Microtransactions can benefit the player… If they are used correctly. For far too long there has been only two business models used for online games. First, there’s the free to play games (like Xbox Live games, and Guild Wars 1) that allow for players to hop onto the game whenever they please. Then there are the pay to play games (like World of Warcraft, and Star Wars: The Old Republic).
But now online games are rapidly switching to a new business model: Microtransactions. The idea is for developers to continue making money while players aren’t tied down by a monthly subscription fee. But games that use microtransactions correctly are actually doing much more than keeping a little extra cash in our pockets.
Players are going to see with this model they have more power and choice. Games that have the option of buying new character skins or weapons might only allow the player to pay for customization. But in games like Guild Wars 2 it allows players to speed up the leveling process. It doesn’t give players the ability to buy a max level character, but if a person wishes to spend some extra money they can skip some of the grinding. Guild Wars 2 sells experience boosters that make this process quicker.
Another advantage of the microtransaction system is that it can set a game up to provide future content. Games are starting to provide new content, either in the forms of levels or character’s abilities, for small prices. If I’m enjoying a game and want to play more of it I have no problem spending some pocket change to get it.
I think the microtransaction system is really cool. When it’s done correctly I have the ability to support game developers that make games I’m into. But if I don’t like the game, and don’t play it, I have no reason or need to spend the extra couple of dollars to make my gaming experience special. But if I’m really enjoying myself I can pay a little more money and enhance my experience. Sadly, the microtransaction doesn’t always work as well as we’d hope.
One problem is having a microtransactions marketplace that doesn’t really benefit the player. Things like custom pieces of clothing or inventory don’t interest me. I’ve yet to pay money out of my pocket for something that doesn’t directly improve my gameplay experience. And while I have the option of abstaining from their marketplace, it’s not helping the income of developers. I know I’m not the only one who is rejecting these items, and if it’s not making the company money why are they employing these tactics?
On the opposite side of the spectrum there’s a bigger problem. Some games allow players to buy huge advantages. It turns the game not into a competition of video game skill, but who wants to spend more money. Like in Stronghold Kingdoms, a free MMO that uses the microtransaction system as their profit maker. Whenever I had the upper hand fighting my neighbors cities they would spend some money and buy benefits that would keep me from winning.
But there’s one even more major issue. Games are starting to take advantage of players by eventually requiring them to purchase these microtransactions to level up, or progress further through the storyline. The point of a microtransactions system, in my opinion, is to give the players an option of spending more money if they want to. But games that require this seem to be more of a pay to play business model in disguise.
Games are experimenting with the model, and trying to figure out a way that improves the player’s experience while improving the companies’ profits. Like Guild Wars 2, which allows players to trade in-game money (gold) to other players for their marketplace money (gems). And Diablo 3 which allows players to buy each other’s items with real life money, allowing the developer to take a cut of any transactions. The gaming industry is trying to find a way to prefect the microtransaction model. And once they do we’re going to start seeing every new game have one.