When I was a young child, I always invested a large amount of my spare time into playing video games. Mario? Yep. Pokemon? Hell yea. Sonic? You betcha. In fact, my first ever video game was Sonic Riders on the Playstation 2, which I received on my fifth birthday. I’d play it day and night, 24/7, until I completed the game to 100%. It was so fun, but also so time consuming. I couldn’t possibly dream of sinking the same amount of time into a video game now.
Now that I am (arguably) a functioning adult, I have less of said free time, but there is something else that’s even more valuable to me that I don’t currently have in excess:
Cash. Dollars. Racks. Dough. Whatever you want to call it, there just isn’t enough green in my colour spectrum to warrant spending upwards of sixty dollars on a single video game, unless a really good one comes along and manages to pry open my wallet. But what appears to be a really good game may also have some really annoying paywalled-content once you purchase it.
Take Star Wars: Battlefront 2 for example. I’ve never personally played it, but the gameplay is apparently fun from what I’ve heard. What’s not fun, however, is many characters being locked behind a massive gameplay grind. However, there’s an easy alternative to that grind: spend your hard earned money to unlock a playable character! Bear in mind you’ve already spent a full sixty dollars on a video game, and you’re still being forced to invest either your hard earned money, or your valuable spare time.
The audience of this game wasn’t meant to be young kids with enough free time on their hands to easily obtain all of the locked characters. The game was rated Teen by the ESRB for a reason. The developers knew that their game was fun, and they tried to squeeze a bit more money out of the pockets of their dedicated consumers by locking the most recognizable and beloved characters from the franchise behind microtransactions.
This was, understandably, met with massive backlash from the gaming community. A user on reddit posted a thread complaining about spending $80 on the special edition of the game only to find that Darth Vader was locked from being played right from the get-go . The developing company, EA, responded to the post with an excuse so insulting that it has since become the most downvoted comment on reddit by over 2,000%, currently sitting at over 600,000 downvotes at the time of writing.
This was, however, a blatant overcharging of the general public for an already arguably overpriced game. The community had a right to be outraged, because they paid their fair share only to receive a partially complete game. So this begs the question…
What about free to play games with microtransactions?
A prime example of this business strategy is the very popular online MOBA League of Legends. It is entirely free to play, with all of its content being reasonably attainable by the player through realistic hours of gameplay. However, the game is still littered with microtransactions. They achieve this by selling entirely cosmetic items in addition to the game, and it works wonders for them financially.
In fact, Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends, released a standalone skin (a cosmetic alteration) for the character “Cho’Gath” in collaboration with a fan through the “Make-A-Wish Foundation”, with 100% of the proceeds going to charity. In its short duration of availability, it amassed nearly $6,100,000 for the charity. It is roughly a $10 skin; that means it was sold roughly 610,000 times throughout it’s short duration of availability. If a single skin that was only available for a short duration was able to sell that much, it’s safe to say that Riot Games is making a fair sum of cash with an average release of four $10 skins every two weeks (not to mention other cosmetics, like emotes, chromas and ward skins).
But is this a fair business strategy for the consumer? In my opinion, it absolutely is. Players are free to spend money on the game as they please, picking up cosmetics for their favorite characters or doing without them entirely. It has absolutely no bearing on gameplay, which is important for a highly skill-based and competitive online game. There is some content which you must work for, but that is to be expected since it is a free to play game, and it needs something to keep the players coming back.
However, this doesn’t mean all free to play games are free from criticism for microtransactions. Free to play games released on phones generally have small and ridiculous fees attached to them, such as giving you a choice between “3 free turns in a puzzle game for $0.99.” or “Wait an hour for 3 more turns.”. While this may not seem like much, the payments accrue over time and can end up amounting to a hefty fee, especially when the target audience is children.
I guess the question that you should ask yourself when questioning microtransactions in video games is “Did the developers set out to make a good game, or to make money?”. If the developers want to provide you with a good experience with either optional or one-time financial compensation via your hard earned cash, then that’s fine. However, if a gaming company receives the backlash of the century for openly being greedy and opposing the communities’ best interests, then it’s probably not a good idea to continue supporting that company.