Micro-Transactions: the Future of Gaming?

2014 was, without doubt, the year of the micro-transaction. While these small “real world” payments for virtual content have been around in mobile gaming for some time, 2014 saw them adopted en masse by console developers and some of the biggest names in the industry. FIFA 2014, one of the year’s biggest releases across multiple platforms, saw the introduction of micro-transactions for everything from buying players to customising your football kits. And Forza 5, Xbox One’s flagship racing simulator, offered players the option to unlock some of the game’s fastest cars for a small fee. But why have these payments suddenly made the jump to traditional gaming platforms, and are they here to stay?

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Micro transactions emerged as a way for developers with budget constraints to release products for free and still make a profit. While a mobile game like Clash of Clans may be free to play, there is an option for those willing to pay a nominal fee and enhance their gaming experience. This works perfectly well for small developers who would otherwise struggle to generate revenue, say, from an outright purchase of their app. However, larger developers such as EA and even Microsoft and Sony themselves were quick to notice this possible source of extra revenue and take advantage of it.

eaThis created something of a stir among the console-playing community. After all, who wants to shell out £55 on a premium console game, only to find that to access all the content available they would need to spend even more? A case-in-point would be EA’s Battlefield 4 which, despite being plagued by an unstable build (leading some gamers to dub it “Brokenfield”) expected players to spend up to £50 on top of the initial purchase price for extra maps and “Premium” content. This was seen by many as little more than an EA attempt to extort money from the game’s loyal fanbase. Compare this reaction to the general acceptance of micro-transactions for mobile gaming, and it’s clear to see that most console gamers are not happy with being charged extra for games they’ve already bought.

So given the general negative mood of gamers following micro-transactions arrival on consoles, is it too much to hope that the developers will relent and return to a more traditional business model? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look likely. Console gamers are used to paying a premium for the biggest titles and the developers know this. Consequently, unless there is a significant grassroots movement to force the removal of micro-transactions, it looks like they’re here to stay.
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