Microtransactions have been present in the gaming industry for a long while now, and yet it is still a hotly debated topic. Some say they are ruining video games by preying on the players, while others argue that they are helping the industry with the massive profits they bring in. It’s hard to say which side is more correct, since both arguments have valid points. Personally, I believe that microtransactions are indeed a big financial benefactor to the gaming industry, so they should be allowed to be used, just with some clear regulations in place so that the games are still fair for all players and don’t affect gameplay.
Most of the debate seems to stem from the fact that some microtransactions wield more power than they should; specifically, some of them directly affect gameplay and favor paying players over others. The extensively discussed, yet still relevant, game Star Wars Battlefront II stirred up a massive storm last year with its loot box system. Buying loot boxes would give players a huge advantage over those who played without buying them; normal players would have to spend a large amount of time playing the game to afford characters, weapon upgrades, and other gameplay bonuses, while paying players could get all of these just by using money. EA changed the system so that free players wouldn’t have to spend as much time as before to afford such advantages, but the game’s reputation was already ruined. It’s not the fact that the game had microtransactions that ruined its image — EA’s games are already well-known for having plenty of those. Rather, it’s the fact that these microtransactions heavily favor paying players, creating an unfair playing field.
Ironically, even after the recent EA debacle, some games are still trying to use microtransactions to their advantage. The more recently released Metal Gear Survive received a negative response due to several negative factors, one of which was the noticeable “feature” that allowed players to use $10 worth of in-game currency to buy one additional save slot (normally a player would begin with only one save slot). Games have always provided players with multiple save slots and never charged the players for extra save slots, so in a way Metal Gear Survive has made a legacy of its own (albeit a very controversial one).
Games like these are detrimental to the industry’s image because they affect gameplay, whether it means save slots, upgrades, in-game currency, or new characters. However, there are plenty of games that also use microtransactions not to take advantage of players, but to provide extra options that add flavor to the games rather than making things unfair. Many games have purely cosmetic options for the player to purchase for customizing their character. Two examples that I can think of off the top of my head are Overwatch and Path of Exile, two different games that both have in-game purchases available, but only for cosmetics. Path of Exile is a free-to-play online action RPG where players have a wide catalog of cosmetics, none of which affect gameplay and are only for flavor. The team-based shooter Overwatch garnered a bit more controversy because even though its microtransactions are only for cosmetics, the game’s not free-to-play and uses a loot box system. However, Overwatch doesn’t force the players into purchasing more loot boxes (and even gives some for free during events), so it’s more of the player’s responsibility to manage their funds when deciding whether to buy loot boxes or not.
Video games can become very predatory with microtransactions, but there are still some that maintain their integrity and don’t coerce the players into purchasing anything. In an optimal system, video games should clearly notify the players about their microtransactions while ensuring that they don’t give unfair advantages to paying players. We don’t know when (or if) that day will come, so until then we will have to act smart, be responsible with our own money, and voice our opinions on microtransactions through what we purchase.