Gaming Paywalls: The Rise of Microtransactions in Video Games

Joel Harvey

Welcome to the money pit – AKA your life.

We live in a world where anything good comes at a price, and regularly, it’s a price most of us can’t afford. And as if things aren’t too expensive already, some idiot put microtransactions into video games. As Pink Floyd once said: “Money, it’s a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.”

Some people are clearly making a lovely stash too with microtransactions. For the uninitiated, this is a business model where you purchase virtual goods in a game, with in-game currency; fun bucks, if you will. Except without the fun.

This process began as a way to monetize mobile gaming. But in recent years it has crawled into the video game industry as well, with nasty tentacles that slither into your console under the dead of night. And people aren’t happy about this insidious home invasion one little bit.

The First Deposit

It was the mobile gaming market that first captailised on the “art” of microtransactions. With the rise of gaming on mobile phones, game publishers faced a problem: people wouldn’t pay much money for their releases. The market was generally looked down upon as the annoying little cousin of video games.

And mobile games weren’t nearly as deep, nor as complex, as their console relations. As such, people wouldn’t really be happy to part with much cash to buy a mobile game. Or indeed, any cash at all.

The mobile market strongly leaned towards a free-to-play model, but of course this was an issue for publishers. How to make money when people don’t want to spend money? Easy. You pretend that they’re not spending real money at all.

You tell them it’s virtual money, and it’s also an aide to help you play the game. The biggest, and most successful, culprit of all of this was the ubiquitous Candy Crush Saga:

Like the rise of mobile gaming, Candy Crush crossed over into the mainstream world. Everyone was playing it, or rather, everyone who didn’t like real video games were playing it. The game was a mecca for bored commuters, hypnotised by the colourful visuals and satisfying noises, as they rubbed the early morning sleep from their eyes.

And when they were fully addicted to the gaming equivalent of crack, they threw in little extras to buy to help you beat the game. Players were suckered in, and in 2014 it was reported that Candy Crush Saga had made $493 million for publishers King over a three month period. All thanks to lovely microtransactions.

Cashing In

But why should the mobile market have all the fun, eh? Many publishers in the video game industry took a peek at the owners of King jumping into money swimming pools à la Scrooge McDuck, and they wanted a piece of this action too. And so began the microtransactions in video games, with the earliest examples being loot boxes.

The loot box is something you can purchase with real money, or redeem later (again with real money) in a game. A box will often have nice rewards for you, things like new skins or rare items. Which is great and all, except when you remember you’re paying extra money for all this. It’s something that was previously confined to multiplayer games, but has started to creep into single-player games too.

Loot boxes appear to be a part of the whole game play experience. But in reality, they’re just another sneaky microtransaction bolt-on, designed to pry the pennies from your pocket. The loot box is the tip of the financial iceberg for monetized gaming though, because with the release of NBA 2K18, microtransactions are becoming bigger than ever before.

Swimming In VC

2K Games have been using microtransactions in their titles for many years now. If you’ve played previous incarnations of NBA 2K or WWE 2K, you’ll have seen their form of VC. Like others, it buys you items from their store. Or, it can help you improve your stats. It’s all there to help you “get the best experience” from the game. In NBA 2K18, it’s gone one step further though.

In this release, your whole career mode is built upon an endless void of using VC. Everything you do, every level increase and everything you want to customize, comes at a hefty VC price. The VC can be earned of course through playing the game.

However, it seems that it requires a huge chunk of playing time to earn enough VC to pay for most things in the career mode. And so, the option to buy more VC is temptingly waved in your face at all times.

Some gamers have expressed unhappiness at this latest development though. The feeling that maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t have to spend up to £50-60 for a game, and then be urged to spend more money when playing it.

And while they might not detract from the quality of the game itself, microtransactions are now creating bad publicity and negative word-of-mouth for a new release. Something publishers would like to avoid. But if people keep paying for more VC, then the process won’t be going away from games anytime soon.

Because… <Sorry, you’ve run out of VC to finish reading this article. Please read more articles to earn more VC, or purchase them at our in-game store!>


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