Microtransactions or in-app purchases are features in games that require real-world money to progress through games and obtain items or progress at a faster rate. While these games can be well-received, games that feature micro-transactions have still been criticized by gamers and critics as a way for game developers and publishers to milk out more money. There are three main purposes for microtransactions:
- Getting cosmetic items and fun items that don't really assist in the game.
- Getting items at a faster rate which allows game developers to obtain more money by slowing down natural progress.
- Getting items that are available only through microtransactions and are better than regular items.
Though very common in mobile games, as of 2014, several AAA games (high quality and highly budgeted games) have begun using micro-transactions such as Dragon Age: Inquisition and Assassins Creed: Unity, and sparked more popular to publishers/developers in 2017. This led to a controversy over the future of video games. Many games intentionally lock content behind micro-transactions and make it too difficult for the player to make progress otherwise in order to force them to keep paying. This also makes many games "pay-to-win".
Notorious Cases of Micro-Transactions
- EA's Star Wars Battlefront II is perhaps one of the most notorious examples of micro-transactions being pushed to their limit, as it used Loot Boxes as a progression system, leading to massive controversy revolving around the ethics of Loot Boxes.
- When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered was released, it didn't have micro-transactions. However, an update was released that added micro-transactions to a remaster of a 9-year-old game. It was hated by everyone especially since the game was originally released bundled with Infinite Warfare's Legacy Edition, and to add salt to the wounds, they released a DLC that was in the original game but this time with a higher price than the original game's DLC.
- Aside from that, starting with Advanced Warfare, every game has included loot boxes called "supply drops".
- NBA 2K18 is becoming infamous for having micro-transactions for almost everything, even haircuts and shooting the ball correctly.
- The mobile game My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (based off the show of the same name) is a free downloadable game in which Twilight Sparkle needs the player's help to rebuild Ponyville after it's destroyed by the villainous Nightmare Moon. While the game has in-game currency to help with the store, many items are only optional, but to obtain the more important characters, players need to earn rare gems, which can take years of constant playing to obtain. Without paying for the rare gems, it was estimated it would take 3 years to obtain the last required character and 10 years to complete the game. In one instance, a child playing on her parents' iPad kept paying for rare gems unaware that it cost real money. In the end, she paid a total of £900 in real currency (roughly $1,105.95) in just 30 minutes.
- Grand Theft Auto V's multiplayer component Grand Theft Auto Online introduced microtransactions in the form of Shark Cards which allowed players to exchange real money for in-game currency. It was also one of the first AAA games to employ microtransactions for its online economy which was previously restricted to free-to-play mobile and browser games. However, from The Lowriders Update onwards, Rockstar/TakeTwo has been each update inflating prices of the in-game items and reducing mission's payouts while the prices of the Shark Cards remained the same, making for players (especially newcomers) hard to progress through the game unless they go for grinding or buying the Shark Cards. Even with the most expensive card, the Megalodon Shark Card (gives players 8 million GTA$ for a price of $100) players cannot afford everything in-game. (e.g. The Oppressor vehicle from The Gunrunning Update costs $3,524,500 GTA$ in-game, with Megalodon Shark Card the player can only buy two same vehicles). Thankfully, Rockstar alleviates this with the Criminal Enterprise Starter Pack (costs $40) during The Doomsday Update that grant starters $10 million GTA$ worth of content in the game like properties (bunkers, biker clubhouses, apartments, etc.), cars, clothing, weapons, and grant players $1 million GTA$ in their bank accounts from the start.
- The mobile game Final Fantasy All the Bravest is the epitome of this term. While it only costs about $4 dollars to buy and download, it costs one dollar each to obtain a character or weapon. It also costs money to buy golden hourglasses to revive party members. The game is one of the very, very few times IGN has actively warned gamers not to buy the game.
- Despite developer Overkill Software promising Payday 2 would not feature any micro-transactions, they were added to the title in October 2015, which caused a severe amount of fan backlash against them. They tried to remedy this by adding several new DLC packs for returning players, but this did nothing to halt the fans' anger. Fortunately, Overkill removed micro-transactions from the game for good in May 2016 after parent company Starbreeze Studios acquired the rights to the Payday franchise from 505 Games.
- The mobile game Smurfs' Village was a 2011 mobile game tied-in with the animated movie Smurfs. The goal is to use in-game currency to obtain characters and buildings to build a village but real-world currency could also be used to obtain in-game currency. As a result, kids would unknowingly rack up hundreds of dollars for playing the game. Parents sued Apple as a result.
- The Bravely Second ability in Bravely Default allows time to stop allowing one character an attack or ability to use. This ability requires Sleep Points which can be obtained by keeping the 3DS in sleep mode and obtain one SP every eight hours. SP drinks can be obtained through real-world money to obtain SP points instantly. This feature was heavily criticized by YouTuber ProJared as most bosses have a difficulty spike to likely encourage gamers to spend money on SP Drinks.
- Budge Studio's My Little Pony: Harmony Quest game has forced micro-transactions where you cannot continue the game unless you pay the micro-transactions to continue playing. You have to pay for more characters (or 10$ for all of them at once).
