Microtransactions or in-app purchases are features in games that require real-world money to progress through games and obtain items or progress at a faster rate. While these games can be well-received, games that feature micro-transactions have still been criticized by gamers and critics as a way for game developers and publishers to milk out more money. There are three main purposes for microtransactions:
- Getting cosmetic items and fun items that don't really assist in the game.
- Getting items at a faster rate which allows game developers to obtain more money by slowing down natural progress.
- Getting items that are available only through microtransactions and are better than regular items.
It could be argued that the microtransaction, in spirit, dates back to the early days of video games, with the concept of the credit in coin-op arcade machines: the player could, at any time, insert more coins for the promise of a new set of lives and another chance at finishing the game. Often these games were just as cynically designed as their descendants, with later bosses basically just designed to empty a player's wallet so that the person next in line didn't get bored waiting for their turn.
Though very common in mobile games, as of 2014, several AAA games (high quality and highly budgeted games) have begun using microtransactions such as Dragon Age: Inquisition and Assassins Creed: Unity, and sparked more popular to publishers/developers in 2017. This led to a controversy over the future of video games, since this made many games "Pay To Win Games": many games intentionally lock content behind microtransactions and make it too difficult for the player to make progress otherwise in order to force them to keep paying.
Usually the common difference between microtransactions and regular DLC is that microtransactions are re-buyable while regular DLC on the other hand is a one-time buy.
The 2010s abuse of microtransactions even made tvtropes.org create a page about this named Bribing Your Way To Victory, albeit the page also includes old arcade games which accepted more coins in exchange for extra continues.
Notorious Cases of Microtransactions
- EA's Star Wars Battlefront II is perhaps one of the most notorious examples of microtransactions being pushed to their limit, as it used loot boxes as a progression system, leading to massive controversy revolving around the ethics of loot boxes.
- When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered was released, it didn't have microtransactions. However, an update was released that added microtransactions to a remaster of a 12-year-old game. It was hated by everyone especially since the game was originally released bundled with Infinite Warfare's Legacy Edition, and to add salt to the wounds, they released a DLC that was in the original game but this time with a higher price than the original game's DLC.
- Aside from that, starting with Advanced Warfare, every game has included loot boxes called "supply drops".
- NBA 2K18 is becoming infamous for having microtransactions for almost everything, even haircuts and shooting the ball correctly.
- Sonic Forces: You can buy rings for various advancements in the game, and a six year old spent $16k on the game, without knowing that he was spending actual money, and after that, his mother struggles to pay the bills. Apple couldn't even issue the poor woman a refund.
- The mobile game My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (based off the show of the same name) is a free downloadable game in which Twilight Sparkle needs the player's help to rebuild Ponyville after it's destroyed by the villainous Nightmare Moon. While the game has in-game currency to help with the store, many items are only optional, but to obtain the more important characters, players need to earn rare gems, which can take years of constant playing to obtain. Without paying for the rare gems, it was estimated it would take three years to obtain the last required character and ten years to complete the game. In one instance, a child playing on her parents iPad kept paying for rare gems unaware that it cost real money. In the end, she paid a total of £900 in real currency (roughly $1,105.95) in just thirty minutes.
- Grand Theft Auto V's multiplayer component Grand Theft Auto Online introduced microtransactions in the form of Shark Cards which allowed players to exchange real money for in-game currency. It was also one of the first AAA games to employ microtransactions for its online economy which was previously restricted to free-to-play mobile and browser games. However, from The Lowriders Update onwards, Rockstar/TakeTwo has been each update inflating prices of the in-game items and reducing mission's payouts while the prices of the Shark Cards remained the same, making for players (especially newcomers) hard to progress through the game unless they go for grinding or buying the Shark Cards. Even with the most expensive card, the Megalodon Shark Card (gives players 8 million GTA$ for a price of $100) players cannot afford everything in-game. (e.g. The Oppressor vehicle from The Gunrunning Update costs $3,524,500 GTA$ in-game, with Megalodon Shark Card the player can only buy two same vehicles). Thankfully, Rockstar alleviates this with the Criminal Enterprise Starter Pack (costs $40) during The Doomsday Update that grant starters $10 million GTA$ worth of content in the game like properties (bunkers, biker clubhouses, apartments, etc.), cars, clothing, weapons, and grant players $1 million GTA$ in their bank accounts from the start.
