Microtransactions have been a hotly debated topic in the gaming community, with gaming developers looking for increasingly unique ways to integrate microtransactions in some form or another.
Previously, developers created games in much the same way as other entertainment franchises, such as films. The focus was on developing a quality game and then recouping the costs via sales over a specific time period. However, with microtransactions, developers can now integrate a whole new revenue model and generate more profits, albeit at the risk of alienating their core fans.
What Are Microtransactions?
A microtransaction is a digital purchase that users can make within a game, unlocking specific features or providing unique cosmetic, and sometimes game-changing, enhancements.
Pricing for microtransactions start from $0.99, often requiring users to pay real-world money in exchange for in-game currency. Players can then use that currency to buy items from an in-game store.
While there have been some egregious examples of microtransactions in recent games, they can have positive uses, too. Here are seven different types of microtransactions that are used commonly in games nowadays.
1. Bonus Purchases
Game developers commonly offer bonus purchases for an extra price, on top of what you may have paid for the game. We mostly see this in mobile games, offering players additional content that they can use to enhance their experience.
For instance, you could offer a bonus purchase to customers for buying a specific skin, unlocking a different color set or a new cosmetic variant, for a fraction of the price. Many developers use countdown clocks to offer bonus purchases and entice customers to buy more.
Bonus purchases are fairly acceptable, as they don’t affect the gameplay at all, offering only cosmetic enhancements.
2. XP Boosters
A number of games now offer XP boosters to their players. The concept is simple: if you don’t want to spend your time grinding and repeating activities to earn XP and level up, you could pay a small amount and level up quickly. This brings you on par with other players and makes you more competitive.
However, it also creates an unfair advantage for other players, as those who decide to pay can level up much faster in the game. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was one of the prime examples of XP Boosters done badly.
Apart from the base price of $60, and an additional $50 for the season pass, the game offered loot boxes priced at $2 each. These sometimes handed players weapons that granted 25% additional XP on use, allowing players to level up quicker than others. This was a major gameplay advantage, allowing players to unlock new guns and abilities much faster.
3. Loot Boxes
Loot boxes can suck out all the fun from gaming. The concept of loot boxes leverages variable rate reinforcement, which explains the dopamine rush that people get when they receive an unexpected reward. The concept is very similar to gambling, and several countries have even banned video game developers from offering loot boxes altogether.
The concept is simple: you pay a small amount to buy a box, without knowing what they are going to get. In most cases, developers provide a sign or specify a range of items that players can get, including cosmetic items, specific weapons, and sometimes even in-game abilities.
One of the worst examples of loot boxes in video games we have seen appeared in Star Wars: Battlefront 2. The game, despite looking gorgeous, really underlined EA’s business model of using cash-grabbing tactics to get gamers to spend as much as possible.
The game offered loot crates in exchange for in-game currency, which could get you cards that included cosmetic items, in-game abilities, and heroes. What is the problem with this? The system was entirely skewed.
To get enough in-game currency to get all the cards, estimates state that players had to put in thousands of hours. The backlash was so bad that eventually EA removed loot boxes altogether, though the damage had already been done by then.
4. Character Skins
For the most part, character skins are fine. If someone wants to pay more to look cooler, that’s their choice. Many games now offer customizable character skins and other cosmetic items, like weapon skins or unique color tracers, and it’s cool since it has no impact on gameplay.
However, things get worse when games host limited-time events and offer character skins that are further hidden behind loot boxes. The limited time nature of such events means players either have to spend lots of time playing the game to receive a blessing from the RNG gods, eventually, or buy it directly.
The Dawning event from Destiny 2 is a prime example of character skin microtransactions ripping gamers off. The skins released during the Dawning were insanely cool, much cooler than anything else in the game (even other paid skins!). You had to buy a different in-game currency, called Bright Dust, to get the skins. And, in total, these would cost you about $220.
Pay-to-unlock microtransactions are quite common in many games today. Essentially, you could pay to unlock anything, such as a unique weapon, a new character, a skin, a vehicle, or any other feature. Most of these are generally cosmetic, but in multiplayer games, these differences do become quite clear.
Some games, however, do not even give players the option of buying such things by simply putting in the hours. So, when you see a player with a specific skin, you know they’ve paid for it. There was a time when you could play a game more and more, and eventually unlock everything.
Now, most video games just let you pay for it. Some also use two different in-game currencies; one that you can buy with real-world money, and another that you can earn in-game. As you can expect, all the cooler options are available for purchase using the former.
For instance, Street Fighter V released many new characters throughout several seasons. You could buy each for a price, or get a new season pass each year to unlock up to six characters. Also, since each character was a surprise reveal, those who bought the season pass didn’t know what they were going to get.
6. Limited Use Items
Another common example of microtransactions in video games is limited-use items. Some games offer a few rewards as consumables, which you can replenish by paying a small amount. You can earn these limited use items by playing the game (in most cases), but if you don’t want to grind, you could just pay and avoid the trouble altogether.
7. Pay for Plot Progression
When you buy a game, you expect the full thing. At the very least, you’d expect to play all the way to the end. But, there are some games that even hold the plot ransom, forcing you to cough up more money to get the true ending.
It’s hard to imagine the rationale that developers or publishers come up with to justify such things, but it happens. Asura’s Wrath, a semi-popular game published by Capcom, didn’t offer the true ending at the end of the game. Instead, gamers had to pay an additional amount to purchase extra episodes that eventually completed the story. It’s one of the most egregious examples of publishers trying to extort money from gamers.
Microtransactions Are Changing
Despite the fact that microtransactions aren’t going anywhere, they are changing. Countries are now taking action against loot boxes, with Belgium banning the infamous Ultimate Team card packs in FIFA. Many games also do microtransactions and DLC right, such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Other, more popular titles, don’t include microtransactions at all, instead offering standalone DLCs that are well worth the money. Some games also reward you with additional loot or unlockables if you replay the game on a different setting, such as hard mode.
If you want the best gaming experience, should you be opting for the hardest difficutly setting? Perhaps you should…
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