, or mechanics would be introduced in a game’s sequel. However, it is expensive to make a new game.
On the other hand, companies could spend a little money to add these to games already available. This allowed them to make more money off existing games.
It Is Happening Right In Front Of You Too:
You can see this method in action right now with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Vahalla video game. It already sold incredibly well, but they have added a lot of additional content to it. More than any other game in franchise history up to this point, all so they did not have to develop an entirely new game.
In the past, you had to wait for a new Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat game to play as new characters. Thanks to microtransactions, you can purchase only the characters you like. Online shooters can introduce new maps, weapons, and game modes with microtransactions as well.
Theoretically, it allows players to get new things in a game without waiting years for a new game. That type of speed is something gamers obviously like to see. However, it also helps developers make extra money on a game that has been out for a while.
It used to be that things that would be considered “cool unlockables” in a game could make some games worth replaying consistently. Like how Tekken used to lock several characters, and you had to play through the Arcade mode to unlock and play as newer characters not present in the original game. Those same things are now gone, and in their place are “paid DLCs” through Season Passes that cost you another $30 after you already forked over $60 before tax.
That is incredibly disappointing for all gamers.
Why Do Fans Hate Them So Much?Obviously, video games are expensive. Video games have cost around $60 since the start of the PS3 and Xbox 360 era, and some games have recently increased to $70 on next-generation consoles. Frankly, that is a lot of money for any gamer to drop on one game.
Thus, it is understandable that players don’t want to pay $60 for a game and then have to spend more money via microtransactions. Yet some might ask, what is the problem with spending a couple of dollars more?
Well, some of the “micro”-transactions in AAA games can reach prices of $100 or more. Heck, the graphic included above is from a real Electronic Arts game that really asked for over $600 to buy an extra 50 loot boxes. Naturally, gamers became disgusted at the idea of potentially spending $120+ on a single game.
It is just too much to ask of gamers, and it’s frankly a slap in the face to those loyal customers.
“Pay To Win” Method:
On top of the egregious prices of some microtransactions, some online games feature microtransactions that give benefits to players. Of course, it is possible to earn these items or abilities without making any purchases, but it often takes much longer to obtain them from gameplay alone.
However, some games feature “loot boxes” as microtransactions. Loot boxes are purchasable items in games that give players a random set of “loot” for their character. Games like Overwatch use loot boxes to give out random cosmetic items that change your character’s appearance.
Unfortunately, there are several games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Battlefront II that used these to give out character abilities. These abilities gave players advantages during matches that others simply didn’t have. Plus, if you purchased a loot box for these abilities, you may not even get the ability you need. Thus, even those who forked over the cash might get screwed over.
Simply put, gamers don’t want to pay extra money on top of the full price of a game. These loot boxes and microtransactions often include abilities, weapons, or whole mechanics that should have been included in the game at launch. They can also give players who purchase these items an unfair advantage in the game.
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That is poor game design, and fans should be upset at their inclusion.
Enter The Free-To-Play ModelMicrotransactions do not necessarily condemn a game. Fortnite includes microtransactions, and it is one of the most popular games available right now. What is the difference? Fortnite is “free to play.” It doesn’t cost anything to download Fortnite and have full access to the game. All of the microtransactions in that game are for cosmetics, dance moves, or things of this nature.
They don’t give you an advantage in the game, and they serve little purpose outside of making your character look different. You also have the option to purchase a “Battle Pass.” The Battle Pass is a single purchase that allows you to earn currency to unlock the cosmetics as you play the game. This is useful, and literally gives you a way to earn stuff rather than pay for it down the line.
League of Legends, made by Riot Games, has also had great success with its free-to-play model. It is entirely free to play, but you can purchase additional characters to play in the game. Each character has their own ability and playstyle, but the game rotates the available free characters weekly.
This lets players freely try new characters without committing to a purchase. Several games have taken up this model like Apex: Legends and Valorant (which is also made by the company behind League of Legends).
Players seem to enjoy this type of microtransaction more than the ones previously mentioned. The player doesn’t have to pay for the game upfront. They only pay for cosmetics or the characters they want. It takes away the entry cost to a game, and it allows players to only purchase what they want.
Most of these games do not require any purchases to fully enjoy the game.
The Data On MicrotransactionsThe popularity and massive success of these free-to-play games is the chief reason behind so many companies adopting microtransactions. Fortnite has been a raging success for Epic Games. According to Statista, Fortnite generated $3.7 billion in 2019. Naturally, other companies want to capitalize on this trend.
The graph used above took measurements from mid-2019, meaning throughout the year Fornite grew massively in revenue. Around double in the second half of the year. This was likely due to kids being out of school as well as breaks for adults.
Despite fans’ insistence that microtransactions are bad, several gamers purchase them. In 2019, the total revenue of microtransactions in video games reached $152.1 billion. That is a lot of money!
Fans also don’t seem to be as resistant to microtransactions as many of them seem. Forbes reported a study done by Qutee that found that the majority of players were fine with microtransactions. Specifically, 68.9% of players said they were okay with microtransactions as long as they were cosmetic. A total of 22% said they disliked “pay to win,” but only 5.8% of players said they didn’t purchase microtransactions.
That data suggests that the majority of players don’t mind microtransactions as long as it doesn’t affect the gameplay. It also implies that players who dislike microtransactions are purchasing them anyway. It could also mean that these same people understand microtransactions in games will be present. Thus, if they are going to be there, they’d like it if they were only cosmetic or something.
The Future Of MicrotransactionsWe’re sorry to break it to you, but microtransactions are not going anywhere. In fact, more game companies are going to start using them. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. Of course, there are studios like Electronic Arts that seem more preoccupied with making money than making quality games.
Those studios only see microtransactions as a money-making tool. Some studios seemed focused on using them for the right reasons, but some use them as a small bonus to games.
Blizzard likely has the right idea for microtransactions with Overwatch. As stated above, this game features loot boxes that players can purchase or unlock. However, the loot boxes only reward players with cosmetic items. These items do not affect gameplay at all. Additionally, players get a free loot box every time they gain a level and at the start of every event.
The game costs $60 at launch, but players are never charged for new characters, maps, or modes. It has also made $1 billion a year after it launched, so it was definitely successful.
Microtransactions are going to continue. Hopefully, though, it will mainly be in the free-to-play world. Maybe games that use them will only use them for cosmetics or optional characters too. There is a world where microtransactions allow gamers of all incomes to play together in harmony. That could be the future of microtransactions in games.
Obviously, some studios will use them to milk all the money they can out of a game. Ubisoft is trying to use microtransactions correctly, while Electronic Arts claims they’re trying to be better. However, their actions seem to contradict their statements. They have repeatedly included microtransactions in their games.
Maybe other developers may be able to utilize them correctly.
Final ThoughtsMicrotransactions are still fairly new in the gaming industry. Studios are still trying to figure out their place in video games, and the debate on their place is ongoing. Microtransactions are going to keep changing the way games are made. Whether you tolerate them or hate them, they are here to stay it appears.
Hopefully, studios will learn how to integrate them properly into games.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with a quote from Valve’s Robin Walker on microtransactions in the industry.
“I think it took us years, and we’re still learning an enormous amount. I think that was the other thing that was, shocking to us at the time, the industry seemed to have already decided it understood how microtransactions worked.”