The age of microtransaction is upon us and, in addition to burning a hole in parents’ pockets across the globe, it could be killing the gaming industry as a whole. The proliferation of games with downloadable content (DLC) is already damaging the industry as it destroys the one thing a competitive market needs – comparative judgement between products. Rolling Stone described DLCs as unceremoniously stripping the user of the only power they have in a marketplace: to place total value on the game itself. As a result, the scale for measuring the value of games has been completely overturned; making it harder than ever to distinguish which games are worth the time and money gamers are willing to put in.
And it’s a lot of money; video game giant EA makes $1.3bn (US) per year on microtransactions alone. Due to the success of DLC in mobile content, PC and console game developers started to apply the same methods to increase their revenue. The undeniable success within mobile and Facebook gaming was, in part, due to the platform of the games themselves – a free or cheap initial purchase to nurture a level of commitment.
However, a large proportion of its success can be attributed to the blatant exploitation of three types of people: those with a predisposition for gambling, naïve members of a less technologically advanced generation, and impressionable young children. This exploitation has then been carried through into the era of DLC in PC and console gaming. USA today tells the tale of a seventeen-year old who used his father’s credit card without permission, spending a whopping $7600 worth of FIFA points in the game. Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated incident as children worldwide have been all but brainwashed into pressuring their parents to dole out their hard-earned cash for fake money in the virtual reality of games.
However, microtransactions aren’t merely a financial problem. Despite generally receiving neither praise nor outrage from the gaming community, there has always been some grumbling about the effect of DLCs on the gaming experience. Fans of the concept claim DLCs are beneficial to seasoned gamers as they elongate the game, and to casual gamers as games that are initially free allow the users to confer value on them. A far greater proportion of consumers disagree.
At a lower level, gamers, such as respected critic Total Biscuit, argue that games including microtransactions interject themselves too much, ruining the immersive experience as a result. The incessant ads make players feel as though they’re missing out on the full experience of the game. This aspect of microtransaction culture tends to function well for casual mobile gamers , often encouraging them to become core gamers within that format of game. It doesn’t, however, translate well onto other platforms and is consistently rejected by core gamers. On a larger and more integral level, microtransactions within games breed a “pay-to-win” culture: the idea that those who can afford to pay the additional price of DLCs gain a huge advantage over those in less fortunate financial circumstances. This system seems to be an accurate portrayal of gaming in the microtransaction age; those with more, get more.
As a result, there is a divide within the gaming community because those who can’t afford the DLCs often feel as though they’re playing half a game. The DLCs within games, more often than not, completely transform the gaming experience. Therefore, some players can feel like, although they raked out £60 for a game, they are only receiving half of the product.
Consequently, the ubiquitous microtransaction culture may be destroying the gaming industry. Not through a lack of profits to be found using this method, but rather through the abuse of consumers’ trust. Some games are created to be intentionally tedious, for the sole purpose of encouraging gamers to spend yet more money on DLCs to get ahead.
Other games, however, such as Middle Earth: Shadow of War, are praised for handling DLCs well, their presence not hindering a person’s ability to complete it. The vast majority fall short of the experience non-microtransaction games provide. Eventually, this could lead to a decline in profits for developers who use microtransactions within their games, as cheated consumers turn their back on expensive DLCs.