Do Good Microtransactions Exist?

George Landsly looks at the positives when it comes to microtransactions. Do good microtransactions even exist?

Microtransactions aren’t inherently evil.

I know, it’s a controversial statement, especially since 2017 has been a big year for microtransactions and not exactly in a positive way.

That said, microtransactions have helped gamers. Developers and publishers are indeed trying to put them in games like crazy, but a major reason for this is because they don’t want to raise the base price of games. Making quality games has become significantly more expensive than it used to be, but the price of games hasn’t gone up much over the last two decades.

If the choice is between $60 games with microtransactions or $90 games without them, I’m not sure which is the better option. So, how do we make microtransactions the better option?

One of the biggest points I can make is that no content should be locked behind a paywall. Any content you can purchase through microtransactions should also be available through other means. Primarily by, you know, playing the game.

A subsection of this point is that there needs to be a balance between incentivizing microtransactions and rewarding gameplay. If something you can purchase is easily available through gameplay, then it pretty much makes the microtransaction pointless. However, if the item is too hard to get normally, then it comes across as the developer or publisher forcing players to spend extra money to get the full game experience.

One of the most difficult things to deal with regarding microtransactions is value. Obviously, developers and publishers want the things you’re purchasing to have value, otherwise, there’s no point in buying it. On the other hand, you don’t want to lock valuable content behind a paywall, as I mentioned above. Even just locking things like cosmetics behind a paywall can get tricky, because they have a different level of value to each player depending on taste.

In larger scale games, the value can be created in convenience. Many games do this by allowing people to purchase items and skip the normal process to acquire them. This ties back into my point about balance above, and things get even more complicated in competitive games. Convenience is hard to do well and it doesn’t work in every game.

I don’t have an all-encompassing solution for creating valuable microtransactions without detracting from the game, but I will note that the biggest deciding factor for my own in-game purchases isn’t always the value of the item. Often it’s my overall investment in the game.

I’ve spent an extra $5 here and there on Rocket League to buy keys for crates that give me random cosmetic items. Sure, I wanted some of the cosmetics, but what made me actually make the purchase was the realization that I had over 1000 hours in the game.

I thought “At this point, Psyonix deserves some extra money from me. They’ve earned it.”

When doing microtransactions right, it’s also important that players know exactly what they’re getting for their money. Key examples of this would be removing loot boxes and season passes, but those are large enough topics that they deserve their own article. In short, if I’m spending 99 cents for a cool looking outfit for my character, I should absolutely be getting the outfit. I don’t want to buy a chance to get the outfit.

A game that handles all this very well is Warframe. With the exception of some cosmetic gear, pretty much everything in the game can be earned through gameplay. Even the game’s ‘premium’ currency, which you usually have to pay for. What this means is that dedicated players can max out the full game experience and never pay a cent. Granted, doing so would require a massive amount of grinding, but Warframe gets a bit of a pass on that by being a free-to-play game.

On the flip side is a game that most of us probably know pretty well by now, Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017). Fortunately, a hellstorm of bad press caused the game’s systems to be revised, but I doubt this is the last we’ll see of a game with microtransactions like this. The grind was amplified to a ridiculous degree on a game that already cost $60 upfront, there were pay-to-win elements and it seemed as though the game was built on loot boxes and random luck.

Done right, I think microtransactions can actually be a boon for gamers rather than something that needs to be abhorred. They give us the ability to spend more on the games we think deserve it, while keeping the market price of games relatively low.

Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are there good ways to implement microtransactions? Or should we try to purge them from gaming entirely?

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