With video games costing $80 a pop, is it fair that the gaming industry ask for more money after our initial purchase? 

The heavily-debated question is exactly why microtransactions — a business model that lets players purchase virtual products with real cash — are so controversial among gamers.

While microtransactions give gamers the ability to enhance their game-playing experience, some complain about the presence of this revenue model, as they can often restrict the playability of a video game and in turn, force gamers to hand over additional cash to receive the full experience.   

This is exactly why Dylan D’Costa, a member of Club N3RD — a social club at Mount Royal University dedicated to gaming culture — has such an issue with this revenue model. D’Costa explains that some games, like Dark Souls 2, keep their best content locked away behind microtransactions and downloadable content (DLC).

“Unlike Dark Souls, there’s three sets of DLC [for Dark Souls 2], each costing $9.99 each, so the overall cost quickly adds up,” says D’Costa. “Of course you can wait for a sale, but the fact that there was just more DLC, and the fact that the extra content is the only thing that makes the game good, puts a bad taste in my mouth.” 

Nonetheless, gamers continue spending money on these in-game purchases, inviting game companies to add more of them to their games. 

The numbers

During last years holiday season, Electronic Arts, the company responsible for games like the yearly FIFA series and Star Wars: Battlefront, made a whopping $1.23 billion, with over $700 million coming from in-game purchases. Activision Blizzard, makers of games like StarCraft, World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, made $7.16 billion according to their Q4 (Nov. to Dec.) financial report. 

$4 billion of that amount came from microtransactions.

Some games have purchases that give players an unfair advantage over other players, whereas others give players the ability to purchase cosmetic add-ons to buy in-game. 

Grand Theft Auto V allows players to purchase in-game content that gives them a large amount of money to use in the game’s world.

If you wanted GTA Online’s ‘Pegassi Tezeract,’  their in-game version of the 2018 Lamborghini Terzo Millennio,  you have the option to pay $57 — $2.825 million in game dollars — to get it, rather than having to play the game. Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive, the developers and publishers of the Grand Theft Auto series,  made $1.03 billion last year using this system.

To learn more about the extensive world of microtransactions, check out the Day One Update vodcast:

The consequences

Controversy also surrounds the idea of microtransactions in free-to-play games. Although games like the ever-popular Fortnite only offer cosmetic items through their in-game store, the idea of paying-to-win in some free-to-play games is a sore spot for a lot of gamers.

Nonetheless, Club N3RD member Charlie Aldus explains that game developers are now looking at microtransactions as an incentive for players to continue with their game long after releases. 

“Microtransactions, I guess, are kind of a kick in the side, or a spur to keep going with that game, because they see it as a financial income,” says Aldus, adding that the continuing expansion of  microtransactions acts as a way for developers to pay off other non-in-game restraints as well, that could otherwise prevent them from developing their games even further.

Though the controversy regarding the process and handling of microtransactions by gaming companies continues to linger, the decision to continue releasing downloadable content for players to purchase remains intact, simply due to financial restraints, which seems to be the case for a lot of game developers, according to Karl Semilla, another member of Club N3RD.

“Developers are going over budget and they’re going way beyond the date [of the game’s release] they announced. It’s increasing their costs,” says Semilla. “So they do release these DLCs to get back to where they were. I think that’s the case with the new model now.”

The silver lining

There are, however, instances in the gaming world where consumers don’t wind up having to fork out extra cash. A recent example involved an overhaul on Star Wars: Battlefront II by game developer EA DICE, after consumers caused an uproar over the litany of microtransactions in the game.  Changes like this showcases itself to be a positive step overall, D’Costa says that more developers need to listen to their consumers to prevent any repercussions that could come at their way.

“If companies see that this product is giving them massive negative backlash and it’s hurting them bottom line, then, by the laws of business, they should do something to rectify that, otherwise the competition is going to do it for them.” 

mcortez@cjournal.ca, mibe@cjournal.ca, estevens@cjournal.ca, afecteau@cjournal.ca

Editor: Colin Macgillivray | cmacgillivray@cjournal.ca

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