Micro-transactions: The Real Cost of Video Games

The video games industry has seen a huge rise in the number of games containing micro-transaction in the last 10 years, so much so that they are starting to become a norm. Although, what effect are they having on the industry? Are they being used to heighten the gaming experience or are they a cash grab to ring out as much money from the player as possible?

Micro-transaction are an in-game option where the player can purchase in-game items such as loot boxes, player skins, in game currency etc. for real world currency. They are predominantly popular in free-to-play games but have made their way in recent years over to larger AAA games. Depending on the items or the game in question these purchases can range from a few pence to hundreds of pounds.

There have been many problems with Micro-transactions through the years, however the biggest problem I have with micro-transactions is the cost of some of them. I have played games where prices for micro-transactions have gone into the hundreds of pounds (cost that high kind of defeats the point of the ‘micro’ part of micro-transactions). I get that there will be people out there to whom a few hundred pounds is pocket change but to the rest of us mere mortals £100 is a significant amount of money and not an amount I would spend on purchasing a whole game let along items within a game. This is especially a problem when you consider that there are micro-transactions of this value in games that are also aimed at kids. There have been so many horror stories about children taking thousands from their parents accounts when playing games such as FIFA or GTA. In fact I personally know of someone who spent nearly £200 of their parents money in micro-transactions on GTA Online not knowing that they were spending real money.

Another major problem I have with them is the pressure some players are under to make micro-transactions. The 2 greatest pressures are gameplay pressures and social pressures. Gameplay pressure can be found a lot in pay-to-win games where players who pay have an advantage over those who don’t which leads to paying players getting better rewards which gives them more of an advantage with the cycle growing exponentially the longer the game is played leading to a larger gap between paying and non-paying players. I found this first hand when I played FIFA Ultimate Team in FIFA 18. It got to the point where no matter how much I played I couldn’t improve my team because I couldn’t beat other teams who had world class players in order to gain the rewards that included the packs that these world class players were in. The only way it seemed was to pay for the packs directly, the pack with the greatest odds of me getting the best players in the game cost roughly about £70 and after doing some research I saw that these packs only had a 2.5% chance of getting the best cards. You’d need 20 packs to have a 50% chance of getting a world class card, which would cost you £1400. It was because I was stuck in progressing my team & refusing to pay for any of the packs that the game lost all interest for me and I quit playing soon after. I also never bought a FIFA game since nor have I had the desire to. Social pressure comes from other players influencing the player to make purchases. As in games such as Fortnite players using default or free skins are usually labelled as being financially poor or bad at the game. These social pressures play on peoples insecurities and will cause people to make purchases they might not particularly want to or can’t afford in order to fit in.

As I stated in my previous posts I see why developers are including micro transactions in video games. The idea that it allows those people who can afford to pay more for video games can in a way subsidise the price for those who aren’t as well off. Sadly however, this doesn’t seem to be the case. A survey carried out by Parent Zone on 1001 children in the U.K. between the ages of 10-16 found that 76% of them agreed that online games try and make players spend as much money as possible. Personally I think a few developers rip off their players because they can get away with it. Not that I am painting all developers with the same brush, there are some examples of how micro-transactions can be implemented correctly but sadly they get overshadowed by the numbers of occasions that they are used unfairly. Fallout Shelter is one of my prime examples of good use of micro-transactions, players can buy lunchboxes which contain extra game items such as weapons, armour and characters. Lunchboxes can also be gained by grinding in-game too. This means that although micro-transactions are available the game is still totally playable without needing to purchase them, they become more a tool of convenience than a necessary part of the game.

Whether you love them or hate them, I don’t think micro-transactions are going anyway any time soon. They are too much of a cash cow, in fact in 2016 EA recorded over $1.3billion in revenue from micro-transactions across their entire catalogue that year. These levels of revenue also means that developers would rather prolong the life of existing games that is making money than take a risk on new IP’s that could potentially make a loss financially. This can be seen in GTAV, despite being 7 years since it’s initial release on the 360 and PS3, the game (especially GTAOnline) continues to generate massive revenues, according to Tweak Town in 2019 GTAOnline generated $595million in revenue through digital in-game content alone. This will only increase with the release of the game on the PS5 & Xbox Series S/X later in the year. Looking at it this way you can see why they are not putting a rush on GTA6. I just hope that the industry doesn’t start to stagnate because of this. Although looking back at the games I’ve reviewed from this year I don’t think it’s going to be too far off.

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