Microtransactions in Video Games

Microtransactions within the video game scene need to be regulated. You may be asking yourself, “What is a microtransaction and why do they need to go away in video games?” Microtransactions are a business model where users can purchase virtual goods with real world money. These tend to be found mostly in free-to-play games, however, they have found themselves in major companies’ games. These larger publishers have started to anger their fan bases and consumers, and this has been going on for several years.

The average gamer loves unlocking new items and being able to show it off to their friends. The more unlockables someone has to work towards, the drive for getting that next best thing tends to go up as well. When it comes to gambling, people always come back to it for the slight chance of going home big. Implications of certain microtransactions has essentially caused virtual gambling. Gamers now have a reason to keep coming back for more when they are never actually guaranteed the specific item that they want.

Most microtransactions have turned into what are referred to as loot boxes. Full-priced $60 dollar games have implemented these loot boxes into their games: Overwatch, Call of Duty, Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront. Generally, these loot boxes tend to contain only cosmetic items. So what’s the problem with opening a loot box and getting some cool items to show off to your friends while the items don’t inherently make you better at the game? This is where companies get you. Let’s take Overwatch for example. You could play around six or seven matches, which is around one and one half to two hours of gameplay, and earn one loot box. You’re  so excited to finally open your first loot box but end up getting absolutely nothing that you wanted. You can keep playing until you get more loot boxes and maybe, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll finally get that one item you’ve had your eye on, or you won’t. This is where microtransactions turn into virtual gambling.

The excitement of opening a loot box and the chance of getting that one item you want is what keeps people coming back. Loot boxes are nothing more than a version of slot machines. A person may ask themselves,”Why would I play countless hours to only get a few loot boxes when I can just purchase more for the immediate chance of getting the item that I want?” That’s where the problem lies, total randomness. Even after purchasing these loot boxes there is no guarantee that you will get the item that you have been eyeing for so long. Every single item within the loot box is completely random. You could get the item you want on the third box or the one-hundredth box. With one loot box being anywhere from one to five dollars, people spend tens to hundreds of dollars on these loot boxes just for the chance of getting the item that they want.

However, some publishers do not have loot boxes within their games. Instead, they lock all of their cool cosmetic items behind a paywall. Most video game consumers are only okay with this method if the game is free-to-play. Fortnite is the most recent example of a free-to-play game that offers cosmetic-only items within the game. If you were to purchase any of the cosmetics items they have to offer, they have no affect on how your character performs in game. This means that someone who chooses to spend extra money on cosmetic items will have no virtual advantage in the game against someone who does not spend money. People tend to purchase cosmetic microtransactions in free-to-play games because they want to keep supporting the company that created the game. Money earned from microtransactions also helps keep the the game running and with frequent updates. People are more willing to give money to a free-to-play game if it is high-quality fun and that the fact that it is free in the first place.

Microtransactions, for the most part, are hurting the gaming industry as a whole. Consumers and gamers need to take the next step and let companies know that the way microtransactions are being implemented into certain games is not okay. Loot boxes within games has turned into virtual gambling. The overall products of games have already started to take a backseat to microtransactions. Because gaming companies already have big name brands and solid fan bases, they know that their games are going to sell well regardless. This has caused more and more companies to sneakily slip in microtransactions with their full priced game. Gamers need to take the next stand and boycott certain publishers’ games and let their voices be heard to get real change done.