Does Anybody Really Like Microtransactions?

The next generation of games consoles seems to be forcing more and more microtransactions upon us. Is this what gamers really want?

Article by Pete Davison, .

"Microtransactions, subscriptions and other biz models will be the next generation of games," tweeted Avalanche Studios' creative director Christofer Sundberg last week. "It is that simple."

Is it, though? That's somewhat debatable. While it's been abundantly clear for a while now that developers and publishers (emphasis on the latter) are more than delighted to start continually charging players for additional game content -- even when the game costs $60 in the first place -- it's also been abundantly clear for a while that a lot of people don't like this way of doing business.

And yet, it seems, we're still stuck with them.

That's NZ$125 rather that USD, before you spit out your drink. Actually, no, that's still ridiculous. Spit away.

Recently, it's emerged that mobile kart racer and completely unnecessary Angry Birds spinoff Angry Birds Go would feature not only an energy system -- one of the worst things ever to happen to gaming, as so eloquently argued by Simon Parkin -- but also an array of microtransactions to provide yourself with a game-breaking advantage. The worst of these by far is a car that costs $100 by itself, but you can also pay up for in-game currency to effectively allow you to use in-game powerups indefinitely, thereby removing pretty much any semblance of competition or challenge from the game.

Separately, Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios have been drawing criticism for the presence of microtransactions in Forza Motorsport 5 on Xbox One, allowing players to spend considerable amounts of real-world money on "tokens," used to purchase cars without spending credits earned through gameplay. The game has been particularly heavily criticized for the fact it has changed one of the fundamental aspects of the series' reward structure -- giving players free cars as rewards for completing races and other events -- in favor of a free-to-play-style "grind or pay up" mechanic, and users on NeoGAF have calculated it would cost you somewhere in the region of $1,500-3,000 to buy all the game's cars using the token system, depending on what quantities you buy the virtual currency in.

The teams behind these games claim to be listening to criticisms -- Rovio told our sister site Eurogamer that it would "tweak" the game after it had been heavily criticized for its microtransactions, and Turn 10's Dan Greenawalt told Shacknews that the developer is "monitoring feedback" regarding the in-game economy, and noted that the team would be able to adjust it on the fly. Neither Rovio nor Greenawalt gave convincing explanations as to what changes they were going to make, nor a convincing justification as to why they are in the game in the first place -- though Turn 10's Brian Ekberg did at least attempt to justify the high token cost of some cars by explaining that the team was trying to make the higher-end cars more rare by making them harder to purchase using tokens. But if that's the case, why offer them for sale through real money transactions at all?

Forza's microtransactions smack of arrogance more than confidence.

Speaking with Kotaku, Microsoft Studios' Phil Spencer noted that the company was "still learning" when it comes to microtransactions.

"It's easy to say something like, 'I'll never allow somebody to buy the win of the game, I won't let them buy victory,' but that's kind of a trite answer," he said. "I'd say, 'yeah, I guess, I have that line, that [we wouldn't have] 'pay five bucks and get 1,000 achievements,' or something stupid like that.' I'm always pushing against that. But, in reality, that's not what the gamers are looking for. They're usually looking for customization and their gameplay style opening up."

Spencer has a point; games where microtransactions are not only tolerated but embraced wholeheartedly include experiences such as Dota 2, League of Legends and Team Fortress 2, where the things you pay for don't impact the gameplay and instead allow you to express yourself through cosmetic items -- or simply "tip" the developer if you're enjoying their game.

EVE Online developer CCP Games has taken this one step further by allowing players to donate "PLEX" to the relief efforts for Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillipines. PLEX is an item sold for real money that effectively acts as a player's subscription fee to the game; the twist is that it's an item that can be traded in-game for in-game currency, too -- or, in this case, donated to a good cause. In other words, if you're a skilled EVE player who makes a lot of virtual money, you can effectively pay for your game time entirely using in-game currency.