- The mobile game Final Fantasy All the Bravest is the epitome of this term. While it only costs about $4 dollars to buy and download, it costs one dollar each to obtain a character or weapon. It also costs money to buy golden hourglasses to revive party members. The game is one of the very, very few times IGN has actively warned gamers not to buy the game.
- Despite developer Overkill Software promising Payday 2 would not feature any microtransactions, they were added to the title in October 2015, which caused a severe amount of fan backlash against them. They tried to remedy this by adding several new DLC packs for returning players, but this did nothing to halt the fans anger. Fortunately, Overkill removed microtransactions from the game for good in May 2016 after parent company Starbreeze Studios acquired the rights to the Payday franchise from 505 Games.
- The mobile game Smurfs' Village was a 2011 mobile game tied-in with the animated movie Smurfs. The goal is to use in-game currency to obtain characters and buildings to build a village but real-world currency could also be used to obtain in-game currency. As a result, kids would unknowingly rack up hundreds of dollars for playing the game. Parents sued Apple as a result.
- The Bravely Second ability in Bravely Default allows time to stop allowing one character an attack or ability to use. This ability requires Sleep Points which can be obtained by keeping the 3DS in sleep mode and obtain one SP every eight hours. SP drinks can be obtained through real-world money to obtain SP points instantly. Most bosses have a difficulty spike to likely encourage gamers to spend money on SP Drinks, which made this a bad idea.
- Some anime RPG games, such as the earlier Neptunia games and Record of Agarest War, have item packs, which give overpowered weapons.
- Budge Studio's My Little Pony: Harmony Quest game has forced microtransactions where you cannot continue the game unless you pay the microtransactions to continue playing. You have to pay for more characters (or 10$ for all of them at once).
- The medieval PVP brawler game For Honor, which was developed by Ubisoft requires around an estimated $700 to unlock everything in the game or 2.5 years worth of gameplay. The director of the game, Damien Keiken, responded that gamers were never meant to unlock everything.
- A mobile game called Club Penguin Island was announced just as the original free-to-play PC game was about to be shut down on March 29, 2017. After the game was released, players had about one week free, but they had to pay for a membership to play for longer than that. Many players of the original were so upset, that they decided to go play the Rewritten version instead.
- Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, despite being a single-player game, featured loot chests that contain XP boosts, as well as weapons and armor of varying rarity. These chests were completely randomized and could only be bought via in-game currency known as Gold, which you could either purchase using real money or earn via grinding. The game features a multiplayer mode called Social Conquest where players can create bases and post it online to challenge others to assault it with their armies. In ranked matches, any Orc followers that are killed in battle remain permanently dead. Unfortunately your chances of winning depend entirely on how much you're willing to pay up because how quickly you can obtain the best items and resupply your armies depends on how much Gold you have, which is contradictory to Warner Bros.' promise that Gold wouldn't give players any advantages. To make matters worse, to get the true ending of the game, players literally have an option to buy loot crates for more monsters to beat the game, though you could do it for free.
- Worse than this, however, is that Warner Bros. is using the producer's death to make profits. During the game's development, Shadow of War producer Michael David Forgey died of brain cancer on March 3, 2016. To honor him, developer Monolith Productions created a character named Forthog Orc-Slayer, who will be released as DLC, purchases of which will contribute donations to the Forgey family to assist them. However, the trailer for this fails to mention that although the DLC costs $5, Warner Bros. is only donating $3.50 to the family for each one sold, a split which that Warner Bros. has not disclosed what it was for. To make matters worse, at the end of the trailer there's a small fine print below that has important information regarding the donations. It says "Donations will be made on purchases from any 1 of the 50 U.S. or D.C. (but excluding purchases made from AL, HI, IL, MA, MS, and SC)," meaning if you purchase the DLC from any of these six states or anywhere outside of the U.S., Warner Bros. will take all $5 of your donation and pocket at least $3.50 of it (which was later confirmed by the Shadow of War Twitter account). Warner Bros. is profiting off of a dead man's memorial under the guise of a charity event, which is unethical! Thankfully for those willing to donate, check this link to donate an amount of your choosing to the Forgey family without giving anything to Warner Bros.
