Micro transactions: What Are They? And Are They Really Needed In Games?
If you haven’t already seen them slotted into some your favourite games, then you’ve probably heard about them. Micro-transactions are becoming more and more popular with game developers as a secondary source of income. They aren’t much of an issue when they are added to free to play games such as Neverwinter, but what about when these transactions end up appearing in full priced games? Games like Call of Duty, Destiny, or Minecraft; 3 big titles that have now all included them in-game.
Love them or hate them, it looks like they are here to stay, but are they a good idea or just a money grabbing scam? Originally the idea was created for free to play games on PC, and from there they transitioned seamlessly over to the App market into games like Candy Crush Saga; everyone remembers getting stuck on a level and getting so frustrated you eventually pay to move on. They are designed as a way for developers to gain a source of income from their free to play games. Whether you’re a smaller game studio, a group of friends making Apps, or even a single person in the basement making your first game, if you don’t have the money to produce the game then this is the way to get around that issue, and get something out there.
With this new source of cash, developers are able to extend the game, add DLC, and even create a whole new game without the need to charge every user a stand-alone price for the original game. It was, and is, a better option than charging a retail price for a game that, at the early stages, may not be a proven success. This basic idea has now progressed onto ideas like Steam’s Green light, Kick-starter and Xbox’s Game Preview Program. These are places where you can donate money towards a game to help with its development, or you have the option to purchase an early version of the game for a reduced price. This this helps the developers improve the game ready for a retail release.
Micro-transactions have always had a bit of bad press surrounding the use of them in game; even back in the early days on PC, it quickly became apparent that there were 2 distinct trends appearing in how these items worked:
Pay to Play and Pay to Win.
Pay to play was the simplest kind of paid payment available. Developers gave you options of different colour clothes, different avatars or skins, maybe even different looking weapons or vehicles. All of these however have the same stats as standard items, they just looked so much cooler. These were a way for the player to make his/her gaming experience different from Steve next door, but not to change the basic aspects of the game. So what if your hat’s green and his is blue, who cares because you’re still better at the game than he is….
Then however Pay to Win started to creep into a few games, this is unfortunately exactly as its sounds, you have the ablity to buy items that are more powerful than normal, buy the most powerful weapons, level up more quickly just by paying for it, the list went on. These are the worst kind of Micro-transactions ever created. You’ve spent the last 3 months grinding away at the game, you’ve finally gotten to the level your on, with all your cool gadgets and super powerful weapons. Then Steve next door buys the game and within one week he is stronger than you, a higher level and has the sword you still haven’t been able to get all because he paid for it! Luckily though this model has been given so much bad press that companies generally don’t wish to use this for fear of the backlash from gamers and media combined, and quite rightly so. All the skill and fun is taken from the game. You end up with a very un-level playing field where the strongest players ultimately have the most money in real life.
So if that’s what they are and where they came from, why are they popping up in so many games? But more importantly how come they are appearing in more and more full priced games?
Well as far as I can see it boils down to two distinct reasons. Developers no longer want to be stuck with a static game, at some point the fans will begin to leave when they have seen and done everything they can do, and even the use of ‘multiplayer modes’ isn’t always enough to keep people coming back for more. Nothing lasts forever however, and without continually adding costly DLC to a game, costly for developers to create and for the players to buy, how can you keep people coming back for more? Simply put, let them change things. On PC there is the ability to ‘Mod’ games, where people alter the game to be whatever they want, no matter how absurd, adding all sorts of weird and wonderful things into the standard game. You only have to look at GTA to see some of the madness the community has created . However on console this modding scene just doesn’t exist yet although it’s possible that it will be something that might appear in the future. So, by giving the players the opportunity to start altering the game, at least cosmetically in the case of micro-transactions, it has the appeal to keep people playing longer than they normally would.
That’s all well and good, but I did say I thought there were 2 reasons, so what do you think could be the other reason?? Easy, it appears to be… money!!! Well what else would it be?
