Microtransactions in Gaming

Feb, 2019

- By Game Design & Development Department of ICAT Design and Media College

Microtransactions are in-game purchases that a developer shall provide to the gamer for an enhanced gaming experience and in turn earn some money. Such microtransactions generally unlock specific features or gives the user extra abilities or content that enhances the gameplay experience.

Rise of Microtransactions 

Micro-transactions have been around for a while but gained popularity in 2006 through Bethesda’s ‘The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’ where in which the developers created downloadable content for the players to set on their horses in the game. Coin-operated arcade games were popularized by Atari in early 1970s and some people argue that even coin-operated arcade games are a form of microtransaction because they force the player to insert extra coins to continue playing. But, it is always an argument if it falls under microtransaction or a key part of gameplay itself.

Pros of Microtransactions

• Though developing content for gamers to enjoy more in a game and feel worthy to pay for content is not always easy, it’s the best way for a developer to earn extra funding.
• The content bought through microtransactions make the gamers feel superior. For example, many games like 'Call of Duty Franchise' and 'Battlefield Franchise' provide additional maps and content that drastically makes the gamers feel superior and enjoy the game.
• Certain games focus on creating microtransactions for content that do not directly affect the gameplay but instead allows the gamers to customize the visuals of their characters and items in order to provide more satisfaction and allow the gamers to feel more personally connected to their items.
• Creating content that players truly enjoy often creates a positive relationship between the gamers and the developers.



Cons of Microtransactions

• The microtransaction based approach is at the forefront of the industry to make money from video games. This is where the problem begins as most developers find it hard to maintain the balance in online Player versus Player games and end up making pay-to-win games.
• Most games offer superior experience and content through microtransactions which creates an unfair experience to those who are using the default game content. Despite having good skills, this kind of DLC (downloadable content) generally overpowers the players with default content.



Providing Fair Microtransactions

• In order to have a balance between a fair gameplay and revenue from microtransactions, you can follow the below techniques.
• Offer DLCs that do not influence the main story but enhances the players’ experience through additional and special content. For example, few multiplayer games balance the competition in a Player versus Player match by adding content that do not give absolute superiority but instead offers only a limited enhancement or content that enhances the visual appearances of the characters or their weapons and props.
• Provide the option of buying content with in-game currency. For example,  games like 'Dirty Bomb' and 'Rocket League' allow players to purchase playable characters through microtransactions with in-game currency that create different gameplay experiences but not superior abilities. 'League of Legends' and 'Epic games' Fortnite' are good examples of microtransactions with in-game currency.
• There are also games like 'Ghost Recon Phantoms,' that has a similar system where superior items could be unlocked with both real life currency and in-game currency. But in such games, the gamers had to play for a relatively longer period to earn enough in-game currency. This could be fixed by increasing the amount of in-game currency that gamers can earn through a single match or decreasing the number of matches required to play in order to earn enough in-game currency.
• Note that some studies suggest that people tend to spend real life currency on in-game currency rather than directly on the content because the people feel more comfortable to buy additional content with in-game currency rather than with real life currency.
• Have microtransactions that are similar to arcade games that ask the gamer to pay if they wish to continue playing from where they lost the last life in the game. This creates an enigma in the gamers and makes them feel compelled to pay because they are usually desperate to continue and set a new high score. This is a usually a reasonable design because both the gamers and developers are satisfied with the action.



Microtransactions that Rely on Third Parties

Don’t you hate it when ads pop up while enjoying a game on your smart phone?
While downloadable content is popular with games that run on your desktop, free-to-play games that run on mobile devices rely heavily on ad revenue. These free-to-play games often show ads in the game while playing, while moving to the next level, in menus and often randomly as a pop-up on your screen. Such ads often ruin the fun and make the gamer lose interest in the game. Developers force the players to pay money if they want to get rid of the ads. This may not be an ideal way to make money because most users prefer to drop the game rather than pay for ads. It is not a surprise when a player drops a game because they are looking for free-to-play games which clearly mean they do not want to spend money.


Rewards through Microtransactions

Some games like 'Rocket League' and 'Counter Strike Global Offensive' reward you with crates filled exclusive skins and other items at the end of a match but they can only be opened with keys which you have to purchase through microtransactions. These games often do not force the players to buy the crates nor do the crates contain items that ruin the gameplay balance. The Rocket League game utilizes this method to offer exclusive content, such as skins, titles, goal explosions, boost effects and such that can be earned by playing in a specific time period but can be unlocked any time later.



Trading through Microtransactions

With a rise in eSports, games like 'Rocket League' and 'CS:GO' surface with numerous unlockables and microtransactions that players tend to fancy. Microtransactions assist in integrating a real-world market into in-game economies. There are CS:GO communities of professional players who make real money, receive items that are paid for with real currency and win cash prizes through trades and tournaments. This encourages the gamers to invest their time and money in the game where they could win prizes; and the developers benefit too from the purchases that these gamers make.




A well-balanced microtransaction is the one that ensures an enjoyable gameplay experience for all the gamers, and reasonably benefits both the gamers and the developers.