- The medieval PVP brawler game For Honor, which was developed by Ubisoft requires around an estimated $700 to unlock everything in the game or 2.5 years worth of gameplay. The director of the game, Damien Keiken, responded that gamers were never meant to unlock everything.
- A mobile game called Club Penguin Island was announced just as the original free-to-play PC game was about to be shut down on March 29, 2017. After the game was released, players had about one week free, but they had to pay for a membership to play for longer than that. Many players of the original were so upset, that they decided to go play the Rewritten version instead.
- Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, despite being a single-player game, features loot chests that contain XP boosts, as well as weapons and armor of varying rarity. These chests are completely randomized and can only be bought via in-game currency known as Gold, which you can either purchase using real money or earn via grinding. The game features a multiplayer mode called Social Conquest where players can create bases and post it online to challenge others to assault it with their armies. In ranked matches, any Orc followers that are killed in battle remain permanently dead. Unfortunately your chances of winning depend entirely on how much you're willing to pay up because how quickly you can obtain the best items and resupply your armies depends on how much Gold you have, which is contradictory to Warner Bros.' promise that Gold wouldn't give players any advantages. To make matters worse, to get the true ending of the game, players literally have an option to buy loot crates for more monsters to beat the game, though you could do it for free.
- Worse than this, however, is that Warner Bros. is using the producer's death to make profits. During the game's development, Shadow of War producer Michael David Forgey died of brain cancer on March 3, 2016. To honor him, developer Monolith Productions created a character named Forthog Orc-Slayer, who will be released as DLC, purchases of which will contribute donations to the Forgey family to assist them. However, the trailer for this fails to mention that although the DLC costs $5, Warner Bros. is only donating $3.50 to the family for each one sold, a split which that Warner Bros. has not disclosed what it was for. To make matters worse, at the end of the trailer there's a small fine print below that has important information regarding the donations. It says "Donations will be made on purchases from any 1 of the 50 U.S. or D.C. (but excluding purchases made from AL, HI, IL, MA, MS, and SC)," meaning if you purchase the DLC from any of these six states or anywhere outside of the U.S., Warner Bros. will take all $5 of your donation and pocket at least $3.50 of it (which was later confirmed by the Shadow of War Twitter account). Warner Bros. is profiting off of a dead man's memorial under the guise of a charity event, which is unethical! Thankfully for those willing to donate, check this link to donate an amount of your choosing to the Forgey family without giving anything to Warner Bros.
- Fortunately, the developers saw the backlash and will remove the microtransactions soon enough.
- Two Bethesda-developed games; The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout 4 were given an update which gave the games a new feature called "Creation Club" as a way to support modders using paid mods. However, it sent massive shockwaves in between the Fallout and Skyrim community and caused a large majority of Fallout 4 players protest against the Creation Club on YouTube, and even on Twitter. Pete Hines, a developer working for Bethesda, even tried to defend Creation Club on Twitter which made things even worse and caused even more backlash from lots of players. The paid mods were heavily disliked by players, due to the fact that they forced you to pay for credits, they were of poor quality, took up a lot of space on your hard drive (regardless of whether you paid for them or not), and most importantly, they are recycled content that already exists through regular mods that are of better quality than their paid counterparts. This caused Fallout 4 to be flooded with negative user reviews on Steam, which are mainly focused on Creation Club, giving Fallout 4 a "Not Recommended" score on Steam.
- One of the most infamous cases of micro-transactions is Type Moon's Fate/Grand Order. A "gacha game" based on Type-Moon's Fate series, it was notorious for having a horrible drop rate for rare servants which prevents players from progressing further in the game. This made many players pay to try to summon rare servants. One Japanese man, in particular, paid over 150,000 Yen (over $1314.25 in USD) but still could not get a 5-Star servant.
- The Chinese server of the massive-multiplayer online tank battle World of Tanks was managed by Chinese company Kongzhong inc. with Wargaming license due to Chinese law (that forced foreign companies to do their business via partnering with Chinese companies). This server is notorious for selling various premium tanks (many of them are just reskinned tanks) at very high prices ($60 - $150 USD for minimal), unlike other servers where the maximum premium tank tier that can be sold is tier 8, the Chinese server of World of Tanks sells tier 10 premium tanks which it's the highest tier in-game. The most expensive tank in the game, The Chieftain Mk.6, had an absolutely ridiculous price tag at around 10000 RMB (roughly $1700 USD). Even worse, You need to spend 100000 RMB (roughly $18000 USD) on this game to get a "Contributor" status to even gain access to the $1700 USD tank in the first place!
- EA Sports UFC 3 has been noted to have loot boxes and special items you can get for your character, and also purchasable "rare" fighters that are much stronger than your base character.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has a premium currency that expires if you don't use it. One purchasable item is called "FOB Insurance" which ensures that you don't lose your assets once your online base gets raided. The problem here is that the online base raids act more like a "free-to-play" mobile game than a proper AAA console game.
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is infamous for its one-time use Praxis Kits, which basically unlock more weapons and equipment. The big problem is there is that the Praxis Kits are tied to just one playthrough, which means if you buy one for that playthrough, you have to buy it again for another playthrough.
