A Song of Money and Microtransactions

Tuesday, 25 April, 2017

“Ninety percent of games lose money; ten percent make a lot of money. And there’s a consistency around the competitive advantages you create, so if you can actually learn how to do the art, the design, and the programming, you would be consistently very profitable.”

Gabe Newell, co-founder and president of Valve

What Does Batmobile Have to Do with It?

It is a well-known fact that a lot of people simply love cars. And they strive their whole lives to own “the one”. They study engines, electronics, tires, steering wheels, seats, and other important things for the quality and long-life of their sheet metal best friend. When it comes to choosing a car, you can be sure that the story will not go the same way as it does when buying pants or shirts. Not every car “will do just fine”, to quote some of them that I had the honour to shop with. Oh, there will be differences. Yes, when it comes to cars, we like to think about the design, materials, colour, shades, shape, and about every category that you may have thought to be known or unknown to humankind.

Why is it like that? Well, it’s the thing with people – we love what we love, and we will give our utmost attention and devote our love to it. And extra money. Don’t try to change that. Face the truth. If you could choose, would you rather drive a Batmobile or a regular mobile?

Microtransactions are all about who is cooler.

Waiting for the Batmobile to come along.

What Are Microtransactions?

Microtransactions are a business model where players in a video game can buy virtual items for a certain amount of money to improve themselves in different ways. In the context of online games, it is an exchange of real money for some in-game assets or services.

Usually, microtransactions appear in free-to-play games because the game download costs nothing, but you can always give something extra to improve your game experience. These transactions are most often small purchases, fairly inexpensive. The final amount of money will depend on which game you play and what exactly you are purchasing.

Microtransactions give you access to extra game modes, give you the opportunity to buy things like outfits and weapons for your game characters or just a chance to make your gaming environment more pleasant.

Some people love microtransactions because they feel engaged in the game, eliminating boredom and monotony. But, some people have the opinion that microtransactions are the additional cause of spending money, without any real purpose.

While playing some games, you are often reminded that other people play that extra game mode or that somebody’s hero looks better than yours. In this way, game developers encourage you to spend money. So, it seems that the whole thing about microtransactions is a combination of psychology and cosmetics. Well, is it?

Microtransactions will make your game character look better

Need an improvement? :)

Is it All About The Cosmetics?

Some games apply microtransactions just to enable players to personalise and customise their characters, leaving aside items that may affect players power or game balance. In other games, microtransactions are not limited in this way. The rule is: if you have more money, you will have more power. You can buy level skipping, speed increases, unlock critical features, pay for more lives, etc. So, consequently, the game is unbalanced.

I would say that that is the biggest thing that gamers hate about microtransactions. People play games partly to de-stress and escape from real life, and what they find is an injustice – those who have money can use it to be better and stronger than others. Not fair. Where to run now? Whatever you can purchase in the game should not directly impact the game balance by giving an advantage to those who are ready to pull out their cash.

Bringing balance into microtransactions is very important.

Balance is key.

Not All of Us Are a Tyrion Lannister

Usually, gamers are people that love contests and rivalry. In good old days, money had nothing to do with it. But, today, it has even entered and influenced video games. And, as this tale always goes, it brought disbalance and inequality. I think that the fact that nowadays anyone can be a gamer, actually, a good one, makes most of the gamers angry. Not because of their gaming skills, but because of their money. You pay – you will not die.

That is the ugly side of microtransactions. Items that are for sale via microtransactions are not the cosmetic-type only. Somebody who has extra money will be better than you even if you are a better player. How hurtful is that? The solution is simple. All of the items that are for sale should also be available to earn in the game. People will then appreciate it more. To fight for something, to conquer it, to put your whole self into accomplishing a goal – that’s the only way to cherish the real results.

Be aware of the fact that we are not all Tyrion Lannister. When there is no way out, we can’t all call Bronn, give him a bag of Golden Dragons and let him do all the dirty work.

Good For Business, Bad For Customers

Money, money and a little bit of more money. Game companies recognised the good source of bringing revenue and decided to use it. They are monetizing games to their full potential. It is not enough just to sell a game. No, today the goal is to draw users into an endless circle of buying extra content. Because, if they miss that opportunity, there are millions of dollars staying outside their pockets. In 2015, League of Legends earned 1.6 billion dollars from microtransactions. Can you even imagine a pile of money of that size?

Why is this happening, you ask? It is happening because it works. People are buying and always come back for more. That is the nature of modern, consumeristic age. We buy things we often don’t need. Just go and check your closet or your garage or your Steam library.

Monetizing microtransactions

Making money has never been this easy. And spending it, apparently.

Dota 2 Shows the Power of Microtransactions

To bring balance back to the Universe after mentioning League of Legends, I will talk a bit about DotA. DotA stands for Defense of the Ancients. It is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) where players are pit against each other in two teams, locked in a race to destroy their enemy’s base (ancient) first. It allows you to choose one hero and control him throughout the whole game session. DotA popularised this game genre and gathered millions of fans all over the world. After the worldwide success of the game mode, DotA emerged with an all-new visual overhaul with the launch of Dota 2.

Every year, there is an International Dota 2 Championship. And as with most tournaments, there is, in fact, a money prize. For 2016, the prize pool was well over 20 million dollars. What’s interesting is that the money was collected partly from microtransactions. The deal was that 25 % of every microtransaction goes into the prize pool. If this doesn’t demonstrate the power of microtransactions, then what does?

Dota 2 microtransactions example

If you are going to spill some blood, do it with style!


Without a doubt, we live in the era of video games and microtransactions. People who play games for most of their lives have divided opinions about microtransactions – some take it well, some not so much. But, the fact remains that microtransactions are more and more often seen within games, bringing enormous revenue to game development companies.

Many gamers criticise microtransactions, especially those that turn games into pay-to-win. It is ruining game experience, but also, there is a risk of spending a lot of money without even realising it. But, not to be exclusively negative about it, there is a possible balance. Microtransactions should exist and be offered to players as an option, but they should not interfere with game content and impact gamers’ experience negatively. They should be an addition that allows people to have more fun and please their esthetics criteria. Nothing more, nothing less.
There is a bright future for the relationship of microtransactions and the gaming industry, for sure. Where will it lead us; remains yet to be seen.

Many gamers don't like microtransactions, so the question is to fight it or embrace it?

Fight it or embrace it?

Ana Lozančić

Ana is a content Marketing specialist and blogger. She graduated in Faculty of humanities and social sciences. She enjoys learning and applying knowledge about marketing and social media, covering latest trends and topics about software development subjects.

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