You have come across countless options to buy in-game items to speed up your game play. And I am willing to bet you hate them, either because if you don’t give in and buy them, you lag behind the players who do, or simply because the constant spam of ads is annoying. So let’s have a look at the matter and hand and see what we can learn.
Micro-transactions are NEVER optional
The most common argument is that micro-transactions are optional. It’s the lube that all the editors use in their releases to make us swallow the snake. But yet, they are never optional.
Of course, you don’t have to buy that costume, or that XP boost, that weapon, or those gold bars. But that doesn’t change anything, because the game remains developed based on these micro-transactions.
The fun behind a gold padlock
I’ll give you an example: I’m quite a fan of pro wrestling, so when I saw that WWE 2K19 was on sale on the PSN store, I decided to buy it. It had been several years since I had bought a game from the series, and I had the right to a lot of changes. One of the great pleasures in wrestling games is creating your wrestler. The creation tools are generally quite powerful, so much so that you can create the fighter of your dreams with your arsenal. Except in WWE 2K19, the moves and costume elements are hidden in loot boxes.
So, if you want to create the fighter of your dreams, you will have to use the currency provided in the game to unlock the holds you want to get or the clothes you are looking for … or you can pull out your credit card to buy the premium currency, and buy a ton of loot boxes right away.
I have nothing against the idea of having things to unlock in a game, on the contrary. But here, we put anything behind a paying barrier to encourage us to spend. Unlocking new characters is fun. Being stuck doing the same 10 repetitive takes because you don’t have enough money to buy loot boxes is no fun at all.
A two-speed game
Micro-transactions also tend to create a game where people who spend have more fun than those who don’t pull out their credit cards, even though everyone has paid the same price to buy their copy of the game.
Take the example of NHL 21. It is a great game, well done, pretty, and rich in content. In its Hut mode you can buy new players, in-game items and packages etc via auction house in order to boost your game play. The currency used to buy above items is called HUT coins. You can get Hut coins in game through several ways and the more money you have the better your game play will be. Now there is a limit to what you can unlock simply by playing the game. There comes a time when you have to buy hut coins in order to compete with players who spend cold hard money on the game or you will be left behind.
That’s why I’m saying these micro-transactions are never really optional. If they exist, they are bound to change the game, and make the experience less pleasant for those who do not spend.
But the darkest aspect of micro-transactions is probably the way they reproduce the mechanics of gambling.
I would like to quote here Jim Sterling, who has done an incredible job for months to demonstrate the impact of these practices on people with problem gambling. Micro-transactions, and especially loot boxes, somewhat reproduce the effect of a video poker machine.
Of course, if you don’t have a problem with gambling addiction, then such a machine won’t be a problem for you. You might go put a few bucks in the machine, and once your fund is gone, you’ll get back to your business.
But we all know very well that the real income from these machines is generated by the people who have gambling problems, these people who line up in front of the bars at 10 a.m. and who do not come out until 3 a.m. morning, while waiting for it to be “their machine’s turn to pay”.
The same goes for loot boxes. The horror stories are endless. Think of those children, who emptied their parents’ bank account hoping to win their favorite soccer player in FIFA, or the young man with the disease who spent all his savings (over $ 5,000) on a mobile game.
Fortunately, governments around the world are starting to take an interest in the issue. The new casino in GTA online has been banned in several parts of the world. Loot boxes have been banned in Belgium because they are considered to be gambling. But as players we have a responsibility. That the developers consider that the games are expensive to develop, and that they argue that it is necessary to increase the price of them, or even to sell DLC, okay.
But we must say no to micro-transactions.