Angry Birds Go and Forza Motorsport are different, though; their microtransactions negatively impact gameplay by gating off content if you don't pay, and unbalancing the game if you do. They're far from the only games to adopt these pricing models, either. Mobile and social gaming can be pointed at as the main culprit in this instance, where a lot of more casual players -- usually those who have come to gaming through mobile rather than those who have grown up with a controller in their hand -- are unwilling to even consider downloading a paid app, but will cheerfully drop up to $100 at a time on consumable in-game items. It seems that as the next generation arises, Microsoft in particular is looking hungrily at the potential additional revenue it can drum up through in-game microtransactions such as those in Forza and Ryse -- and mobile games will continue to get more and more unreasonable.

Is this really the direction we want gaming to continue in? I know I certainly don't.

I put the question in the headline to you, readers; does anybody really like microtransactions?

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Comments 17

  • Avatar for busboy33 #1 busboy33 4 years ago
    "does anybody really like microtransactions?"

    Depends on the circumstances. Ascend: Hand of Kul is microtransaction based, but as a result I got a completely free game. Were it a regular pay game, I almost certainly would have overlooked it, but since I got to play it for free I've enjoyed the heck out of it (and haven't spent a dime).

    I do think "pay to win" is abhorrent, at least in multiplayer. If you decide to "cheat" your way thru a game in single-player, I'm not sure how that impacts me in any way, whereas doing it in a multiplayer component of a game DOES impact my value for my game purchase. On the other hand, I feel the same way about glitch leveling in multiplayer games too -- knock yourself in SP, but keep that out of the multiplayer part (or at least segregate it).

    I don't have a problem with the car tokens in FM5. You don't want to race for hours to get a monster car, fine. Buying a Lambo does not mean you can USE a Lambo, and Forza has always had noobs that bring a 1,200 hp overtuned abomination to a race that are shocked they can't keep the damn thing on the track. It doesn't "break" the game, or interfere with my enjoyment (in fact, there are few joys more visceral than smoking a super-car in a Civic. Go back to driving school, ya twit!). The way its implemented in Angry Birds Go sounds like a gamebreaker, and as a result I ain't gonna buy that game. Buying an overpowered gun in a FPS would be a gamebreaker, but as you said buying a skin that would otherwise take hours of gameplay to earn is benign.

    in singleplayer though, how is this different than using a cheat code? If I don't want to play for hours to get to the next map and cheat my way thru, that's my call. Some games I enjoy so much I want to wring every second of playtime out of them, others I just want to finish.

    Like I said at the beginning, its not the microtransactions themselves that are the problem -- its game design. They can be innocuous (like skins or unlocking different cars), they can be helpful (like getting a free to play game in front of a wider audience that might end up enjoying it), or they can be game-ruining (like Angry Birds Go). As with any game-design issue, if its poorly implemented, then don't play that game.
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  • Avatar for Rory-Taylor #2 Rory-Taylor 4 years ago
    I can't really speak to Forza, since I don't have an Xbox One, but I typically don't mind allowing players to unlock things with microtransactions, as long as those things are also available through normal play. And I stress NORMAL. You shouldn't have to grind races for hours to earn a cool car.

    I guess the easiest way to express how I feel is that my tolerance for microtransactions is inversely proportional to the upfront cost. A F2P game can definitely get away with more because its reasonable to expect a company to recoup some of it's money and...*gasp*, turn a profit on a F2P game.

    If publishers of full priced games feel like they have to be egregious with their microtransactions to make the numbers work, well that doesn't bode well for the future.
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  • Avatar for GospelX #3 GospelX 4 years ago
    In general, I do not care for MicroTransactions. If I've already paid for a game, the full content should be available to me. Extra levels, items, and characters should be in the game already, not items that ding me for $2 to $5 dollars each. I shouldn't be receiving an incomplete game.

    But I let it go when it comes to cosmetic changes. If you want to pay for a new outfit for your character, have at it! It's not for me, but at least I don't feel like I'm being robbed of something linked to actual gameplay.

