Whether you love them or loath them it’s easy to see that micro-transactions are becoming more present in full priced games. There has been a recent spate over the last few years of full priced games also including the option to pay real money for in-game content. This content isn’t always in the form of skins or DLC but is instead a way to speed up the usual routine of playing the game over a few hours to unlock content. While the content that is gained from this can still be unlocked through normal progression, or through luck in random drops, this way of paying instead of playing could be a detriment to the games industry. Although it isn’t exactly a pay to win economy, it could be argued that it does in fact create an unfair advantage to those who opt to pay for these micro-transactions over those who don’t.
The initial concept for micro-transactions in the first place occurred in free-to-play games, and for that type of model it works. In order to keep the barrier for entry into a game free, having micro-transactions for extras, cosmetics and currency means that players can still play a game without paying any extra money out if they wish. These purchases allow developers to keep their game free as they still gain income from the players that choose to buy in-game extras. On the other end of the spectrum, traditionally paid games were a one-time purchase for the complete experience with a possibility of additional content such as levels, characters and larger expansions being the only paid content on top of the initial purchase.
There’s a lot of pros and cons for micro-transactions in paid games. It all boils down to how developers (and certain publishers for that matter) decide to implement them. They can be used for good reasons, such as funding further expansions and content for free. Or they can be used to squeeze every ounce of money out of players.
Some larger AAA games use micro-transactions as a way for players to circumvent the traditional hard work and dedication that other players put into unlocking weapons and cosmetic items. A good example of this is Battlefield 4. While players can unlock new weapons, gadgets and vehicle options through general play with that class or weapon type, Battlefield 4 also offers players the option to play to unlock everything instantaneously; for a fee of course. While this doesn’t necessarily give players who opt for this method a distinct advantage, it does feel like it undermines all the hard work that players who actually do put the time and effort in.
In essence it could be argued that paying for unlocks like these is a lazy option, a cheat sheet for players who want it now over later. There is a counter argument to this however, some casual players don’t have the time to unlock everything and so they are left at a disadvantage. These shortcuts mean that they can catch up to the rest of the players and actually get back to enjoying the game rather than focusing on unlocking everything.
There is however a positive side to micro-transactions in full priced games, and that is free content. We can all agree that we love free stuff, I mean it’s free so what’s not to love? Developers are using micro-transactions as a way to fund free content for players long after a game’s launch. To me this is a step in the right direction as it means that players aren’t split down the middle when new maps and content comes out. No longer will you be unable to play with your mates because they’ve all bought the new DLC and you haven’t. In fact we’ve seen many cases of games doing this really well, Grand Theft Auto Online has had a mass of free content for players to sink their teeth into. Part of the reason Rockstar have been able to do this is the income from people buying in-game currency through ‘shark cards’.
There are plenty of examples of other games doing this too. Blizzard’s Overwatch getting free maps and heroes, while not wholly responsible, the ability to pay for loot boxes will have helped Blizzard to keep content free. This is the same with other games like Halo 5 where ‘REQ packs’ can be earned through gameplay or they can be bought for instant access. The boxes in these games have a randomized aspect to them so even if players do choose to buy them they may not necessarily get what they want. Which in theory suggests that a player could unlock some of the rarest items with an earned box over someone who has bought 100 boxes with cash.
Of course games like Halo 5 have systems in place that are supposed to eliminate a pay to win economy, where players are rewarded more for buying more of these boxes. However, it’s easy to see that the more boxes you have the more chance of you getting better things from them. The upside to these boxes is they are completely optional and don’t change the core gameplay, coming with the added bonus of supplying free content for everyone regardless of whether or not they’ve paid extra. This means that the player base of a game isn’t split between those who have the content, and those who don’t, or does it?
While every player has the same access to the same content, we all might have our eye on a skin for our favourite hero or a helmet to make us look like a total badass. This can still produce a have and have nots situation for players who are desperate for even the cosmetic items in their games. This still creates a divide in players and forces some players into feeling like they have to spend money improve their chances of getting what they want or face missing out. There is, of course, the principle that having paid aspects of an already full priced game is incredibly greedy of game developers, especially considering the price of games nowadays.
Whether you think having micro-transactions in paid games is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s hard to deny that they can provide some benefits to players. Providing free content to all players is a welcome addition to games and means that they can keep on enjoying the games they love without having to fork out extra cash if they don’t want to. As long as they don’t provide those who pay a distinct advantage over those who don’t, and remain optional for players, then I believe that they are not inherently a bad thing.