As micro-transactions are small changes within the game purchased at a small price (especially when compared to the cost of DLC, expansions and the Season Passes), it makes it very easy for the developers to make money. It doesn’t cost much to create these little changes, but when thousands of people are buying them it all starts to add up. Soon, it’s costing less to make than the money coming in. And that’s not even the biggest draw for the developers, the biggest gain is the fact this money keeps coming in even when the sales of the original game have pretty much stopped; people can be buying these things years down the line. That’s a great money maker in anyone’s books!
Some games do all of this very well, others appear to have no clue what they are doing. Each developer has a different idea of what and how a micro-transaction should be used:
Minecraft, for example, is a perfect example of a game doing micro-transactions right. They have given users the ability to buy different skins and texture packs etc. These are introductions that will keep the game going on and on, just as it has on PC (although they are free to download on PC). It’s these small additions that make that game more fun to play with friends, never knowing what your mates will look like next time you join them. When you purchase a new skin you don’t automatically think about the fact its an extra bit of cash the game’s taking from you, you’re usually quite happy to spend the cash to end up looking like a squid, or a dog or even your favorite YouTuber. And to be honest that’s how I feel it should be: a little bit extra to help you enjoy the game.
Call of Duty has also started to dabble with this, allowing users the ability to buy custom camos for their guns, custom emblems even custom characters. All these things are purely cosmetic in nature, but something that adds a little change to the game. Does COD need the ability to purchase extra items? I don’t think it does; the franchise hasn’t required them before so why now? Possibly because a lot of the hardcore fans aren’t as happy with these new games as they have been with previous Call of Duty titles, and as such has this had an effect on sales and made them dip slightly? Possibly, or maybe they are just jumping on the band wagon and adding them in game as every one else is doing it. Either way I don’t think adding them in a game like this makes it a better game. It is true that people enjoy being able to alter the look of their load outs, but Call of Duty is a full priced game coming pre-set with future chargeable DLC and even a chargeable season pass. Add all of this money together along with the price of the micro-transactions and it doesn’t become second nature to just go ahead and buy them, you actually stop and think ‘do i really need this?’ before purchasing. Yeah – you end up buying it anyways, but you had a little think first didn’t you?!
Then there’s Destiny and the recent announcement that there will be no more DLC or expansions and only micro-transactions from now on… Dear god why? At first glance it seems like a great idea, remove the expensive DLC and only use smaller payments to allow the player the opportunity to only purchase what they want. But stand back and look a bit more closely, and you will see a big issue. If there was a way to not do micro transactions this is it, utilizing pay to play and pay to win at the same time is not a good idea. So far the fans have purchased the game, purchased the DLC, purchased everything Bungie has offered them and then what…. Bungie turns round and tells them we want more, BUT you only need to buy what you want. That’s great news for the new players who doesn’t need to spend a fortune on DLC, but what about the day one fans? The loyal fans who have sunk hundreds of pounds into the game already? If you want to have micro-transactions in your game then go for it, will everyone like it?…no, will everyone buy things?…..no, but don’t add them in after your fans have spent a fortune on the game up to this point. Its like a massive kick in the teeth, or should that be a kick in the sparrow?
*Many other games have added micro-transactions, these were the first 3 in my game pile.
Personally I don’t mind micro-transaction’s in games, either in free to play games or fully priced titles. I have in-fact spent a small fortune purchasing unnecessary items on both PC and Xbox games so my character will look better than my friends. If it’s something that hits my interest button then I will happily buy it. Generally however they are slotted into games and end up being more of a distraction, you know they are there and you might use them, but to be honest they aren’t needed. They are there as a cash cow, to pull in a bit of extra income for the game. And that’s still OK with me, But that doesn’t mean I’m happy when I see them pushed into certain titles!
So do they have a place in gaming? Is this a way for developers to sneak a bit extra money out of the players, or are they in fact a new way to help improve the games we love with a little bit extra bling? Everyone will have their own opinion on this subject and the arguments defiantly wont be going away any time soon. Truth be told the only real answer is that they are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Is that a good thing?
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