    I also don't mind them for free-to-play games. Companies have to make their money somehow. It works so long as it does not unbalance the game. The only game I've experienced like this, and I suppose it was only free-to-play for a short time, was with the Lord of the Rings MOBA. If the game isn't offering a character you seriously want to be, there's nothing wrong with being offered the character for a few bucks. The characters are fairly well balanced and exhibit similar abilities across the board, so there's no harm in a character who seems to be a slight remix of others.
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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #4 Daikaiju 4 years ago
    Yeah... No. Every time I play a game and it throws a microtransaction at me, I get a sinking feeling. I'd rather pay full price up front and be done with it.
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  • Avatar for Guy-Guy #5 Guy-Guy 4 years ago
    In regards to "anybody" the answer is a yes, although exactly what type of gamer that is I don't really know.
    When I was working overnight this guy I worked with had put more than $1000 into Farmville. For him, who didn't really play games up until social-media and as a way to interact with people, the idea of whether microtransactions are "reasonable" or not never crossed his mind. Farmville was just a fun game to play that he wasn't growing tired with, and used Microtransactions as a way to benefit his own gameplay as well as keep himself invested.

    ...but that's social gaming, and that's also a very simple game that doesn't have an entry cost. In regards to anything that comes at a full retail price--- eww. This is what DLC has been used for, but DLC always applied the aspect of additioning to the game, and not locking out what is already there behind an additional-cost barrier.
    As for this whole "Microtransactions are available, but they aren't required" shtick, I think that's pretty misleading. Sometimes that really is the case, sure, but for the most part what we see is obtuse game-design that makes game progress slower, focused on tokens or in-game currency that, surprise surprise, is allowed only at a trickle of a pace in-game, but can be plentifully bought.

    It can stay on mobile and social, because the model works there for those who like the simple games that have infinite playability a'la Farmville or Endless runners--- but if I'm paying any sort of entry cost than I expect a full game, and if I see even a trace of microtransaction I ultimately forget about the game and move on.
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  • Avatar for abuele #6 abuele 4 years ago
    Microtransactions over skill, that is the game today.
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  • Avatar for MissDeviling #7 MissDeviling 4 years ago
    I've always hated microtransactions. My family and I are not made of money, so when gaming is already an expensive hobby, we have to be careful on how we spend it. DLC is almost never worth the price compared to the main game, and the quality of the content in DLC is often questionable.

    I would really prefer if game companies give us the FULL package in a game, and opt to release actual sequels, not tiny transactions that "enhance" gameplay or whatever. Give us the whole game with options, and I'll gladly pay full price for it. When you're nickel and diming us like this, it just screams apathy towards consumers. I do not see gaming as a service, except for MMOs which are constantly updated and require a subscription.

    As for the content provided in DLC, I'd love it if developers would provide non-in-game content, such as DLC for fully orchestrated soundtracks or other digital goods. I would prefer DLC as merchandise, rather than part of the in-game experience. Why would you hurt the consumer by having them purchase additional in-game content that could have been an option included in-game? If it's important enough that the developer MUST include it somehow, release an expansion or sequel. I buy games as full products, not as a gateway for developers to strip games to their bare minimum in order to find methods to milk me.
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  • Avatar for strongbadsings #8 strongbadsings 4 years ago
    If this is the "next generation" that the Xbox One and PS4 is bringing us, I'll stick with my "last generation" Wii U...
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  • Avatar for busboy33 #9 busboy33 4 years ago
    @MissDeviling : I can't speak to other genres, but most racing games (like Forza5) have the "better" cars gated off until you "earn" them, either by earning in-game credits using "weaker" cars in races or until you reach a certain level. It provides a motivation to keep grinding (beyond jsut getting better at racing). The microtransactions aren't getting you something you couldn't have otherwise -- its just a shortcut.

