Micro-transactions make free mobile market games profitableBy Nathan Proctor | 03/13/2013 11:00pm
The birth of free-to-play games has expanded the mobile market and brought gems like “League of Legends” to the forefront of PC gaming, but it’s come with a price: micro-transactions. Downloadable at no charge, they offer developers an avenue to get as many gamers as possible to play their products, while making piracy impossible and offering gamers a free product.
The small purchases unlocking additional content, cosmetic tweaks or some kind of gameplay enhancement support the caste of nominally free games, and have drawn fire for their disruption of the expected player-to-game relationship. Products heavily restricting a player’s capacity to simply play the game through a pay-wall or providing what appears to be unfair “pay-to-win” benefits to players in a multiplayer environment provide a cheap experience. As opposed to the typical $60 (or less) input promising an unrestricted and fair play experience, these games feature prominent mechanics that look as if their sole purpose is to balance a player’s patience against their wallet.
This comes across as being lazy and obnoxious, especially cases where playing a game to the full extent and in the manner you would a typical retail game costs multitudes more than an upfront price tag would. While the majority of these products, especially in the mobile sphere, do fall into a more exploitative category, the most successful and highest quality free-to-play products have committed to avoiding pay-to-win systems and stress cosmetics and content expansion to support their games.
As free products, developers must find an alternative to fund their products and allow them to be sustainable post-launch. Micro-transactions are simply the most direct and efficient solution to support this model. Though the label is thrown around often, gamers are indeed entitled. Complaints about the manner by which games offer these transactions can be valid, but their existence is necessary, and making a few optional payments for the multi-million dollar product you’re playing is quite fair.
More worrisome to gamers, is the recent trend of micro-transaction slipping into full $60 retail products. Seen most recently in EA titles like “Mass Effect 3” and “Dead Space 3,” they offer players in-game enhancements and cosmetic tweaks, and the full slate of EA products have offered cheap doses of DLC or available purchases of in-game currency, most effectively in FIFA, this generation.
It doesn’t feel quite right breaking the upgrade tree in “Dead Space 3” for $5 and breaking the tension or paying for what’s essentially a pull of a slot machine for multiplayer benefits in “Mass Effect 3,” but they are wholly optional features. The option to skirt around a game’s progression as designed seems wrong, but when playing through sans transactions still provides the optimal or intended experience, it’s hard to complain.
Though they are $60 products and the larger publishers are already raking in profits, $60 is an exceptionally reasonable price looking at the history of gaming, the natural progression of inflation and the rising budgets of top-tier games. I’ve not put a dime into a free game, nor retail games offering micro-transactions and have no regrets, but the options, if fair, are nothing to fear.