The concept of microtransaction games is a relatively new one. The basic idea is that the game itself, in its most basic form, is free to play. However, in order to get all the content, or bonus content or more energy or something like that, you have to spend a little bit of money. Its a pretty neat concept when you think about it. It gives people who want to play purely for free the ability to do so and also gives people the ability to buy things that are special or interesting or different. There are also some very interesting psychological impacts to this marketing method.
Many of the newer MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online roleplaying games) work under this concept. Some of them do it better than others. The Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest II and several others all offer various packages of classes or different maximum levels or more bag space. The problem with the way some of these games are offering packages is that in order to get the full game experience, you do have to basically buy everything. Some of these games still offer the monthly fee option where you get the full game, and to make matters even worse, this option gets even more content than any of the people not paying the monthly fee can ever get, even if they buy every single package available.
The upside to the concept of microtransactions is that people can play for free if they want, can reward the developer if they want to, can make whatever choices they decide they want to. It puts a lot more power in the hands of the players. The downside is that most of these games have a system where you spend, lets say, $10 and it gives you some amount, lets say 100, of their special virtual currency. The second it becomes the virtual currency, all correlation to real money spent stops. The human brain doesn’t associate the pretend money and pretend items with the real money cost involved, except for the original purchase of the currency. So, I have 100 virtual credits. Lets say that this really special sheep or something costs 50. Well, 50 virtual credits for a virtual sheep doesn’t sound so bad. How does $5 for that little sheep sound? Would you be willing to spend $5 for the special sheep if that was what the store said, instead of 50 virtual credits? And the games always give the currency a fanciful, fun sounding name. Good examples are Farmbucks and Neo Cash. Interestingly, this concept has long been known to the owners of casinos.
Microtransaction games make a large profit for their creators. They have the potential to give the player more choice about how and if they pay to play. They allow some people to have extras for paying more. Really, what microtransaction games really are is the concept of capitalism distilled into the online gaming world. If I spend more money, I can do more, have more, etc. Is it fair? I don’t know. Is it fun? It must be, because a lot of people are giving companies a lot of profit for switching to this marketing method.
So what do you think about it? Do you love it? Hate it? Never played a game that used it? Live and breathe for Farmville? Tell us about it.