Microtransactions Are Good for the Games Industry

Microtransactions have an understandably bad reputation, but the argument can be made that they're vital to the games industry. So many of the games we love today simply wouldn't exist without them. There are some good examples of microtransactions out there, and we need to stop tarring every developer that uses them with the same brush.

Microtransactions Are Good for the Games Industry Cover

To anyone who is thinking about skipping the article and going straight to leave a comment, just hear me out. Most of the gaming community understandably hates microtransactions, but do developers that use them deserve the added controversy that comes with them? For anyone unfamiliar with them, microtransactions are small, one-off purchases, usually for in-game currency, which players can then use to buy skins or clothing. Developers use them in free mobile games, but they’ve since gained popularity in mainstream gaming. Lots of people dislike them, but I’m here to show you good examples of microtransactions to persuade you they shouldn’t receive as much hatred as they already do. 

Whilst I’m here, I also want to distinguish between microtransactions and loot boxes. Developers only ever use the latter as glorified gambling. Loot boxes prey on people with gambling addictions that often use games as escapism. They are manipulative and serve no purpose other than to get a player addicted to an in-game reward system. Nothing in this article is advocating for loot boxes; I absolutely despise them. However, you’re not here to hear about loot boxes, so let’s get into how microtransactions are actually good for the games industry.

Some Games Rely On Microtransactions

Fortnite exploded in popularity, partially down to its monetisation.

Fortnite exploded in popularity, partially down to its monetisation.

Some of the biggest games out there rely on microtransactions to survive. Fortnite is a mammoth of a franchise and has made Epic its money only from microtransactions. There was a time when the game wasn’t free or a battle royale, but the switch to non-traditional monetisation meant that Epic could launch Fortnite Battle Royale as a standalone, free to play game. The game’s accessibility made it explode in popularity, and the rest is history. I don’t think the battle royale genre would be as successful as it has been without free to play models.

The same goes with Apex Legends, Warzone and the recently released Hyperscape. If Epic Games hadn’t set the precedent that battle royales are free with microtransactions, we wouldn’t be seeing the mass popularity we’re seeing today. The Epic Games Store wouldn’t even exist either without Fortnite’s success. Microtransactions have allowed a whole new genre of video games to flourish that more than likely wouldn’t have. Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds’s fall from grace is evidence enough.

However, it isn’t just big companies that benefit from microtransactions. The inspiration for this article came about whilst I was browsing YouTube and saw people criticising Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. In actuality, Fall Guys has one of the fairest monetisation methods out there. Skins aren’t massively overpriced and in-game currency is doled out liberally. It seems to me that as soon as people see microtransactions, they instinctively reel back in horror. Microtransactions are regularly tarred with the same brush, whether it be a small indie developer or a massive AAA publisher.

They Make Future Updates Free

Fall Guys - Release Date Trailer | PS4

Microtransactions are a good way for developers to keep development costs down. If a game is going to provide free updates as long as the servers are still running, why can’t the developers also keep making money? We can revisit Fall Guys as a perfect example. The game is still in its first season and the developers have promised free future updates. The team over at Mediatonic have even introduced a new level and given everyone a free skin and 5000 Kudos for dealing with server issues.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is only £15.99, and even then you have to consider a large majority of PS4 owners downloaded the game for free with PlayStation Plus. If you’re expecting Fall Guys to continue with free updates with no other monetisation method other than the base price, then you’re being daft. Microtransactions allow developers to continue providing free updates, making their games better. Fall Guys is a good example of microtransactions in a paid game. Not every game that includes them is out to manipulate you.

Bad Examples of Microtransactions

AC Odyssey is often used as an example of microtransactions done poorly.

AC Odyssey is often used as an example of microtransactions done poorly.

I’m not saying every case of microtransactions is completely justified. There are plenty of examples out there of needless microtransactions. They’ve developed a terrible reputation because of big publishers abusing the system to make obscene amounts of money. One of the more high-profile examples is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Being a single-player game, microtransactions were almost pointless to begin with. However, Ubisoft broke new boundaries, offering players quicker ways to level up, in-game currency, boosters, and an enormous amount of skins. 

I love Assassin’s Creed, but have to agree with the criticism aimed at the franchise. Each game has become more and more greedy, with Ubisoft finding a seemingly endless amount of content to monetise. Whilst I experienced no grinding myself, many fans felt Ubisoft made the game grindy to manipulate players into buying the experience boosters. There are a lot of games out there that will try to manipulate players into buying microtransactions, but it’s important to separate the good from the bad.

