Microtransactions: The Good (Sorta), the Bad, and the Ugly.

If you are a gamer, like me, then you are tearing your hair out about the whole microtransaction problem in the community and industry. For those readers who are not gamers, I will explain everything soon, just hold on tight.  This issue has escalated and has gotten out of control this year. Seeing AAA titles that are single player shove microtransactions down our throats, or multiplayer games making it impossible to do anything competitive until you spend even more money. We will dive into all of this on every possible side of the conversation. As the title suggests, yes there is some good. Before you rip my head off, look again and see the word sorta. I am against microtransactions, but there is a light to it to some degree. There is a lot to talk about, so let’s dive right into the basics first.

Nongamers, this is for you right here. You may have no idea what I am talking about, and that is okay. Microtransactions are a small transaction online, and in our case for gaming, it adds cosmetic, boosts, in-game currency, and more for the gamer to pay to get instead of playing a few hours to earn. The use of microtransactions has a variety as you see. Everything depends on the game and how the developers, and publishers want to implement any microtransactions into the game. Video games are becoming more expensive by the day, so these companies need new ways to earn money. This business method was more common for free-to-play games.

Why is this conversation starting now? This is a mix of two major titles that have come out this year that have finally made gamers explode. Star Wars Battlefront II which is published by EA and developed by DICE. The other game is Middle-earth: Shadow of War which is published by Warner Bros. and developed by Monolith Productions. People are furious over Star Wars because the progression system is broken. Taking dozens of hours to unlock one character, but you can skip everything by paying for it. I will say before moving forward that they are working to rework everything in the players’ favor and that microtransactions have been temporarily disabled. Still, some gamers did the math and realized that if you spend about $100 extra, then you still will not have everything in the game. That will be $160 total for a game that is not even fully unlocked. These methods are unethical and getting debated throughout the industry. As for Middle-earth, this is a single player game that you can buy loot boxes to earn new gear and specials to help boost you through the game. One, the gaming community is mad because they should not have to spend anything extra on single player experience. Secondly, towards the end, it becomes a grind. Reportedly from a lot of people, it takes hours to get what is needed to beat the game. When you are right at the end, but then gated off to spend another dozen hours mindlessly building an army of orcs to then complete a 50 or so hour game, you will become annoyed. This technique is just a pay-to-win method which is arguably the worse out there. Games with a pay-to-win method are usually online, but equally insulting to gamers when it is shown in singleplayer games like Shadow of War. The practice of microtransactions are known for free-to-play or online games, but a single player game that is one of the biggest releases of the year having them is outrageous. These two games were able to push gamers to their limits.

This method can be useful for individual companies. When developing a free-to-play game, you need to find a way to fund your game, additional content, pay employees, equipment for the office, etc. Even bigger developers may need it because games are so expensive now. Games like Overwatch and Grand Theft Auto 5 have managed to do this well. Overwatch will let players pay an amount for loot boxes. Opening these loot boxes may have another skin for a character or another fun treat for the player. Most people who are fans of that game have not been outraged by this system because their actual game is not affected. Grand Theft Auto 5 rewards players. Gamers can spend their money to gain in-game currency which saves a lot of time to get a new car, a gun, or clothing. The reward is the amount of money has given Rockstar the opportunity to update the game with free content. According to an article published on Forbes called “GTA Online’s $500M in Microtransactions Could Mean a Very Different GTA 6” written by Paul Tassi. He goes over more than just microtransactions as you can tell by the title, but the amount of money is what we are looking at for this topic. Some gamers are not happy since the game has had no real additions for the single player, but for those who love online, are generally satisfied with the free content. These are just a few ways that AAA titles get away from any outrage from their fans. The main thing is for these companies to be careful about how the game is impacted and how the business aspect is shown to gamers. If gamers get a sense of greed and manipulation, then you get significant problems.

