In case you’ve been living under a rock, microtransactions are starting to take over the gaming industry.
A category of gaming that used to be relegated to the world of mobile games, free-to-play titles with microtransactions have become the largest cash cows of the industry across all platforms. In fact, according to research from SuperData, free-to-play games pulled in 80% of digital games revenue in 2018. Most of this was driven by countries in Asia where it isn’t unusual to spend loads of money on mobile games, but that number is alarming, nonetheless.
This trend is only expected to become more commonplace globally in the coming years, as microtransactions continue to break records and extend their reach into new franchises (such as Mario Kart). No one likes microtransactions—at least that’s what we all claim. But clearly, that’s not the case, as billions of dollars are spend annually on these ‘free’ games. I’d argue that Season Passes and Battle Passes are just microtransactions in disguise, as you’re still usually paying for ‘microtransaction-like’ content such as weapon skins, new characters, and sometimes even premium currency to purchase loot boxes and make other microtransactions. It all boils down to the same thing—it’s a way to separate you from your money.
Microtransactions aren’t inherently bad, but they’ve become more aggressive and predatory as players become acclimated to them. Instead of paying $60 up front for a title, we’re now spending that money over the life of the game, purchasing customization options or access to new items. When done right, they let players experience a game at an affordable price. When done wrong, they lock players out of necessary content or create a pay-to-win environment. Ideally, it should be possible to acquire all content with in-game currency, with the option to pay real cash to speed up the process. On top of that, purchased items should not convey a gameplay advantage. Sadly, this is becoming the exception and not the rule.
As publishers and developers experiment with new ways to make a profit, we can only expect microtransactions to become more aggressive. Eventually—or at least hopefully—we will reach a point where consumers have had enough, and the tactic becomes less profitable. Game companies need to earn money in order to keep making games, and they have the right to find ways to make that happen. Gamers need quality games that don’t nickel and dime them. Until an equilibrium is reached, microtransactions are here to stay. I can only hope that quality games don’t get lost in the shuffle.