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By Stephen Infantolino
If you browse the iOS or Android app stores, you are bound to find thousands of free games that can be downloaded and played free of charge, or at least what seems to be free.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out, a free to download town builder application on both iOS and Android devices that launched in early 2012, has no advertising anywhere in the game. Instead, to pay to keep the game running, developer Electronic Arts chose to use what are known as microtransactions, which are also known on iOS devices as in-app purchases.
Microtransactions are small payments made within a game with real currency, which result in bonuses, such as extended time to play the game or even extra items, such as alternate clothing for your character or even new weapons.
Games like the Simpsons: Tapped Out fall under the category of “Freemium Games”, which are games that are free to play, but use microtransactions for particular content. In the case of Tapped Out, this would be extra houses or characters that can’t be obtained without paying for them.
Daniel Romberger, a 24-year-old gamer from Binghampton, NY said, “In the case of freemium games. I think they’re effectively extorting the small percentage of people that get addicted to games such as that.”
Another gamer, Zack Schmidt, a 20-year-old also from Binghamton NY, said “In the case of mobile games, if the game is free, I find it very hard to complain about microtransactions.”
Nintendo, one of the major players in the home console and portable video game markets, has also begun experimenting with microtransactions in some of their recent digital Nintendo 3DS titles.
Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, one of Nintendo’s first microtransaction games, which released back in 2014, is a mini-game compilation that is free to start, but then requires multiple microtransactions in order to play the entire game.
What differs Real Deal Baseball from other games with microtransactions is the price point. Unlike many games that use microtransactions at a fixed rate, Real Deal allows users to haggle with the in game shop keeper to reduce the cost of each microtransaction.
Normally in Real Deal, each mini-game would cost the user $4, but with the use of haggling that total can be brought down to $1.50 per mini-game. At the $4 price point across the 10 mini games it would roughly cost the user $40 before tax, which is roughly around the price of a standard release Nintendo 3DS title.
These platforms of free to play games that offer microtransactions aren’t just in the mobile gaming market anymore. Microtransactions have also been appearing in many computer games.
League of Legends, a computer based multiplayer online battle arena game that has over 32 million active monthly players, generated more then $1 billion in revenue last year from microtransactions alone.
Game Designer Sean Plott explained in an interview with Business Insider how the large amount of money generated from microtransactions incentivize developers, such as League of Legend’s Riot Games, to reinvest part of that money back into the game to improve it. “If people are playing your game and there is something they are frustrated with, the developers can fix it and make players happy, and then players will continue to stay on the product.”
Kyle Thibodeau, an 18-year-old gamer from New Brunswick Canada, said when it comes to microtransactions he prefers it in games like League of Legends because in those kinds of games it doesn’t affect the overall gameplay, “I dislike when video games consist of microtransactions that would make your game better or easier. However, paying for things like hats, skins, and other things that do not affect your game, I agree with.”
In the home video game console market, microtransactions are just starting to evolve and become more prevalent. However, the difference in the home console market is that many of the games that do include microtransactions also require to be purchased, which differs from the portable and phone market games as most games in that market are free.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the most recent title in the Assassin’s Creed franchise released by Ubisoft on Oct 23rd for both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 consoles, is one of these titles that are using these microtransactions.
In Syndicate, users have the option to use microtransactions in order to save time collecting in game money and experience. Many fans of the series were worried upon the announcement of this inclusion, but Ubisoft responded by stressing “All of AC Syndicate’s content is available without paying anything additional and the game has been balanced such that microtransactions are 100% optional.”
Guitar Hero Live, the newest iteration of the Guitar Hero franchise by Activision, which released on every major home console on Oct 20th, has microtransactions in its GHTV mode.
Users can use microtransactions so that they can access songs in the mode quicker, instead of building up play coins through other in game modes. Like Syndicate, Guitar Hero Live doesn’t require the use of microtransactions to access all of the game’s content, all it does is speed up the process of obtaining it, which seems to be the trend for microtransactions on home consoles.
Some users have also compared microtransactions to download content, also known as DLC, because both require the user to spend extra money on the title past the initial price point. DLC generally costs more than a typical microtransaction and are bigger updates, either adding new levels or entire segments to a pre-existing game.
Schmidt, however, disagrees with this comparison because DLC usually adds to the story while microtransactions give you little content updates, stating both have two entirely different purposes, “It’s almost like an encore from the developers. In exchange, we can choose to pay money for it. Microtransactions have a different purpose. They create an avenue for the developers to generate money from the game itself.”
Microtransactions have proven themselves to be a huge driving force in the video game industry. What started out as primarily a mobile game concept has expanded into every reach of the industry. The amount of money generated by the strategy proves that it won’t be going anywhere, despite many gamers being unhappy with the practice.