- Fortunately, the developers saw the backlash and removed the entire marketplace soon after.
- Two Bethesda-developed games; The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout 4 were given an update which gave the games a new feature called "Creation Club" as a way to support modders using paid mods. However, it sent massive shockwaves in between the Fallout and Skyrim community and caused a large majority of Fallout 4 players protest against the Creation Club on YouTube, and even on Twitter. Pete Hines, a developer working for Bethesda, even tried to defend Creation Club on Twitter which made things even worse and caused even more backlash from lots of players. The paid mods were heavily disliked by players, due to the fact that they forced you to pay for credits, they were of poor quality, took up a lot of space on your hard drive (regardless of whether you paid for them or not), and most importantly, they are recycled content that already exists through regular mods that are of better quality than their paid counterparts. This caused Fallout 4 to be flooded with negative user reviews on Steam, which are mainly focused on Creation Club, giving Fallout 4 a "Not Recommended" score on Steam.
- One of the most infamous cases of microtransactions is Type Moon's Fate/Grand Order. A "gacha game" based on Type-Moon's Fate series, it was notorious for having a horrible drop rate for rare servants which prevents players from progressing further in the game. This made many players pay to try to summon rare servants. One Japanese man, in particular, paid over 150,000 Yen (over $1314.25 in USD) but still could not get a 5-Star servant.
- The Chinese server of the massive-multiplayer online tank battle World of Tanks was managed by Chinese company Kongzhong inc. with Wargaming license due to Chinese law (that forced foreign companies to do their business via partnering with Chinese companies). This server is notorious for selling various premium tanks (many of them are just reskinned tanks) at very high prices ($60 - $150 USD for minimal), unlike other servers where the maximum premium tank tier that can be sold is tier 8, the Chinese server of World of Tanks sells tier 10 premium tanks which it's the highest tier in-game. The most expensive tank in the game, The Chieftain Mk.6, had an absolutely ridiculous price tag at around 10000 RMB (roughly $1700 USD). Even worse, You need to spend 100,000 RMB (roughly $18,000 USD) on this game to get a "Contributor" status to even gain access to the $1,700 USD tank in the first place!
- EA Sports UFC 3 has been noted to have loot boxes and special items you can get for your character, and also purchasable "rare" fighters that are much stronger than your base character.
- Pokemon GO! is literally unplayable without microtransactions as raiding is the only real content in the game; All other contents such as Gym Battles and PVP are merely flops. Raiding also gives you a perfect edge over those who do not do such activities or are unable to, as they allow you to power up Pokemon reliably with Rare Candies, give a consistent amount of Potions and Revives while they are virtually impossible to get normally and even hand out TMs that allow you to change your Pokemon's moves. Recently they even hand out an absurd amount of Stardust, which is a vital but extremely difficult to get resource. Spending money on raid passes is virtually required to hunt for high IV or Shiny Legendary Pokemon/raid bosses or even have optimized Pokemon. Egg incubators are also nearly always required to complete the Pokedex, as baby Pokemon only appear from 7km eggs and some specimens such as Happiny or Chingling are incredibly rare, and 10km eggs take forever to hatch with normal infinite incubators. Transfering Pokémon to Pokémon HOME is also ridiculous as it requires GO transport energy to transfer Pokémon. While many normal transfer would be cheap depending on several factors, transfering a shiny legendary or mythical Pokémon would cost 10000 GO transport energy and should the player do that, they either have to wait 1 week or pay 1000 Pokécoins ($10) to transfer again. This decision caused the community to burst in anger.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has a premium currency that expires if you don't use it. One purchasable item is called "FOB Insurance" which ensures that you don't lose your assets once your online base gets raided. The problem here is that the online base raids act more like a "free-to-play" mobile game than a proper AAA console game.
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is infamous for its one-time use Praxis Kits, which basically unlock more weapons and equipment. The big problem is there is that the Praxis Kits are tied to just one playthrough, which means if you buy one for that playthrough, you have to buy it again for another playthrough.
- On Roblox, you will need to pay with real money to get an in-game premium currency called Robux, while almost every item in-game required Robuxes to unlock.
- Many mobile games include a so-called VIP system that allows the player benefits and perks after paying for more, with each VIP tier leveling up depending on how much the player pays; such as additional mandatory stat boosts, the ability to get certain currencies faster, etc.
- Some gacha and mobile games, such as Soul Seeker and Crusaders Quest, have a 2nd form of premium currency (rubies and Bridget Points) where you only get small amounts by micro-transactions. Oftentimes, the items that you can buy (hero select, etc), require like thousands which the game only gives you like tens through attendance rewards or 200-300 via microtransactions. Crusaders Quest requires 5000 Bridget Points for a seasonal hero select ticket, and Soul Seeker requires rubies to evolve heroes instead of fusing them to get a next-rarity hero. Sometimes, things like these are neglible due to events, as Crusaders Quest has a lot more events giving out weapon selects, when said item costs 1500 Bridget Points.
- Warframe has an in-game currency called "Platinum" that can be only obtained by paying $4.99 - $149.99 or getting some while trading. For Prime Access, players have to pay $79.99 to get a new prime Warframe, weapons etc; without having to craft it. while Prime Access gear is only $59.99, which is kinda awkward.
- In Smallworlds you have to pay for VIP and Gold or you will get ads before you go in the world, or you can do gold offers (but the site is not secure in fact).
- In Animal Jam, half of the items are for members only, causing you to pay membership to access these features.
- The mobile drag racing game CSR Racing 2 is riddled with microtransactions. Not only currencies, such as cash, gold, and keys for loot boxes, can be bought with real money; but also multiple time limited special cars, such as cars from The Fast and the Furious franchise or Ferrari/Porsche 70th Anniversary edition cars.
- Metal Gear Online 2, the multiplayer component for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, provided each user a single free character-slot. Players could purchase up to seven additional slots that cost around $3 - $5. Its sequel, Metal Gear Online 3, follows the same model while expanding up to three free character slots for each player.
- On the subject of Metal Gear, the controversial Metal Gear Survive also features microtransactions. However, unlike the two examples mentioned above, character slots basically serve as save slots. If the player wants to start a new game without losing their existing character/save slot they'll be required to pay 1000 SV Coins or $10 to create a new one.
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is one of the most notable examples of microtransactions, as almost every activity requires Energy (a common method to restricting player's interactivity in mobile games), including smiling and sleeping.
- Super Monster Bros was a shovelware game on the App Store in 2013 that was riddled with these. To change your skin from the default Charmander knockoff, you have to pay from $5 all the way up to $100. In addition, one life cost 99 cents, and an “Unlock all” option cost $110.
- Fortnite has V-bucks which players can buy with real money, or obtain as rewards for completing missions in Save The World mode. The problem, however, is that they can be overpriced (depending on the version you buy). For example, $10 for 1,000 V-Bucks, $25 for 2,500 V-Bucks, and a whopping $100 for 10,000 V-Bucks. However unlike other games, these microtransactions are cosmetic only.
- Even though the game is not finished yet, Command & Conquer: Rivals has already been heavily criticized by players since its first announcement for its extremely heavy use of microtransactions, which range from $0.99 to $100. This has been universally regarded as just a desperate attempt to cash in on a franchise that EA essentially gave up on and is kept alive by modders and fans only.
- Devil May Cry 5 has microtransactions for red skulls in order to allow players to unlock new skills much faster than simply playing the game.
- In-Game Purchases: All games carrying microtransactions and loot boxes must now have the newly introduced "In-Game Purchases" label applied to them. A good idea on paper, but in practice however, the label casts too wide a net that encompasses ALL forms of digital purchases; games like The Witcher 3 and Horizon Zero Dawn (games with upfront, one-time purchase expansions) unfortunately get painted with the same brush as the more predatory titles like NBA 2K18, Call of Duty Blacks Ops IIII, and Destiny 2, since the label doesn't distinguish between honest expansions, and other monetization schemes, no matter how predatory they may seem.
- Angry Birds 2 requires you to pay the game in order to do all the daily quests. Proof? The gem letters require money, and are required in the quests.
- Angry Birds Go! (the pre 2.0 era) requires you to pay 50 dollars in order to unlock the cart you want. This can be avoided by buying the telepods.
- Killzone Shadow Fall had MTX until it was removed with the Valor update.
- Asphalt 8: Airborne' (post-Vivendi takeover era) requires you to pay for nearly everything with the Tokens currency, even certain credits purchasable cars are converted to tokens only. this has only gotten worse since Vivendi’s hostile takeover of Gameloft in 2016.
- Brawl Stars has the worst pay-to-win microtransactions out of all of Supercell’s games. The amount of resources/power points of the Brawl Boxes do not increase as you get more brawlers, meaning that getting all the brawlers you don’t have would be a terrible idea if you wanted to level up your current brawlers. To make things worse, you can get only 22 brawlers without micro-transactions since Supercell did not increase the Trophy Road, but it doesn’t stop here. The Legendary Brawlers cost 700 gems without a deal-off. There is also no other instructions of getting new brawlers than just paying for gems or having a certain number of brawlers at a certain level.
- Roblox Clones: They all usually have a ton of microtransactions, and they usually scam money out of their own users.
- Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a game that has a lot of gameplay locked behind microtransactions. In fact, most of the critics say that you don't even need to play the actual game to get to max-level.
- Dead by Daylight has virtual currency, known as Auric Cells that can be unlocked through playtime, or through a pay wall. While the currency may be similar to that of Fortnite, a lot of unlockable cosmetics are brought through Auric Cells. The more notorious case with this, is with the legendary set of Silent Hill themed cosmetics, that were released alongside the Silent Hill Chapter DLC. While they may look great on paper, the legendary skins cost far more than a single unlockable character, or even a DLC. Buying these cosmetics could potentially gobble up all of your remaining Auric Cells.
- BreakQuest: Extra Evolution is a definition of a pay-to-play game; you have to buy balls (with the option for unlimited balls) to actually play the game. Unlike most mobile games they don't recharge, meaning once you run out of balls (which you can on the first level), you cannot continue unless you pay for more balls through micro-transactions unless you could trigger a bug exploit, which was already patched.
Why They Suck
- Since almost every game on mobile devices is full of microtransactions, and most developers (such as Gameloft) are focused on making even more money as opposed to improving their games, it is very rare to find a unique mobile game that doesn't rip-off another app and isn't fueled by greed.
- Many games with microtransactions are literally pay-to-win, meaning that the player who wins is often the one who spends the most amount of money, rather than the one with the most skill.
- It's almost inexcusable when games that already cost full price use microtransactions. You already paid for the game, those microtransactions most likely are only there to milk more money.
- In some games, the game forces you to pay money in order to progress through the game and making progress without spending money takes forever and a half, forcing players who don't buy microtransactions to do painfully long boring hours of grinding.
- Some games have "paywalls" which exist to give the player a good free experience until the player advances to a certain point, at which it can take a very long time to break past, unless the player buys microtransactions, of course.
- Some titles are completely built around microtransactions by nerfing XP/currency gains, and overpricing cosmetic items. This allows greedy publishers to goad players into buying them in order to "skip the grind". This however, is just a PR excuse to make the game grindy in the first place! This attitude is what's killing Red Dead Redemption 2's online component right now, as a simple can of beans would infamously have an inflated price compared to the modern world while you gain money at a Wild West rate.
