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Let’s Talk about Microtransactions

Whenever we hear the word “microtransactions,” I can almost guarantee that someone is going to have a negative opinion on it, which makes sense considering the practice has arguably worsened the gaming experience

That being said, why exactly do multi-million-dollar developers and publishers need to insert microtransactions in their full-priced game? On the flip side, what can we, as consumers, do to combat the over reliance on this predatory practice?

Microtransactions
Courtesy of USGamer

From the jump, I just want to make things clear: I am only talking about well-known franchises, not mobile games or free-to-play games that require microtransactions to survive. I am referring to full-priced games that still feature the exchange, regardless of its overall sales total.

Why is it that companies still insist on having microtransactions be part of the gaming experience? Simply put, money. The purpose of any business is to make as much money as possible, but there are some companies that take that sentiment too seriously at their games’ expense. 

Take NBA 2K for example. Before I get into it, I want to preface the following by stating that I find NBA 2K to be enjoyable on certain occasions. But I do not find having to spend Virtual Currency (VC) for almost everything enjoyable. 

For those unfamiliar with VC, the basic premise is simple: VC is what gamers use to upgrade and outfit their in-game players. If you wanted to improve your character’s three-point shooting? You need VC for that. What about new clothes or a tattoo? Yup, more VC. 

What makes VC so egregious is the fact that it costs so much to do the aforementioned actions when the VC players get from playing games is miniscule in comparison. Depending on how well a player performs during a game, they can get anywhere from 100-2000 VC. The lower numbers are usually in the “Neighborhood” – essentially pick-up games – while the higher numbers are from playing NBA games. 

The fact that sneakers cost about the same amount of VC players would get from playing anywhere from two to five NBA games makes this feature almost asinine, as a game takes almost an hour to complete. This is especially true since sneakers are almost synonymous with the NBA and NBA style. 

Similarly, clothing items can usually start in the mid-hundreds and cost a few thousand VC. Obviously, the amount of VC gained does not compare to the VC needed to buy or upgrade a specific item. 

As such, Visual Concepts has given players a different option: buy VC using real-world cash. 

Microtransactions
Courtesy of 2K

Therein lies the issue: having to spend extra money on a game that is already retailing for $60 (or $70 for the next-gen version). 

Considering NBA 2K is the only basketball simulation on the market, there should be no need for Take Two and Visual Concepts to include microtransactions. The series has made enough money – as of February 2021, NBA 2K21 sold more than eight million copies across all platforms – to do away with microtransactions. 

(It is also important to note that this is just the tip of the microtransactions iceberg; NBA 2K21 has other forms of microtransactions in its “MyTeam” mode.)

Additionally, it was reported that in the third quarter of 2021, Take Two earned almost $861 million. 62% of that was “recurrent consumer spending,” which means that almost $534 million were solely based on DLC, microtransactions and loot boxes. 

Another example is EA’s “Ultimate Team” series. Ultimate Team is predicated on players paying real cash in order to get the best players so they can beat other players. That is how EA reportedly made $1.49 billion in 2020 from the game mode alone, which is a part of the $2.7 billion overall it made from players buying in-game content.

This, by and large, is why developers will continue to include microtransactions, much to our chagrin. Even as a game’s quality continues to plummet – just look at the reviews for NBA 2K21, FIFA 21 and Madden NFL 21 – as long as players keep paying for microtransactions, the machine will keep on rolling.

Microtransactions
Courtesy of Hi Rez Studios

On the flip side, it makes sense why games like Rogue Company – a free-to-play game available on most platforms – have microtransactions. In Rogue Company’s case, the player is paying for cosmetic items. Unlike NBA 2K, players won’t have to spend money to get better — rather, getting better requires ample time played in-game. 

If the player wants to unlock a specific character, they can either level up and get points that way or just pay for it. The important thing to remember is that these characters all cancel each other out, so in essence, a new player can feasibly keep up with a more experienced player if they know which character is good against another. 

That being said, what can we, as consumers, do about microtransactions?

Although it is easier said than done, the main way is to stop paying for microtransactions as a whole, especially for a full-priced game. There is no reason why a game retailing for that price should have microtransactions. It is even more head-scratching that the aforementioned games promote microtransactions so heavily that they’ve become an integral part of the game itself. 

Unless it is for cosmetic reasons, microtransactions need to stop being at the forefront of the game. If the game itself is a front for microtransactions, there is a problem, especially when a game becomes pay-to-win.

As much as I, as a gamer, would love to see microtransactions removed from the industry, that is just not going to happen. With the amount of revenue they’re raking in, it appears that microtransactions are here to stay. Nevertheless, change can still happen, and it starts with a conversation about microtransactions. 

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