Ever since the free to play model for video games was introduced, microtransactions have become more and more prevalent. Games have allowed you full access and you only need to spend money if you want to. Sounds great, and it is when it is done right. There are many games that use microtransactions in a way that does not compromise the overall experience and only enhances it. There is a flip side however. Some games revolve around trying to force you to spend money in order to play a supposed free game. Even worse, microtransactions are becoming more common in full price retail games in the attempt to prise more money from the customer. Of course there is always the fact that you do not have to buy anything if you don’t want to but that does not really solve the problem. What is acceptable and what isn’t? Where do we draw the line?
Facebook is filled with so called free to play games. Although they do allow you to play the game as much as you want, progress is slow and it is almost impossible to reach achieve much without either wasting an absurd amount of time or spending your money. These games are viewed as a time sink and are mostly played if you just need something to waste time. This however is an issue in itself. The game is held back by the fact that in order to make you spending your money feel worth it, the pace and progress of the game is held almost to a stand still at times in order to make this a reality. If you are happy just using these kinds of games as time sinks then feel free to use them as such, as a game however they are not worth your time and should be avoided spending any money on at all.
There are however good examples of free to play games that use microtransactions. The hugely popular League of Legends and DOTA 2 are great examples. DOTA 2 lets you purchase cosmetic items for the characters but nothing that affects the gameplay and allows players to have access to a very competitive game with no need to buy anything at all. League of Legends uses a different method by rotating the playable characters in kind of try before you buy approach. You can also buy skins for any character you do buy to customise and specialise your favourite heroes. Both are very competitive games that have implemented microtransactions in order to finance thereselves but have done so without compromising the gameplay. Team Fortress 2 is another example which has achieved similar success over the years.
The bigger problem however occurs when these microtransactions appear in full price retail games. One of the first big name games to implement them is FIFA. The ultimate team feature lets players create unique teams that you can use to compete only line. Players play matches and compete in tournaments in order to earn coins which can then be spent of packs which contain random players or can buy in the online auction house from others. This is seen almost like gambling. You have no way to tell which players you will get and the better players are more difficult to get and will cost more to buy from another player. It is almost like trading card game in that sense. The packs can also be bought with real money which is where microtransactions come in.
Games like Mass Effect 3 and, more recently, Ryse: Son of Rome use a similar random pack system. They use them in co-op modes allowing players to have better weapons and equipment. Those players that wish to spend more money on the game can buy these packs and gamble to try and get the better equipment quicker. The packs remain accessible however and can be earned relatively quickly. Since these microtransactions are only in co-op mode then it is just acceptable. Players are all on the same team so anyone you just wants to be more powerful quicker is welcome. The game is still very fun but your options are limited for a while. These pack style of microtransactions are fine for the most part. As long the packs are available at a decent in game price and you are willing to gamble on them then there is no reason not to enjoy games like this.
The major issues occur when microtransactions affect the single player. The biggest recent example of this is Forza 5 on the Xbox ONE. The amount of cars in the game is limited and the cars are very expensive. The cars can be bought individually but at huge real money prices. The game is therefore compromised with microtransactions forced into the game for no reason. A full price game is not available to players without a huge investment of time or extra money and that is where the line is. If you are basically forced to pay extra money in a retail game in order then it is pure greed and should no be tolerated.
Microtransactions are here to stay. With each game decided how they may wish to implement them and with no real rule set to govern them, it is up to players and consumers to decide what we are okay with and what should be called out. There are good examples and bad examples but until people take a stand and come together to decide what we will accept it developers and publishers will continue to push the boundaries in a bid to gain as much extra money as possible.