Microtransactions: A Plague On Modern Gaming, or A Necessary Evil?
Microtransactions. Just the word causes many members of the gaming community to break out in irritating hives. Within gaming, a microtransaction is the exchange of real world money for in-game content. These microtransactions can take many different forms, from purchasing skins in Epic Game’s Fortnite to buying loot crates (called “reserve crates” in-game) in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Their pricing typically runs between $0.99 to $99, but in certain situations they can be more than that. The moral ramifications of microtransactions is not the purpose of this article, as that is a separate discussion in itself. Instead, this article seeks to answer one question nagging at the gaming community: are microtransactions necessary, or are they just a way for companies to continue to wring money out of their most loyal fans? Like with everything else in the gaming sphere, it’s complicated.
To the surprise of no one, the video game industry makes a ton of money. In total, it made $43.4 billion dollars in 2018 (an 18% increase from $36.9 billion in 2017) and is expected to continue to grow in 2019. Gaming is bigger than Hollywood, with releases like Grand Theft Auto V making $817 million dollars on its opening day. That doesn’t take into account the $6 billion dollars it’s made since its initial release. That means that one game has grossed more money than any book, film, album, or movie ever released, making it the most successful entertainment product in human history. The launch and subsequent success of Grand Theft Auto 5 can be used as a metric to measure why microtransactions are as commonplace as they are. Put simply, they’re ludicrously lucrative.
Grant Theft Auto 5 has made $500 million in microtransactions alone, and these microtransactions are nearly 100% profit for Rockstar. That’s half a billion dollars directly put into Rockstar’s pocket, simply for releasing new content for a 6 year old game and putting a price tag on it. Making games is almost incomprehensibly expensive, and it takes money to keep those games fresh and updated. So isn’t the implementing of microtransactions vital to a game’s survival? According to Michael Pachter, a digital media analyst and Head of Research for the Private Shares Group, as far as AAA content is concerned, no.