There’s been a recent controversy in Shadow of War over the inclusion of microtransactions. A quick look at social media and even some of the stats conclude that microtransactions aren’t very popular. So it got me thinking, is there such a thing as a good microtransaction? How should microtransactions be used? Do they have a place in gaming at all?
Here’s what I came up with.
What Is A Bad Microtransaction?
A well-designed game has something called “flow”. Flow, is what happens when the challenges presented by the game match up well with the abilities of the player. Essentially, if you’ve ever felt like a God playing Shadow of Mordor or Destiny, most likely you’ve felt the flow of the game. When the game’s flow gets’s interrupted it can result in player frustration.
In some games, microtransactions disrupt the flow of the core gameplay and not just for the player making the microtransaction. In some cases, microtransactions can disrupt the flow of opponents and fellow players and in most cases, it creates a “pay-to-win” scenario.
In other scenarios, microtransactions can be made for the purposes of a random drop. This scenario can be dangerous as it takes advantage of how the human brain works in that is creates a rush of dopamine, the chemical associated with good feelings, and more importantly, addiction.
When it comes to Shadow of War, there are a couple of things happening where I see the contereversy and frustration from players.
Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor is an extremely immersive experience that has each player work to acquire extreme power by overcoming grand obstacles. The main problem with the microtransaction system in a game like Shadow of Mordor is that it disrupts the immersiveness of the game and cheapens its achievements.
Players want to work for what they earn in-game. They want to feel like they’re taking down each obstacle for a reason and that reason is becoming more powerful with great gear. Affording someone the opportunity to purchase it defeats the purposes and well… the player.
Another problem with Shadow of Mordor’s microtransaction model is that it is associated with their Nemesis system, a huge part of their core gameplay.
“An important aspect of the Nemesis System now comes in forging, customizing and leading your own army of unique Orc followers against the fortresses of Mordor”. “There are different ways to do this, including dominating Orcs by exploring the vast open-world and encountering them as part of Orc society, or players can acquire Orcs and other items through the Market.”
Wow, that sounds pretty badass. I get to lead an army of Orcs? That sounds pretty tough. How do I accomplish that?
“There are different ways to do this, including dominating Orcs by exploring the vast open-world and encountering them as part of Orc society…”
Oh wow, that sounds like a ton of fun. I can’t wait to dive in…
“…or players can acquire Orcs and other items through the Market.”
I can… I can just pay for Orcs… I don’t really need to play the game?
So What Is A Good Microtransaction?
So the question still remains, what is a good microtransaction? Do microtransactions have a place and gaming? If so, how should they be used? I thought back to microtransactions that I’ve made in the past and why I made them. What made me ok with the purchases? So I analyzed them to determine why I was ok with making those purchases that didn’t result in player frustration.
Pokemon Go’s Microtransaction Model
I’ve purchased items in Pokemon Go. Pokeballs, lucky eggs, insense. These items are obtainable without microtransactions but require a lot of work, namely exploring the real world. So in buying Pokeballs, I was ensuring preparedness for when I encountered a Pokemon out in the wild. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the Pokeballs, an item that directly affects core gameplay.
Now one could argue that the game makes Pokeballs difficult to obtain by having to go out and get them in the real world. Without doing so, you wouldn’t have the means to play the game.
Pokemon Go is a game about preparation that doesn’t have a PVP element (at the time of the purchases). I could go out into the world and walk around for Pokeballs but I chose to purchase them as a convenience to my experience. Pokeballs are essential to the core gameplay experience in capturing and collecting Pokemon. The microtransaction didn’t disrupt that but simply made it convenient to obtain. Now is the game designed to do that to make money? Probably but there are a couple of things happening here.
Firstly, the game is free. I didn’t pay anything upfront and the game created enough value for me to be ok with making an in-game purchase.
