I don’t remember how exactly I first got into video games, but I’ve been a fan of video games for as long as I can remember. Initially I didn’t know anything about video games other than a few popular series from Nintendo, like the iconic Pokemon and Mario games, but with time I became familiar with the industry, learning much about the different genres, the differences between single-player and multi-player games, and the various platforms. I also came to learn about microtransactions, which wasn’t such a common phenomenon back then. But as the video game industry grew in size, I saw the microtransaction model gradually take over, and now we can see it in almost any modern game. Whether they use loot boxes, cosmetic skins, or in-game currency, microtransactions are an undeniably effective way for companies to gain substantial profit from their games.
When I saw the first signs of microtransactions in games, it didn’t concern me too much, since it was still a rare thing to see in games. However, now they dominate the industry, and now that I’m more familiar with video games, the topic is much more worrying to me. Microtransactions have the ability to make or break games based on how the creators decide to handle them. And if the creators decide to try to extort more money from the players (which unfortunately isn’t such a rare sight these days), microtransactions can become a very dangerous tool. I believe that microtransactions aren’t entirely immoral, or that they should be banned — after all, they’ve more than proven to be an effective way to keep money flowing through the gaming industry. However, I also believe that companies should be very careful as to how they implement microtransactions in their games. In my opinion, the optimal microtransaction system shouldn’t be predatory on the players, and should give players extra options that don’t negatively affect or take away from the fundamental gameplay of the product.
One of the more recent controversies involving microtransactions that comes to my mind is the infamous EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II. The game had great potential to become a modern classic due to the vast amount of material available from the Star Wars franchise, but EA decided to add a microtransaction system that caused an uproar in the video game community. The system provided players the option to purchase loot boxes with real money, which would give them substantial in-game advantages such as new characters/heroes, crafting parts for new weapons, and various boosts that would help in matches (such as quicker health regeneration and increased damage).
Of course, players could also earn loot boxes by spending currency that they earn from playing the game, but people quickly figured out that doing so would require very heavy grinding. In fact, it was estimated that it would take an astonishing 40 hours of gameplay to gather enough currency to unlock a single hero. Thus it was quickly revealed that the game’s microtransaction system heavily favored those who paid for the upgrades rather than playing for them.
Another game that uses a loot box system is Blizzard’s popular multiplayer FPS Overwatch, but this system is very different from Battlefront II‘s system. While Battlefront II‘s loot box system directly affects gameplay, Overwatch‘s system provides purely cosmetic options in the forms of skins, voice lines, and sprays. Therefore Overwatch‘s loot box system is entire optional and doesn’t favor players who decide to spend real money in hopes of getting a specific skin for a character. I think that games should use systems like this one, where using money doesn’t give you in-game advantages, and instead just gives you other optional ways of enjoying the game.
The topic of microtransactions can leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, which is understandable due to how some companies have managed to take advantage of players with such a tool. However, games like Overwatch prove that microtransactions don’t have to be predatory, and can be used without harming the consumers. I believe that companies can still learn from the mistakes of games like Battlefront II and use microtransactions more responsibly to provide a fair and enjoyable environment for all players, as video games should.