Everyone and their grandmothers hate microtranscations. Why, because nobody wants to pay for extra cheese when you have already paid for the burger. My friend over at AsidCast wrote and excellent post on why he is so skeptic about microtransactions taking over the world. While he did manage to put forward everything that is wrong about microtransactions, I believe there is more to this business model than just Evil corporations doing evil things. So I decided to do some digging and find out what this Microtransaction is all about.
Advisory: The essence of this article is the various discussions I have had with gamers, non-gamers, employees of the gaming industry and college going kids.
Microtransaction Vs. DLC
Firstly I think Microtransaction suffers from a bad reputation because they are inherently clubbed together with its much more hated distant cousin; THE DLC (Downloadable Content). While they are very similar (you have to pay for them, after you have bought the original game), they are 2 very different models. Microtransactions are built as part of the game’s revenue model like a power up that you can only buy and not earn in the game, its supposed to generate money even in the game’s original form. While DLCs are supposed to extend the game’s life cycle; like a brand new level that you can play once you have bought the DLC.
A bad game is a bad game irrespective of the model, genre, and production values.
Microtransaction are also categorically cheaper than DLCs. Further microtransactions are in no way supposed to take away from the core gaming experience. They should not give someone any undue advantage in multiplayer; and in single player should not hold off any part of the experience of the original game.
With that definition in mind let’s tackle this business model shall we?
The Culture of Microtransaction
Buying a problem book, and want detailed solution explained by the best in the world, you need to dish out extra cash. Buying a bike and need to install some custom paintjob, same thing. Both scenarios you bought and paid in full for the object that you are going to use, and yet in both cases you paid extra to modify that experience. In both examples, the core experience would have been the same, the problems would have been equally difficult and the bike would have ridden exactly the same way. And yet when you apply the same principle to gaming, you have people up in arms about it. Why? because its not the way the gaming industry has worked. Well the gaming industry never had VR before, and yet here we are.
Culture Vs. Economics
I think the main problem in understanding microtransactions is the way we approach it. For a lot of people, this is a culture problem, where developers are asking for more money even after they have sold a game at full price. However, this is also an economics problem, the dynamics of which are conveniently ignored or belittled too often.
With the slow dissipation of the myth that all gamers are violent sociopath, there will be some more fees you would have to pay.
Games are no longer made in garages as a science or a holiday project. They are not limited to 2 coders and 1 artist. There are bigger teams, and bigger budgets, its the livelihood of hundreds if not thousands of employees and the attention span for a title is now limited to a few days at best. Its no longer enough to release a game and hope it sells well. Its necessary that an Eco-system is created where the game generates regular revenue, instead of just 1 time pay offs. This model is even more crucial for F2P (free to play) games where the game has a limited window to catch your attention and hope that you will like it enough to buy something in it. Microtransactions are not filling corporate coffers, they are also supporting the devs behind the game.
The 60$ hypothesis
The impact of inflation upon video games have been extensively documented. Video games have maintained their standard retail price of 60$ for more than 2 decades. Buying a video game has never been cheaper, while making a game has never been more expensive. Everything, I mean everything is getting expensive, but video games; and the standard retail price is so embedded into our minds that the idea of a game around 80$ in price is totally unacceptable to us. If the Destiny Year 1 edition had been repackaged as GOTY edition and sold at 60$ a pop, I am sure the backlash would have been much less.
I have a simple question, why does 1 artist sell his painting at 100$ while the other at 10$. Ok that was Rhetorical. Its because the artist, decided the price which best suits his work. Its upto the crowd to reject that price and not buy it (vote with your wallet), but its the artist who decided what the price is. For devs who have made a game which is probably free, I think he deserves the right to put price labels on hats, and skins and guns and lunch boxes.
Time is money
I have a 9-6 job, add the 1-2 hour each day for commuting; and you have 11 hours each day. I don’t have the kind of time I had 4 years back when I was in college. I still want to play Final Fantasy, but I want to spend far less time grinding. For me XP boosts, or even power boosts are god sent since I do have more disposable income than your average gamer. In today’s time where people are vocal about options which allow them to skip a difficult boss fight, microtransactions are a valid alternative. Why not pay a dev, if you are not able to overcome an obstacle which he originally designed.
Microtransaction = Bad Games
This is the biggest counter-argument that I run into every time I am discussing microtransactions. People will pull out their phone and show me a list of crappy games which have microtransactions built into them. In return, I just open Steam, and show them crappy games which are free, or as good as free. The truth is: a bad game is a bad game irrespective of the model, genre, and production values. Look at Hearthstone, its an excellent example of microtransactions done right. LOL, DOTA2, WOW all do microtransactions and do not interfere with the core game play experience. Want more? Guacameele, Minecraft, every on of these games support microtransactions and have done a great job of it.
Its like I would label the RTS genre a failure by listing down all the AOE clones that came out in the 90s. Just like any other business model, microtransactions are finding their way until they become more acceptable or are replaced by something more acceptable. Similarly, it does not mean that if an old model is still reaping rewards, then the new one is redundant, isn’t evolution a part of human nature.
The gaming industry is booming. Even Witcher 3 which is heralded as an example of an old-school success story had a marketing budget of 3 Mil. We are no longer the underground scowled community of hooded individuals bent over our computers. We are main stream now, and that comes with some growing pains, there will be bigger conferences, extravagant motion pictures, expensive mid night launches and better games. With the slow dissipation of the myth that all gamers are violent sociopath, there will be some more fees you would have to pay. Is that too much of a trade off.
Its the nature of the internet, its nature itself.
Ok maybe that last line was a little too much. But really, are microtransactions too different from all the coins you put into the arcade machine for your next continue. Think about it, and let me know in the comments.