Secondly, Pokeballs weren’t something you earned. The microtransactions didn’t take away from the immersiveness of the game but rather helped keep you immersed in the world of Pokemon. And let’s be honest, if the world were a Pokemon world. you’d be able to go buy Pokeballs anyways. But let’s create a scenario where you paid for Pokemon. In paying for Pokemon, you’re completely bypassing the core-gameplay and defeating any purpose of playing it in the first place. This is a microtransaction that wouldn’t just affect your gameplay but your fellow gamers. How would you feel if you couldn’t afford to make the microtransaction and you had a friend simply buying all of their Pokemon? Meanwhile, you were out catching Pidgey’s and friggin Caterpies all day, busting your ass for nothing more than a sniff at a Snorlax or Blastoise. It would ruin the game for you.
Pokemon Go’s microtransaction model works because of its low barrier to entry, the value it creates by making an awesome game, and then giving the players the option to work for it or buy it conveniently depending on their situation.
Neverwinter’s Microtransaction Model
Another example is Neverwinter. Neverwinter is a free-to-play MMORPG that I played for a while on Xbox. However, you can only have two characters. If you want a third, you have to spend $10. I spent the $10 because I wanted a certain play style along with my other two characters. I didn’t mind this because the game had already provided me with so much value that I was gladly giving the developers my money.
In this case, the microtransactions didn’t take away from the immersiveness of the game but rather created an immersive experience. I also had the option to delete one of my other characters but as I had named them and became fond of them, I couldn’t murder them for the sake of another character.
The game also provides a number of aesthetics at the cost of a microtransaction. Certain clothing, colors, styles and even pets. These were not part of the core gameplay and had no effect on stats and was more of an augmented service to the game. I deem this a good microtransaction because the items you purchase are not necessary to the core gameplay and did not affect other players. In fact, in most cases, the great gear that would drop which did affect gameplay often didn’t seem to fit my style. Now, this could’ve been a design choice of the game designers to entice microtransactions but it worked and made the player feel ok in making a transaction.
Are Microtransactions An Intentional Moneygrab?
Some think a microtransaction is an intentional money grab. One thing we have to keep in mind is those game developers and companies don’t just want to make money, they NEED to make money to survive. The cost of making games has grown exponentially and these companies need to find other ways to create revenue while keeping the market price. In doing so, they create the awesome experiences we’ve fallen in love with while making games affordable.
However, it’s worth mentioning that there are predatory microtransaction models. There are a number of games that create highly-rewarding experiences in short amount of time and then bottleneck the flow for the price of a microtransaction (Candy Crush). There are also games that create “slot machine” type experiences that again, create highly-rewarding experiences in a short amount of time and then bottleneck it for the price of a microtransaction (loot boxes). Recently, ESRB, the organization who’s tasked with rating games and essentially protecting the people who need to be protected, spoke out and said paying for random loot drops is not “gambling”. I disagree but that’s a whole other story. I think it’s important to be able to recognize, for both the designers and the gamers what these models are. (HINT: If it feels like a slot machine, looks like a slot machine, rewards like a slot machine and takes real money like a slot machine…)
So how can microtransactions and gamers live harmoniously?
- If the Microtransaction disrupts the flow of the game in any way it does nothing but creates frustration for the player.
- If the microtransactions take away from the hard work that the player or their fellow players put in, it will lead to player frustration.
- A microtransaction model that affords a low barrier to entry has a higher chance of being successful.
- A microtransaction model that allows for a more immersive and personal experience (clothing styles, colours) has a higher chance of being successful.
Video game companies want to make the most money possible. Gamers want to spend the least amount of money possible. Microtransaction models can create a low barrier to entry for players while keeping costs variable for them. For video game companies, if the model is done right, a player can spend more on the game over time than the initial $60 to $90 cost and it’s much easier on the gamer in terms of cash flow.
I think Microtransactions do have a place in gaming and in some cases could be the ideal revenue model. It begs the question, with so much talk of “Games As A Services” or “GAAS” (COME ON GAMING INDUSTRY. GAAS? REALLY?) it almost seems like it is the future of gaming when just talking in terms of gamer cashflow and business revenue models. Is GAAS the answer? What do you think about microtransactions in games? Comment below about your microtransaction experiences.