In the last 10 years, the success of smartphones surged users interest in free and inexpensive gaming options for their new devices. During this time it became widely known that some of the most popular games were free to download.
This created a widespread appeal for games like Jetpack Joyride that while simple, proved addicting. Through a process of selling in-app purchases, or “microtransactions” players had the opportunity to purchase items for their character that they could otherwise not unlock without significant play time. Since its release in 2011, Jetpack Joyride still generates an estimated $2500 daily from microtransactions according to thinkgaming.com.
Revenue like this proved significant, causing the business model to be adopted by many free to play games on mobile devices and computers. Games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 are among the most popular in the world and have been successful utilizing a microtransactions model in the PC market.
The common theme among these games that rely on microtransactions is that they are free to download and start playing. Doing so gives players the opportunity to try the game, and see if they enjoy it before committing additional time or money.
Some argue, however, the microtransaction model allows for players to gain an unfair advantage by simply purchasing better items rather than earning them. Clash of Clans, a popular mobile game, was reported in 2015 by Business Insider to have been dominated by high-paying gamers. Some spent roughly $16,000 to be among the best.
However, microtransactions have moved into the high budget and full retail priced releases as well. Popularly known as one of the first offenders, 2K, placed microtransactions in Grand Theft Auto V and Evolve, as well as their sports title NBA 2K. When it was released in 2015, Evolve offered over $100 in DLC according to Gamespot. That does not include the retail price for the game at release. This left gamers feeling the game available on store shelves was only a fraction of the full experience, something they may have believed was too costly for their tastes. While the responses to Grand Theft Auto V and NBA 2K did not prove as negative, some gamers still felt disenfranchised by their opponents ability to purchase better items at will.
In the home gaming market, 2K is no longer alone, as many companies have duplicated the strategy, or even implemented it earlier. The popular “Ultimate Team” mode on Electronic Arts’ yearly sports titles such as Madden, began as early as 2011.
While an increasing number of companies have utilized microtransactions as a way to pay for continued development of new content, it still does not come without backlash. Developer Bungie used microtransactions in the original Destiny game, but fans believe they crossed the line in the recent release of Destiny 2. “Shaders,” items present in the original game, have since been switched from unlimited use to being a consumable. This means the items can expire and replacements need to be purchased.
Companies will continue to experiment with different revenue models, just as Titanfall developer Respawn has. All maps and weapons in Titanfall were offered as multiple free DLC packs as a strategy to sell more copies of the game itself. Through both Titanfall games Respawn offered paid cosmetic DLC that did not offer a competitive advantage. These purchases were a way to support the developer and production of continued content for the game.
An increasing number of regular retail priced games continue to lure players in with add-on purchases, either through microtransactions or season passes. While these funds go toward a continued revenue stream to produce content for the game and lengthen its life cycle, it is not for everyone and at times can create a negative image for the game.