- Some of MDickie's games such as Hard Time, Wrecked, School Days (not to be confused with the Japanese visual novel/anime), and Extra Lives have a paywall. If the player didn't pay to unlock the "full version" of the game, the game will start to restrict and punish you. For example, the wardens in Hard Time will arrest you for freeloading. In Wrecked and Extra Lives, once you die and get saved by an NPC, you will lose your progress due to the NPC who saved you killing you for freeloading and in School Days, if you're expelled, you will be sent to the yearbook screen.
- On Roblox, you will need to pay with real money to get an in-game premium currency called Robux, while almost every item in-game required Robuxes to unlock.
- Many mobile games include a so-called VIP system that allows the player benefits and perks after paying for more, with each VIP tier leveling up depending on how much the player pays; such as additional mandatory stat boosts, the ability to get certain currencies faster, etc.
- Warframe (despite being an awesome game) has an in-game currency called "Platinum" that can be only obtained by paying $4.99 - $149.99 or getting some while trading. For Prime Access, players have to pay $79.99 to get a new prime Warframe, weapons etc; while Prime Access gear is only $59.99, which is kinda awkward.
- In Smallworlds you have to pay for VIP and Gold or you will get ads before you go in the world, or you can do gold offers (but the site is not secure in fact).
- In Animal Jam, half of the items are for members only, causing you to pay membership to access these features.
- The mobile drag racing game CSR Racing 2 is riddled with micro-transactions. Not only currencies, such as cash, gold, and keys for loot boxes, can be bought with real money; but also multiple special cars, such as cars from Fate of the Furious or Ferrari 70th Anniversary edition cars.
- Metal Gear Online 2, the multiplayer component for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, provided each user a single free character-slot. Players could purchase up to 7 additional slots that cost around $3 - $5. Its sequel, Metal Gear Online 3, follows the same model while expanding up to 3 free character slots for each player.
- On the subject of Metal Gear, the controversial Metal Gear Survive also features microtransactions. However, unlike the two examples mentioned above, character slots basically serve as save slots. If the player wants to start a new game without losing their existing character/save slot they'll be required to pay 1000 SV Coins or $10 to create a new one.
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is one of the most notable examples of micro-transactions, as almost every activity requires Energy (a common method to restricting player's interactivity in mobile games), including smiling and sleeping.
Why They Suck
- Since almost every game on mobile devices is full of micro-transactions, and most developers (such as Gameloft) are focused on making even more money as opposed to improving their games, it is very rare to find a unique mobile game that doesn't rip-off another app and isn't fuelled by greed.
- Many games with micro-transactions are literally Pay-to-Win, meaning that the player who wins is often the one who spends the most amount of money, rather than the one with the most skill.
- It's almost inexcusable when games that already cost full price use micro-transactions. You already paid for the game, those micro-transactions most likely are only there to milk more money.
- In some games, the game forces you to pay money in order to progress through the game and making progress without spending money takes forever and a half, forcing players who don't buy microtransactions to do painfully long boring hours of grinding.
- In many games, microtransactions exist as "exclusive items" that are dramatically more powerful than regular items, so that paying players can outrank players who don't pay very easily.
- In cases where players pay thousands of dollars or more, the players who pay large amounts of money are called "whales", and these whales are usually what makes the most money for the publisher. This means they have to make those players keep playing their game.
- Sometimes, if a person links his or her online payment credit/debit card to a store account on a mobile device, children may continuously buy in-game items with the real life money in the account unaware that they're actually spending real money, most likely ending with the parent losing massive amounts of money and possibly causing them to get angry at their kid.
- Some companies like Smallworlds banned players for no reason after paying. If no gold or items you paid for are not in-game they scammed you and their support sucks.
- Whenever a company pushes micro-transactions to new levels and get away with it, others will be soon to follow, which then results in more and more games abusing micro-transactions. Due to the sheer amount of revenue produced by them, big publishers will continue to refuse to slow down on micro-transaction abuse.
- Some games like Destiny and modern Call Of Duty games have both micro-transactions and Season Passes as if it wasn't enough
- Publishers who implement micro-transactions show where their priorities are at; they are essentially sacrificing game design for rampant monetization which, similar to Loot Boxes, only serves to cheapen the overall gameplay experience.
Redeeming Qualities (general)
- Sometimes they can be added to replace Season passes, making DLC free (though unless if they're done right, they can be pay to win)
- Nowadays, such as on the new Candy Crush advert, there is a warning at the beginning of the advert to warn people (including children) that micro-transactions are optional but they have to seek bill payer's permission.
Exceptions (micro-transactions in good games)
It should be noted, however, that micro-transactions can be relatively harmless if done correctly. Mainly when the stuff you buy via micro-transactions is optional or can be obtained through normal gameplay at a reasonable pace, and when the game isn't specifically designed to restrict the player unless they keep buying micro-transactions. Money obtained from micro-transactions can be used to fund extra services that the game offers such as online servers, and as long as the game isn't intentionally milking the player with them, the use of micro-transactions can be somewhat acceptable.
Notable games that did micro-transactions right
- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Seige
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain