A Macro Problem with Microtransactions

Posted: April 20, 2015 by Ian Gaudreau in Gamenomics - Video Games
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Photo Credit: Valve

Microtransaction is defined as a business model where users can purchase virtual goods via micropayments. This idea has become quite the buzzword in gaming, but what does it mean for the state of gaming?

As games began to become more elaborate, especially with online play, gamers began to see the rise of downloadable content (DLC). For a mere $20, gamers could purchase additional level add-ons, storyline quests, multiplayer maps, etc. to add onto their favorite games. The benefit of DLC is that the ability to purchase is entirely optional. Players still got a complete gaming experience without the DLC, but for people who really enjoyed the game, the option was there to purchase $20ish bonus content.

However, the industry is beginning to show signs of drifting down a seemingly dangerous path. Microtransactions are becoming the plague of gamers everywhere. The birth of microtransactions came with the boom in mobile gaming development. Independent developers would create a free-to-download games with advertisements, but started adding on microtransactions to increase their game’s profit margins. Microtransactions are especially popular amongst younger gamers, who are easily enticed by the idea of an easier playing experience. One popular purchase was the Mighty Eagle character in the popular Angry Birds franchise, which could be purchased for $0.99 and make the game “more fun”. Although this may be true, it is important for parents to have conversations with their kids to understand the link between in-app purchases and real life money.

Unfortunately, microtransactions are beginning to drift into the console world, and not in a good way. Games are released with very little content, essentially skeletons that only include the bare minimum to be playable. Where DLC was optional and unnecessary, these skeleton games often force gamers to purchase add-ons in order to play be on the level of other gamers. Evolve recently received widespread criticism for offering $120 worth of DLC on the day of release. Evolve is a fun game, but is it really worth $60 to buy and $120 worth of bonus content for a game that does not even have a story mode? Probably not. The thing is, this problem is not exclusive to just one franchise. Madden, Gran Turismo, and others all offer countless purchasable add-ons, without any option to unlock the item without the purchase using real currency. Microtransactions essentially allow companies to make large profits off of lazily developed games, but still earn even higher profits off of overpriced add-ons.

For games that already cost $60, this is a downright abhorrent business model. It no longer relies on a player’s skill to unlock the “hard to get” characters, but rather, whoever is willing to shell out the most money will reign supreme.

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