    This isn't a case of "on-disc DLC", where the cars are only available if you pay real-world money. The cars are all in game, and all available for free. Now, if a wildly overpowered supercar was ONLY available via cash payment, then that would be a different situation.
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  • Avatar for weevilo #10 weevilo 4 years ago
    The only game with a F2P model that people I trust have ever commended instead of either tolerated or despised has come from the Path of Exile team. Might make for a good article to highlight how F2P can be done right, by fostering a community that wants to support the developer by buying inconsequential things that don't interfere with game flow or design. No large studio should fit that bill - F2P quickly becomes a cynical cash grab in these cases, and most of these games are just as exploitative as the publisher thinks they can get away with without alienating a sufficiently large portion of their players.
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  • Avatar for feistycheese #11 feistycheese 4 years ago
    Good article. Microtransactions in FTP games if implemented correctly aren't an issue for me. The problem is when the developer alters the game mechanics and introduces grinding to nudge you towards the path of least resistance, the path of the $. It becomes a major issue when they whack a $60 price tag on it and then still expect you to fork out more money for half the content that should have been there in the first place.

    It would help if games journalists and the major gaming sites started marking them down for this, instead of giving the games like forza automatic 8 and 9's. If you took a stand from the front and reduced their metacritic score, amd we as buyers took a stand and stopped buying microtransaction riddled games, the devs/publishers would change their ways as quick as a flash.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #12 pjedavison 4 years ago
    @weevilo Funny you mention Path of Exile -- I've just discovered it recently and am planning on writing something about it very soon.
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  • Avatar for docexe #13 docexe 4 years ago
    Overall, I would say that nobody truly likes micro-transactions, we just tolerate them when they are innocuous enough.

    I don’t mind acquiring DLC when it works as an expansion (i.e., after finishing the game, the developers went and created new content that was not part of the original game and adds a few additional hours of gameplay, but is not large enough to be considered a sequel, think Harley Quinn Revenge for Arkham City, Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption or Festival of Blood for Infamous 2) or micro-transactions in F2P games when they act as cosmetic add-ons that don’t interfere with the gameplay or its balance (think additional costumes, skins or whatever).

    The problem is when DLC or micro-transactions start to affect the game design, with annoying time gates, spikes of difficulty, or unbalanced “pay-to-win” options, all to force the player into paying. Unfortunately, for some developers and publishers, abusing those kind of things is incredibly easy, and honestly, is troubling to see companies like Microsoft and EA starting to implement micro-transactions in games that are not even F2P.

    Now, in regards to next gen gaming and for the sake of being fair, some of the issues and abuses of micro-transactions are not exactly new, they were just applied back then on a different context. To be honest, it bothers me to a degree how people put their “rose tinted glasses”, so to speak, when it comes to remembering the “good old days when we paid once and upfront for every game”. The truth of the matter is that unbalanced game design and being forced to “pay so the computer doesn’t screw you” were already a thing in many arcade games back in the 80’s and 90’s. Things just got to a more pernicious degree in the new millennium due to the internet becoming ubiquitous.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #14 Mega_Matt 4 years ago
  • Avatar for donmilliken #15 donmilliken 4 years ago
    I'm okay with microtransactions in games that are otherwise free to play and even then, only if they're for cosmetic items that don't effect gameplay. You get the chance to show a little appreciation to the developers of the free game you're enjoying and you get a little trinket to show off your appreciation to others in-game.

    That said, hey have no place in $60 retail titles. While Forza and Ryse aren't the first retail console titles to feature microtransactions, it does appear that Microsoft are positioning themselves as the first major publisher to really embrace them as a business practice. Can't say I'm shocked. I really hope the tactic fails miserably, because this needs to go away.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #16 metalangel 4 years ago
    PLEX isn't a microtransaction, it's good for one month's subscription and is worth about $20.
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #17 DiscordInc 4 years ago
    I'm okay with the concept of microtransactions as another tool in a game developer's toolbox. The problem is it looks like developers are implementing to offset the costs of HD development. I suspect this will become more an more common as developers struggle to turn a profit with big budget games.
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