Imagine reading a book that is missing the last few chapters, or watching a movie that ends at the climax. It would seem like a waste of your time. Now imagine you are playing a game and the only way to advance to the next level is by buying an in-game currency using your credit card. Without being able to advance to the next level, the game would seem as unsatisfying as an unfinished book or movie with no resolution.
Unfortunately, more games and phone apps are requiring the user to make in-game purchases known as micro transactions. Micro transactions are the reason a $20 game can end up costing you $1,200 in just a few years.
Duncan Fisher, an avid console gamer says, “with video game prices being as they are, I find it ridiculous that we’re required to pay so much extra for content that a decade ago would have been included in the original game.”
Many video games for consoles such as Play Station 4 and Xbox cost around $80, having to pay extra charges to advance in the game is misleading to consumers. Game packaging includes no disclaimers or fine print saying that players may be required to spend additional money on the games including advancements and online membership.
Many console games now require gamers to have a membership with their console in order to even run the game. These memberships cost between $50 – 60 annually.
Even the wealthiest people on Earth seem to have a problem with the false advertising of a “free-to-play” game. iPhone games designed for young children including Angry Birds, Bakery Story, and Candy Crush, include micro transactions which can be tempting to children. Despite being worth over $100 million, Kanye West, father of North West, who is two years old, took to Twitter to express his hate for micro transactions in kid’s games. West tweets, “If a game is made for a 2 year old, just allow them to have fun and give the parents a break for Christ sake.” However, West’s complaint seems to be hypocritical as his wife, Kim Kardashian, made over $200 million from in-app purchases on her own app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, an app in which players simulate her lifestyle.
Micro transactions are extremely popular in free-to-play games. Although the words “free-to-play” may draw the player in, the player often ends up spending money to advance or customize their characters in the game. Unfortunately, many developers cannot afford to give their creations away therefore they resort to micro transactions to support further development of the game. “Games have become easy to download for free, illegally,” says Jeff Snow, who has had experience developing games. Snow says a major reason for micro transactions is simple greed. “Developers know enough people will spend a lot of money for cosmetic upgrades, extra lives, etc.” Snow says that micro transactions become the number one revenue source for game developers these days. According the SuperDataResearch, the approximate 23 million available console games in the United States and Canada made over $350 million in micro transaction purchases, which is a fraction of the amount that a single online PC game, such as League of Legends (LoL) can make.
LoL has been a popular free-to-play game since 2009. With over 27-million-players a day, according to Forbes, LoL has become one of the most popular online games available and the best part about it is that it’s free to play. That is, unless you want to level up faster using runes, earn additional characters, known as champions, change your champion’s look with stylish skins, and about every other perk that require a lot of game time to earn.
LoL has two forms of in-game currency, influence points (IP) and Riot points (RP). IP are earned in-game through doing well in matches while RP are bought with real life money. Both of these currencies can get players similar perks, however, IP takes a lot of time to earn, and can be quite difficult. Therefore, players resort to purchasing pre-paid game cards. These pre-paid game cards are available for $10, $25, or $50 and are redeemed online for RP.
While some people may believe that spending real life money on a free-to-play game just isn’t worth it, especially when you can earn the same value of points, the companies pull you in by offering special perks that can only be bought using money from your non-virtual pocket. For example, LoL players can buy different skins, or costumes, for their champions. However, these skins can only be purchased with RP. Therefore, these skins are nearly impossible to obtain by players who do not wish to spend money on the game unless gifted by the game or by other players.
LoL ranked number 2 of 10 in the list of the top-ten online games, based on free-to-play earnings worldwide conducted by SuperData Research in 2013. In that year, the online game made over $624 million through micro transactions. It was runner-up to CrossFire, which produced revenue of $957 million that same year.
Video games are getting more expensive whether it is the initial price or the cost of all the separate micro transactions. This false advertising gives the impression that game developers are fuelled by greed, according to Snow and Fisher.
While some avid game and app-goers may feel cheated by the fine print to what they believe is a free game, micro transactions can help keep games and apps at a low initial price.
While you wouldn’t buy a book that was left unfinished, or a movie with no ending, millions of gamers continue to buy games that require additional payments to complete the story.