Over the decades of development in the video game industry, there have been very rising and receding trends: loot boxes, microtransactions, subscriptions, to name a few. One of the most common, and often controversial are the rise of microtransactions in gaming over the past decade.
What Is a Microtransaction?
Microtransactions are a business model where users can purchase in-game items for often small amounts of money. Often times, the purchases are priced in a manner where the “middle-ground” option offers to most value for the price. Therefore, influencing players to spend a little more for that option as opposed to going for the cheapest option. It is for this reason that it is often remarked to be hostile, especially for young players.
Microtransactions often appear in free-to-play games, meaning there is no cost to download the game. In-game purchases are then encouraged to help players speed up progress. The microtransactions offer items such as in-game cosmetics and sometimes, minor in-game enhancements.
Common Trends of Microtransactions
Most applications can be seen in games with a large online player base. While certain platforms such as online casinos require players to make a deposit to play, they are not considered microtransactions. As a whole, microtransactions are incentives for players to be able to speed-up their process. In the cases of online casinos, it is simply a wager that serves as an entry pass.
For a better example, Fortnite uses an in-game virtual currency called “v-bucks” earned either in game or using real cash. V-bucks are used to purchase items such as skins and to unlock several hidden features within the game. On top of that, players may also purchase a “battle pass” to accumulate game awards and also help them advance through tiers faster.
The transaction-based approach is currently being applied by most gaming companies. The reason is very simple: Because it is very profitable.
The Discussion of Ethics
Are microtransactions harmful? It is a subject up for debate, even though microtransactions are entirely optional. There are many signs that games actively encourage players to partake in microtransactions. Sometimes in certain games, microtransactions are almost the most optimal way to play games.
With the popularity of mobile games over the last decade, many developers begin to encourage players to pay to remove ads. The ads are often designed to be intrusive, appearing every few minute to take players out of the experience. To remove it – a simple purchase of $4.99 will give the player a peace of mind from the ads. The ease of payment via the app store makes the practice of microtransactions almost predatory at times.
Microtransactions are combined with the use of lootboxes and gachapons in many games that promotes a habit of gambling. Over the last few years, certain countries have caught on and labeled lootboxes as gambling. Game companies are requited to display the actual odds of the lootboxes for transparency. Despite the profits, does microtransactions does more harm than good?
A Final Note
The use of microtransaction is arguably an integral part of gaming to help generate revenue. However, it should be important for game developers to use them in an ethical way. Predatory designs that encourage habits of gambling should be avoided.