Imagine buying a game for $60 (or the full price equivalent of a new AAA title) only to find out that it is littered with microtransactions ripped straight from the wallet gouging models of free-to-play games. Many recent major game releases over the past few weeks have these “mini-DLCs” to varying levels of terribleness. From NBA 2K18 to Shadow of War, will we ever be free from the grip of corporate greed?
Below I have presented what I feel are three ways to tackle microtransactions in AAA gaming. These are not necessarily the only or best solutions, just three that I feel to be reasonable and viable.
- No Microtransactions
Probably the easiest solution is to simply remove microtransactions from paid titles. I don’t believe that they should be removed from free-to-play games as that will be taking away from their main source of income. And truth be told, if a free-to-play game is well-made and balanced fairly, I don’t mind throwing in $10-20 to support the developers. That’s totally fine in my book, especially if the developers are doing a great job.
But there is a glaring issue with removing microtransactions. Consider how much revenue is gained through microtransactions. I was able to find some rough data for Riot Games, developers of League of Legends. They earned over $1.6 billion USD in 2015 alone. It should be noted that League of Legends is a free-to-play game, so most of that revenue came from microtransactions. An astounding figure, especially when you consider that, roughly, only 5-20% of the community engages in such spending.
So what, you may be wondering? League of Legends is free-to-play, that’s why they made so much money from microtransactions. While true, it is clear that companies like EA and Warner Bros., who publish full priced $60 USD games, are salivating at the prospects of extra profits. These publishers wouldn’t bother with ruining their brand image by implementing microtransactions, if it wasn’t bringing in the money. In other words, these publishers are not going to give up without a fight.
They will find other ways to make us pay, whether it be raising the base prices of video games, or making more paid DLC that lacks substantial content to make a quick buck. I can’t imagine anyone jumping up in excitement at the prospect of either result. In a way, the presence of microtransactions is allowing companies to still charge $60 USD for games, and provide players with free DLC.
- Make microtransactions “cosmetic” only
Okay, so getting rid of microtransactions, while the easiest solution, brings about its own share of problems. The next solution is to accept that microtransactions are a part of the gaming industry and to find ways to limit their impact.
A major issue with microtransactions and virtual currency is how they can create pay-to-win models. Essentially, people with more money to burn are able to get better items and characters in-game to give themselves an advantage over players who don’t spend any money. This is prominent in sports games which feature “Ultimate Teams”. Grinding for points to buy more players takes a huge amount of time, making it really tempting to spend money to “earn” virtual currency. The more money you spend, the more likely you are to get better players.
Obviously, this is a major advantage for people who have the money. Furthermore, a lot of people that play the annual FIFA or NBA 2K don’t play too many other games. Leaving them with more money to spend on virtual currency to beef up their “Ultimate Team”.
This issue is arguably worse in free-to-play games which often promote pay-to-win models, but these are slowly creeping their way into AAA titles. Some highlights include NBA 2K18, which had a terrible microtransaction model, and the upcoming Star War Battlefront 2, which has received major backlash for its loot boxes.
Naturally, a way to offset this problem is to make all types of loot boxes and in-game currency only valuable for cosmetic purposes. In Overwatch, a game that gets flak for starting the loot box trend (although it was around before) lets players buy skins for characters. The skins don’t give any advantages, they are purely cosmetic. They just look cool. While this probably won’t please everyone (what will?), at the very least we can rest easy knowing that buying in-game currency doesn’t give anyone an advantage during gameplay.
This way, the people who hate microtransactions can ignore them as they don’t affect gameplay, while others who wish to support the developers beyond the $60 they paid, can do so while also receiving some cosmetic bonuses.
- Be patient and let the market sort itself out
This final section may feel like a bit of a cop out. What I mean by this statement, is to let companies and consumers act how they please for a few more years. Publishers will try to push the boundaries of what they can get away with, until we reach the point where people will just stop buying microtransactions. As rich as someone is, they don’t have an infinite amount of cash to drop on a single game, so they’ll just stop purchasing them. That will be the time when publishers will realise that they need to tone down their business practices and surrender to consumer demand.
Ultimately, both consumers and businesses will reach a compromise to ensure that they both parties are satisfied. When this will happen, I have no clue. The cash cow that is microtransactions shows no signs of running out of milk. Publishers are still testing the waters, trying to see how much they can get away with before the market turns against them. I believe it will take a few more years at least for the microtransaction business model to reach some level of stability.
For now, all we can hope to do is let our voices be heard as much as possible. We should take every open beta, every game release to let publishers know what we think of their business models. Deep down, the executives in suits know that their entire wealth is founded on meeting consumer demands. They just need a small reminder every now and then.
Have a different view or solution to microtransactions? Leave a comment below to let us know!