The Part of Gaming Killed by Microtransactions

One of the dirtiest words in the world of gaming.

Joey Davidsonby Joey Davidson

Microtransactions are, at this point in time, basically profane. They make publishers like EA and Zynga a metric crapload of money, and they make diehard gamers swear in frustration.

Microtransactions suck. Let’s not mince words on this one. The whole principle that surrounds selling in-game goods for next-to-nothing is garbage.

Hold up, what’s a microtransaction?

Microtransactions are the small purchases in games that award players more resources, unique costumes, new guns or additional characters. They’re those dollars and cents players drop on really, really small stuff.

For game companies, microtransactions are a real boon for income. Consumers spend small, negligible portions of income on game items that take very little effort (and the grand scheme of making a game) to produce. Those small purchases add up to a massive lump sum of money.

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Let’s compare “good” microtransactions with bad ones.

A good microtransaction would be a hat in Team Fortress 2. There are a ton of them, they are cheap and they serve as cosmetic additions.

There are two reasons why hats in Team Fortress 2 could ever be argued as positives. First, they are purely cosmetic (though you can buy weapons). Second, the game is free to begin with.

That second bit is the big one. Team Fortress 2 is completely and entirely free for anyone who wants to play it. You can unlock just about everything by putting in time online and not spending a single dime. Even better, not paying for the microtransactions won’t stop the games progress.

Can you say “Facebook?” Zynga pretty much popularized the bad microtransaction model for developers around the world. They created a series of carrot-and-stick games that drew players into a constant drive of clicking and clicking. That drive turned into addiction, and that’s when Zynga opened their proverbial trench coat and offered up something called “energy.”

Energy is basically in-game currency. In order to perform an action, you have to spend energy. Now, energy is earned over time, so if you play your game for 10 minutes a day, you’ll never need to buy more. But, and here’s the big but, playing for extended periods requires gamers to dish out bucks and buy more time.

The worst kinds of microtransactions are the ones that take a game from free-to-play to pay-to-win.

So, what part of gaming was killed by microtransactions?

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Microtransactions killed a part of gaming’s soul. I don’t mean that in a “sold my soul to the devil” kind of way; I mean it in a “something special about games is dying” kind of way.

Before microtransactions, before DLC and before patching, whatever was meant to be in a game either shipped with it at launch or never made it into the pile. The weapons available from retail day one were the same that you’d find over the next three years.

However, that meant that anything special and unique that developers wanted in games had to make it in under this wire as well. All the bonus costumes, hidden levels, easter eggs and unique characters were built into the game. Their price? Figuring out how to find them.

Those extras and unlockables are becoming a thing of the past. Now, microtransactions consist almost entirely of what used to be unlockable by simply knowing a secret. Remember the first time someone showed you how to select Akuma in Puzzle Fighter?

Those days are just about done. Akuma? He’ll cost you two dollars.