Another awful example was the Crash Team Racing remaster on PS4. Activision added microtransactions after release to avoid negative reviews and displaying “in-app purchases” on storefronts. Additionally, many fans noticed that skins became more expensive after the introduction of microtransactions. This lead to many people believing that Activision had inflated the market to test people’s patience. Fall Guys has very similar monetisation to Crash Team Racing, but is far less grindy, making it a better and more rewarding system.

Fall Guys doesn't even let you buy crowns.

Fall Guys doesn’t even let you buy crowns.

Microtransactions Aren’t All That Bad

They might be controversial to some, but I believe there is a place for microtransactions in the games industry. Some of the best and biggest games out there wouldn’t exist without them. There are publishers out there, like Ubisoft, that need criticising when they inappropriately use them. Equating a team like Mediatonic to a money hungry beast like Activision because they use both use microtransactions is an unfair viewpoint.

High-profile cases like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey make people wince at the term but if developers implement microtransactions fairly and use the money to fund future updates, then I see no reason they should receive the same amount of criticism as publishers like Activision and Ubisoft. There are good examples of microtransactions, and we need to separate them from the bad ones.

5 Comments

  1. Wow…..24 years old. So I have been playing games since 1978, when I was 8, and this wheedle is telling me “how it is”, when every game ever before “these days” having no micro-transactions and being just fine for it.

    Reply
  2. I can see the potential positives, however are you not worried that most companies are laying off there other departments to focus on updating these free to play games. It could very well be the reason we had to wait so long for a new crash bandicoot game (one without the monitisation). Or the pricing model in general, some people spend a dollar on a box of nerds and it’s no big deal but the game itself should cost a substantial amount we’re the in game prices could be as fair as 20 cents. And finally if a game needs microtransactions to survive, than is the game even worth playing?

    Reply
    • Hi Clayton, thanks for reading!

      I think companies laying off staff is another matter entirely. I think the games industry was always going to go in the direction of more profit over less games eventually. We’ve been for years that people don’t play single-player games anymore despite evidence that isn’t the case.I think the wider implementation of microtransactions is just a by-product of that.

      I do agree with you that the pricing model is very dated and is in need of a revamp. Like I said in the article, I think free to play games and less costly indie titles like Fall Guys should be the only ones to benefit from microtransactions. They’re very hard to justify in massive, full-priced products from big companies.

      And to answer your last question, I do think games are worth playing if they need microtransactions. Battle Royales like Fall Guys, Fortnite, Apex Legends etc. need large player bases to function, and a free to play system with microtransactions will naturally draw in a bigger crowd than a game you have to pay full-price for. Microtransactions just make up for the loss of sales.

      Reply
  3. I don’t know where you came from, but I come from a world where games were sold as a finished products. Some of the best games ever made such as Half-life, Doom, or Resident Evil never resorted to micro-transactions to drive their sales. Those Developers drove their sales by putting out a great product and people were willing to pay for it; and if the game still had some bugs, they would put out a free patch. Perhaps those days are gone with the wind now, leaving nothing but the pain and asphyxiation of early access, DLC’s, and micro-transactions. Now we’re being robbed of real wealth in exchange for virtual worthless goods. Developers have forgotten how to make good-quality, creative, finished products, their minds blurred by their search for profits, as supposed their quest to create art the people will love. I don’t mind paying full retail price for a good, finished product, but conveniently these days, some games are still in beta yet have fully operational marketplaces, some of them even come up with DLC’s while in early access, and the “free to play” games are not free, as soon as you spend you first dollar it will cost you tenfold in the long run, and most are just a slightly different iteration of another game. Look how long Start Citizen has been in development, but still no sign of Squadron 42, or an official release in sight. If I was in charge of Star Citizen, and people continued to give me more money in the form of buying more ships, and packages, (because they sure have plenty of time to work on more ships to sell you, but its been almost a decade, and still no sight of a finished game), I likely wouldn’t be in a hurry to put out a finished product either.

    Reply
    • Hi there! Whilst I do agree with a lot of what you’ve said, I do think you have a pessimistic view of the games industry. Certain publishers do like to release unfinished products with DLC, microtransactions, and pre-order bonuses. However, my article’s main takeaway is that we should be holding these publishers to account, but not necessarily all developers that use different monetisation methods. There are publishers out there that still release quality products with no extra monetisation like CD Projekt Red, Sony, and smaller publisher like Focus Home Interactive. It’s true that you can spend A LOT of money on a free to play game, but that’s only if you’re heavily invested which it sounds like you aren’t. However, they are “free to play” by definition, you just have to win a battle of mental attrition if you don’t want to give the developers anything as they do tend to prod you a little bit. I can’t comment on the Star Citizen situation as I’ve genuinely never heard of it until now, but if there’s still money coming in then it is likely then there’s less incentive to push out another game. That’s just the state of the industry at the moment.

      Reply

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