Over the past few years, an increasing number of full-price video game titles have had micro transactions, real money payments for in-game items, for example in game currency or a weapon skin, in them.
Although somewhat benign, they have started to have a seemingly negative effect on many of the current generation’s Triple-A games as publishers take the practice further and further.
Micro transactions stemmed out of the free-to-play mobile market.
Developers used the free price point to reach a larger market and then used the micro transactions as a way to attempt to get more out of the player than they would have put down for the title in the first place.
This works because even if 90 percent of players don’t pay a cent, someone will make up the difference.
This system continues to get heat for its predatory nature, targeting players prone to addiction. The practice as seeped into the Triple-A space as series such as “Call of Duty” and FIFA started to sell in game packs for real-world money.
There are ways micro transactions can be done right in a priced title.
In the past, Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games used subscriptions to help fund the live team and keep the servers running smoothly, and new MMOs have moved to a free-to-play format with micro transactions to fund further development.
Rainbow Six offers cosmetics and boosts for real-world money so the development team can put out new characters and maps, available to everybody, on a regular basis.
Although some teams do it right, many of the big publishers don’t.
Electronic Arts, Activision and Take Two have been bad in the past with the nature of micro transactions.
On the EA front, games like “Battlefield 1” and the FIFA series sell packs of random goods, meaning there is no guarantee that you will get what you want.
Plus, in some of these games, the packs affect online play (eg. how good your team is in FIFA Ultimate Team) giving the player who spent money an advantage, essentially making the game pay-to-win.
Activision has taken this a step further in two ways.
In this year’s “Call of Duty,” players can buy loot packs that have the potential to give the player a variant of a weapon that is vastly better than the default version of the same weapon, creating another pay-to-win environment.
The players who pay extra get ahead, and the ones who don’t get left in the dust.
With Activision’s other Triple-A shooter, “Destiny,” the micro transactions may be slightly more balanced from a gameplay perspective, but the narrative around them is disingenuous.
When micro transactions were announced for Destiny, the idea was that they would fund development of small events to add consistent content to the game.
The reality is far from that.
Over the first year after micro transactions were introduced, the game only saw a few events that barely added anything in terms of new content with some of the events themselves having micro transactions tied to them with this most recent event being the worst offender. It seems as if micro transactions were added to fund the development of more ways to get people to buy micro transactions.
Take Two and Rockstar Games took a different approach with “Grand Theft Auto Online,” creating an environment where the content they add to the game is technically free, but the grind to get enough ingame currency for all the new stuff is so great that many players opt to pay real money for the new content.
The sad part is that this all works.
These companies have been making vast amounts of money while actively making their games worse.
The question is, when will micro transactions go far enough that consumers will fight back, because right now the publishers are winning big time.