Microtransactions aren’t going away. If anything, they’re becoming more and more frequent, now making the jump from mobile games to retail titles. On the surface, they’re a diabolical practice that serves as nothing more than a money grab. But could they have actual benefits? Let’s look at some scenarios.
Pro: Free additional content after launch
It’s no secret that it costs time and money to develop a video game. The same is true for developing additional content after that game releases. You have to get the funding from somewhere, so why not obtain it from microtransactions? It’s easy for a developer to go “hey, you like our game and we like making this game. Here’s a vanity item that you can purchase for a couple of bucks. It’s super cool!” This is an item that offers no tangible enhancement but could still add value to your characters. Some might deem it worth the dollar or two for a purchase. Now let’s say that 100,000 people buy it. That’s $200,000 in revenue from that one item alone, money that could be spend to fund additional content that adds to the depth of a game.
Con: It can give people that pay an advantage
Several years ago my friends and I played a game called Exteel. It was a free-to-play online mech shooter that we all miss very dearly. The game revolved around continually purchasing upgrades for your mech that would expire over time. There were two ways to obtain these upgrades: in-game currency earned from matches (for some items, this was an extremely long process) or simply pay for various items (this was not an extremely long process). For those with the money, it was a no-brainer; you’d pay for the really, really good items because you didn’t want to grind out the experience and currency needed.
The problem is that you had an extreme advantage over other players. Sure, skill was still a big factor, but one of the unlockables involved getting close to an enemy and performing a “super.” It was incredibly efficient at finishing off enemies, really annoying to play against, took ages to earn in-game, and seconds to earn with cash. See the problem?
Pro: It can support a game that you play for free
The one question surrounding any free-to-play game is this: how is it going to make money? Some, like Star Wars: The Old Republic, offer various subscription rates that cater to your desired experience. You essentially pay for the game you want to play. Others will utilize microtransactions in order to attempt to make a profit. It’s here that the microtransaction devil isn’t so frowned upon; you’re not paying for the game, so the idea of paying money as you play isn’t as looked down on as it otherwise would be.
Con: It’s not popular with gamers at all
There’s not really much else to say. If you’re paying for a game, the last thing you want to do is pay more money to access more content.
Jake was once called GameZone’s worst writer in the comment section of one of his articles. His opinions on microtransactions probably won’t change that opinion. Feel free to tell him how awful he is on Twitter @hop3less.