- In many games, microtransactions exist as "exclusive items" that are dramatically more powerful than regular items, so that paying players can outrank players who don't pay very easily.
- In cases where players pay thousands of dollars or more, the players who pay large amounts of money are called "whales", and these whales are usually what makes the most money for the publisher. This means they have to make those players keep playing their game.
- Sometimes, if a person links his or her online payment credit/debit card to a store account on a mobile device, children may continuously buy in-game items with the real life money in the account unaware that they're actually spending real money, most likely ending with the parent losing massive amounts of money and possibly causing them to get angry at their kid, or worse, their property get smashed as a punishment.
- Some companies like Smallworlds banned players for no reason after paying. If no gold or items you paid for are not in-game they scammed you and their support sucks.
- Whenever a company pushes microtransactions to new levels and get away with it, others will be soon to follow, which then results in more and more games abusing microtransactions. Due to the sheer amount of revenue produced by them, big publishers will continue to refuse to slow down on microtransaction abuse.
- Some games like Destiny and modern Call Of Duty games have both microtransactions and season passes as if it wasn't enough.
- Publishers who implement microtransactions show where their priorities are at; they are essentially sacrificing game design for rampant monetization which, similar to loot boxes, only serves to cheapen the overall gameplay experience.
- Any free-to-play game that has a proper, cohesive progression system can have a lot more leeway with microtransaction implementation so long as they're priced reasonably.
- Sometimes they can be added to replace season passes, making DLC free (though unless if they're done right, they can be pay-to-win).
- Nowadays, such as on the new Candy Crush advert, there is a warning at the beginning of the advert to warn people (including children) that microtransactions are optional but they have to seek bill payer's permission.
- Many multiplayer only games add microtransactions but make the game free to play, like Team Fortress 2.
Exceptions (microtransactions in good games)
It is important to note that microtransactions on their own aren't necessarily a bad thing, the problem with them is how some games exploit the concept to milk money out of players. If done correctly, microtransactions can be harmless. Mainly when the stuff you buy via microtransactions is optional or can be obtained through normal gameplay at a reasonable pace without requiring hours of tedious grinding, and when the game isn't specifically designed to restrict the player unless they keep buying microtransactions. These in-game purchases are also more widely accepted in free-to-play games. Money obtained from microtransactions can be used to fund extra services that the game offers such as online servers, and as long as the game isn't intentionally milking the player with them, the use of microtransactions can be somewhat acceptable.
Notable games that did microtransactions right
- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
- Dead Space (the first game of the franchise)
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Seige
- Tom Clancy's The Division
- Bloons Tower Defense 5 and 6
- Gran Turismo Sport
- WWE 2K18 (MTX was removed due to server closure)
- Girls' Frontline (free to play mobage that is very generous with resources even without spending real money)
- Team Fortress 2
- Forza Horizon
- The Chase (US & UK Trivia apps) It is a free-to-play (US only, costs 1.99 in the UK for the Ultimate Edition) trivia app based on the TV show, it offers questions for only $0.96 if you don't understand the general questions, or if you just want to shake up the experience, also, there are no ads in the app.
- Phantasy Star Online 2
- Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled since you can buy stuff at the Pit Stop without paying real money, even if you have to be connected to the internet.
- Killing Floor 2
- Far Cry 5
- Assassin's Creed: Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla, with cosmetic packs, special Helix Credit only weapons that aren't overpowered compared to the normal ones, and resource packs and special maps that can boost progress, but with the games themselves not being grindfests otherwise.
- Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution Soccer series (Since Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, the series has had a free LITE version that lets you play myClub and Kick Off without paying (myClub only in 16), and your first victory of the day will always get you 25,000+ GP (15,000+ GP in 16), which is enough to purchase an Agent, and the possibility of getting a good player or legend in a Box Draw agent is very high, so it is rare that you will have to buy myClub coins, because of the game's generosity)
- DC Universe Online
- Dragon Ball FighterZ