Let’s be honest here, everyone hates having to spend money on microtransactions and would rather spend it elsewhere. Game developers created microtransactions as a means of adding something new to the game’s experience or gameplay. However, microtransactions have become much more prominent in their games. Some microtransactions are tolerable, but newly released games like Black Ops 4 already start with a much higher price than what most players expect and they still have additional microtransactions. This can add up to a very expensive gaming experience. But even when players are paying willingly, game makers run the risk of alienating their audience and inspiring buyers remorse–not to mention being seen as exploitative.
Everyone has their personal opinions on microtransactions and why they are either good or bad for the game and the players. One criticized mechanic is known as the “Gacha System” common in mobile games. In gacha games, players use in-game currency for a chance to win items based on random draws. They always get something, but the rare items they really want might take many many tries to get. As a result, they have been criticized as being, essentially, gambling and certain forms of them have been outlawed in Japan.
But some people think of gacha games less as gambling and more of a lesson in money management. Because you rarely get free currency, you learn to save as much of it as possible. Since I started playing my first gacha game, I learned how to save my currency and spend less and that helped me save money in real life as well.
The fact that many games allow players to choose to spend money to get powerful items and characters has created two classes of players. Free-to-Play (F2P) players are gamers who play the the game for free and don’t buy anything though in-game microtransactions. Pay-to-Win (P2W) players, as the name suggests, are those who pay for any microtransaction in the game that might give them an advantage. They pay to gain better items, equipment and characters which gives them a competitive edge. This can make F2P players feel that the game is unfair.
Fate Grand Order is one such mobile game where P2W players can buy in-game currency to use on Gacha games for a chance to obtain powerful characters to gain a competitive advantage. However, by giving out only limited daily currency and making currency hard to collect in game, Fate Grand Order has taught F2P players to save as much currency as possible and to be strategic and economical with their spending. This is an experience I have appreciated. Meanwhile, P2W players have sometimes spent all their money on these Gacha games and have stated that microtransactions are too excessive or that its a game that requires heavy commitment to P2W in order to enjoy or compete against other players online. Ironically, it seems that players who are not spending real money in the game may be having a better experience with it overall.
Some of the techniques game developers have used to squeeze money from their customers has produced a lot of backlash. Star Wars: Battlefront is an example of this. They put microtransactions in the game and it negatively affected the games performance and the players started to complain to the developers. A forum on Star Wars: Battlefront contains many complaints that the game charges more for player vs. player content in the game than the basic game itself and that without the extra purchased content, it was basically an unfinished game. When Star Wars: Battlefront came out, players quickly found out that they needed to pay money to buy certain characters that would be considered overpowered in the player vs. player game modes. When players didn’t want to buy the characters, they kept running into players with the paid characters and they were at such a disadvantage that the game felt unfair, turning many players against it.
But there are some ways game developers can use microtransactions without it becoming a major problem.
In Fire Emblem Heroes, for example, the makers attracted gamers by being generous with their in-game currency and rare items. Another positive strategy is to incorporate microtransactions in only subtle ways that do not change gameplay dramatically. When players are able to purchase powerful new weapons, it has a harsh impact on F2P players because they would be disadvantaged in online battle modes.
Game developers could also find out what the players want either through surveys or player feedback and they could also make the microtransactions more flexible with prices that are appropriate to the given content.
Game developers should keep competition fairly balanced between F2P and P2W players in the gaming community. Something the developers have recently started doing is match online players to others with similar skill. This results in a more enjoyable competitive online experience to the players. The developers can create AI battles where both P2W and F2P can fight, there would normally be a selectable difficulty for the player to adjust if they want to make the AI more stronger in battle.
Something developers should not do is make the game locked behind an expensive paywall–in other words, hooking the players on an inexpensive game only to force them to pay an exorbitant sum to continue the rest of it.
Game developers are making microtransactions more prominent because they figured out that they could make way more profit with microtransactions due to simple human weakness as opposed to sound decision-making. This is an issue that developers need to pay more attention to, because poor strategy around microtransactions will drive away players and ultimately lead to less of a profit.