The word, micro-transaction, has become a dirty word when you’re talking about anything in the gaming industry. It is synonymous with developers burning a hole in your pocket, just to catch the nickels and dimes as they fall. But are they really as bad as we make them out to be? What do they mean for games ranging from free to play, to subscription, to triple A? And how much is too much to charge? These are some of the questions we ask ourselves when we see the “in-game stores” in these games.
So to start with, I’ll explain briefly what micro-transactions are and how they affect gamers in all aspects of gaming. A micro-transaction is where a game developer offers you a downloadable piece of content, for a small price. This can be anything from a character costume/gun skin (the most preferable micro-DLC) to a gun that gives you a significant advantage over other players in a multiplayer gamemode (the least preferable micro-DLC).
Now, their effect on gaming can vary. Sometimes, it can be acceptable, maybe even mutually beneficial. If a game developer wants to sell you a skin for your gun, for a reasonable price, then you get something out of it and the developer gets a little bit of extra cash to put towards the game you’re playing, for updates and such. But there are a lot of situations where micro-transactions are a way for developers to nickel and dime you and try to squeeze as much money as they can from you.
I’ve heard arguments stating that micro-transactions are a way that developers of triple A, high budget games have adjusted to inflation. Where, instead of moving the price point from £45 ($60) to £55 ($80), they have made it so everyone ends up paying a little extra when they get the game for little items like avatar clothes and customisation items. This argument falls flat when you consider some of the shady business practices that are employed. More recently we’ve had things like the Advanced Supply Drops in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare that charge people an extortionate amount of money for the chance at weapon variants that can mean you have the slight advantage over the enemy.
Micro-transactions are not always a dodgy way of developers profiting after first sale, they also open up avenues for a different approach into the industry entirely. Free to play games are free at the point of use, charging users only if they want to buy the item, and usually it’s just a fraction of what the game is worth. Developers are known to do well with this model as free to play games are some of the most played games on the market, meaning lots of attention is drawn towards the game, resulting in a high number of sales.
Speaking of sales, there are definitely some companies that over-indulge when it comes to how much should be charged for each item. For example, if you wanted to buy the most expensive car in Forza Motorsport 5, you could either play the game for an excruciating amount of hours, all the while never seeing the light of day. Or you could buy credits and buy the car. How much would that cost? Just shy of $150. These are the kind of shady dealings that make people hate developers try to pull this stuff.
Overall, there are definitely up-sides and downsides of micro-transactions. Developers can use them to make games more affordable and it is more cost-effective than raising the initial price point. But there are also shady developers that will do anything to take as much money from you as they can, including selling items that give you an advantage over other players, or items at an extortionate price. Whether you choose to buy micro-DLC or not, make sure you don’t over spend on items that are practically worthless once you are finished with the game.
I know this is a hot topic in the current gaming climate, so I would love to hear your reactions in the comments below. Do you think they are a good idea? Is there a way that developers can pull this business practice off without looking like they’re the bad guys? Leave us your thoughts!