Exploring Microtransactions: A Disease To The Gaming Industry

I’m not going to discuss Downloadable Content (DLC)...thats a whole seven layered pasta dish I don’t want to touch right now, I just had a Hot Pocket, and quick side note please feel free to send me complimentary Hot Pockets!!

But I will ask, are microtransactions bad?

The online cathedral of information, Wikipedia defines Microtransactions (sometimes abbreviated as MTX) as: "...a business model where users can purchase virtual goods via micropayments”. Microtransactions are often used in free-to-play games to provide a revenue source for the developers.

Now, while I hope we can all agree, free games having microtransactions is understandable (I’m looking at you Candy Crush and your “why wait for more lives” bullshit). Understanding why microtransactions are utilized is far different from me embracing their indiscriminate use on the gaming community.

As such, I would like to focus on the pay-to-win model. I have no issue with games that offer loot boxes for character or gun skins. Overwatch does this brilliantly and, since their DLC is free, microtransactions via loot boxes are an even easier pill to swallow. Especially for a property as enjoyable as Overwatch.

On the other side of the proverbial coin… our good friends at Electronic Arts (EA to industry insiders) you may remember them by their classic commercials in which the voiceover exclaims

"EA Sports, IT’S IN THE GAME! This is actually a shortened version of their original slogan which was/is   "EA Sports, if it’s in the game, IT’S IN THE GAME!”

I’m not sure if this is theoretically correct or extraordinarily correct. Either way they are correct, everything you would find in the sports sim you are playing will likely be in the real life version you watch on T.V. or if you’re a genetic lottery winner the real life version you get paid millions to play but claim is an annoying job in press interviews…I won’t get started on that.

HOWEVER, while everything you need to succeed is indeed in the game, you might notice depending on what mode you play that getting what you want in the game requires, if not, heavily incentivizes gambling your money away on EA Sports titles’ case card packs in Ultimate Team.

If that’s ok with you, then crack on! However, I am not using hyperbole when I call it gambling. Why do I call it gambling? For starters, EA refuses to confirm their pack weight. Which is the probability of what virtual items and services you could receive. Even a craps table publishes the odds and payouts right there on the table.

In 2016, Gameindustry.biz wrote a piece on how much the Ultimate Team mode in EA’s games made, let me just borrow a snippet of this article:

“The Ultimate Team modes in EA's FIFA, Madden and NHL franchises are now earning around $650 million in annual revenue”

$650 MILLION! 65% of the way to ONE BILLION dollars! Let that sink in for a bit. It gets better. EA, a company so good at liberating your money from your wallet that Dr. Evil would envy them, released Star Wars Battlefront 2 last year, and oh boy did they drop the Emperor down the mystery tube.

Battlefront 2 had a pay-to-win model, you spend your (or your parent’s) real money to buy a box that will contain items to make you stronger in online play. WTF! If I spend $60 on a game I want a complete and fair game. This cost EA around $3 BILLION in stock loss.

In a way, this whole ordeal was great; not for myself or other Star Wars fans, but great for the industry. It brought this terrible business model to the often comatose media’s attention. Sadly, Star Wars was the sacrificial lamb, but EA have been doing this for years. And now everyone is starting to give them that look the hyenas gave Scar (please enjoy that Lion King reference).         

Microtransactions are not inherently wicked, free-to-play games need them. Just look at Marvel Heroes Omega, a truly extraordinary free game where you could pay to unlock new characters instead of grinding to get the in-game currency. 

But when a company like EA feel it’s ok to keep bleeding their customers dry, it’s a jagged pill to swallow. Aside from the gambling argument, it reinforces the inequality that is eating at the heart and soul of most of the world. Wasn’t it enough when kids whose dads owned golden jets got to meet heroes and idols you would never be in the same town as?

Now these same spoiled brats can give me the business because their dad’s AMEX bought them Lionel Messi and/or a jetpack?!

The issue of microtransactions is being brought to the U.S. Congress (hmph) and the British Houses of Parliament in the hope we can monitor this epidemic that at a bare minimum is teaching us and our youth that gambling is a way of life and the house always wins.

So yeh, microtransactions are not pure evil, they are a necessity to small gaming companies. And I’ve paid in the past to support these companies. But when a company that makes $650 million a year from their customers buying virtual goods, and then loses $3 billion in stock prices because they got greedy AND still won’t change their ways. Its not just bad, it’s rancid.