A mistake many games tend to make is how they show the gamer that there are microtransactions. Most players will not be purchasing any microtransactions. They will buy the game and play it. An article found on The Wired called “Half of all mobile games money comes from 0.19% of users” written by Matt Kamen discusses this. The title summarizes it all that there is such a small amount of mobile gamers that will be buying microtransactions. This number is found from 48% of all mobile games are funded by this 0.19% of players. Some platforms and types of games are not included, but you only need that small amount to drive a game financially. The mistake comes in when they shove the microtransactions down the throats of their players. The data is there, most of these players will not be spending extra money. When you try to grab them to do so, then you ruin the experience entirely. Currently, I am playing Assassins Creed: Origins, despite being fun, then shove the store down my throat. I feel some pressure to buy something extra. Same for Middle-earth: Shadow of War which is even worse about showing off their store. You can unlock a similar loot box style that other games have, and gain some new gear. Unlocking this can be natural, but to unlock them to see what you got, you must go to the store for the game to see. Showing off all of the other loot boxes you can just purchase to be quicker. This technique feels greedy and unethical.

Imagine you decide to purchase a microtransaction that is a loot box. You will not know exactly what you get, but you may get something cool for your character. You spend whatever amount you decide on the select options. You open this box and get basic gear that you already have. You just wasted money on a virtual shirt, and it was the same shirt, so you have nothing to show for spending that money. This has caused many issues. China is one of several countries deciding whether this is gambling. If it is, then it can be illegalized, fined, or regulated, depending on the country. Overwatch is the main game that has had this discussion about, but many other games are in the same boat. I like the system from games like Grand Theft Auto because I know what I am getting. Generally, people give Overwatch a pass, but it is still a great game to use for this discussion Deciding to purchase a microtransaction should be worth it, but not every game gives you that. You can spend $1.99 for two boxes in Overwatch, and you may not get anything that satisfying. The other option is paying $39.99 for 50. You may get a lot out of that. 45 of those can be good, 30 might be good, 5 might be okay. This risk factor is a slippery road on many levels. For gamers, they are wasting their money and gaining nothing. As mentioned before, legally this is slippery. Countries can see this as gambling and crack down on the developer for this practice. As technology advances and the world changes, legally the nations around the world are adapting, slowly. Seeing this practice as a politician can give different impressions, just as it can with the gamers. It will be interesting to see moving forward on how this method of microtransactions changes over time.

Who is to blame for these greedy and manipulative strategies that the gaming community are so angry about? This has a few different sides. Gamers keep speaking about this issue, as they should. It is great that we are getting somewhere on this problem, but the money being made is what makes companies ignore our outcries about these methods. The saying goes, put your money where your mouth is held valid. The other side of this is the publishers. Developers often get all of the blame for these practices since they make the game. Publishers and the administrative side of the business are the ones who are usually causing the main issue. If a developer is not owned and publishing themselves, then it will be on them. Many big publishers such as EA are taking the heat. Several companies have explicitly and implicitly talked about EA. Some have been nicer than others. The Witcher developer CD Projekt Red made a brutal tweet a few weeks ago after a false claim that their next game, Cyberpunk 2077, will have a service style to it. Their tweet is below, and it is pretty obviously about EA. Seeing a company say these things shows a light for all the gamers out there. Not all companies are for these types of practices. Giving a game complete for people to dive into without any extra spending.CD PROJEKT RED

Microtransactions are not going anywhere, but changes might start happening. Even if companies like Activision, Ubisoft, and EA continue this path, it is not a problem. There are plenty of companies to support who are against microtransactions. Some companies can benefit, but should not be necessary, especially in AAA games. The fight will continue, but hopefully, things turn around for the better soon. If you are against microtransactions, then participate in any way you can. People come together and are making changes. That is why DICE and EA are making changes to Star Wars Battlefront II to make it up to all the gamers who feel betrayed and used. Companies need to be careful because not all of them can afford the consequences that EA is facing. They have enough money to survive a three billion dollar hit, but most can not. What do you think after all of this? Are any changes to the industry really going to happen with the aftermath of Star Wars Battlefront II?

Image via CD Projekt Red twitter and Electronic Arts


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