Community Answers: The good, the bad, and the ugly side of microtransactions

3 Posted by - May 24, 2013 - Engagement Activities, Opinion, Player Insight, Rewards & Loyalty

We asked. The community answered.

If it’s not converting over to a free-to-play model, it’s a fairly good bet that your favorite online-only PC game launched with a free-to-play model to begin with. Or else it’s World of Warcraft. But excepting Blizzard’s subscription-based juggernaut, the industry has moved into the microtransaction business…despite the enduring stigma that microtransactions carry with a vocal segment of gamers.

So now developers have a new needle to thread: crafting microtransactions that engage players without alienating them. We put it to the very people they hope will buy in:

Perhaps not surprisingly, we got a certain amount of this:


That’s a sentiment echoed on Facebook as well — clearly not fans of Zynga, then. But it didn’t take long before we got a sense of what might convince people otherwise.


“Balance” was an issue that came up quite often. On Facebook, The Clean Race Crew adamantly stated that, “any free to play shouldn’t be pay to win. Give everyone the same chance, even if items are more expensive with in-game cash.” David Rapp added that, “micro-transactions are fine as long as they don’t create a gap in the power curve that’s impossible to overcome without real money.” Colin Busick specifically called out Blacklight: Retribution, which used to “make some of the best weapons in the game only accessible with real cash.”

Dakota Lake put it more succinctly: “If it’s free to play, it should be free to win.”

And while gamers clearly despise the “buy to win” school of thought, they also want something with a little weight to them. Rob Anderson talked about buying high-tier chests in Defiance and never getting the loot he wanted. Similarly, Chris Fehrenbacher supports microtransactions, but finds, “too often, it’s focused on cheap gimmickry and poor performance. I want to support developers,” Fehrenbacher continues, “but I won’t hesitate to stop my patronage once the game shows a lack of support.”

A few people had already reached that point. Zben Novageist Zeon felt free-to-play killed Star Wars: The Old Republic. “I bought the game and paid to play for months, but when it became free-to-play, I lost so many advantages that I lost interest and stopped playing.” Avid Everquest 2 player Kristin Stumpp bought into that game’s prestige housing, furniture, and vanity armor without complaint, but when the game locked higher-tier spells, she drew the line. “I purchased the game and every expansion,” says Stumpp, “but I can’t play without paying to use my spells and armor. After 6-7 years of playing they lost me, perhaps permanently.”

And Germaximus Almightimus Supremus (possibly not his real name) voiced the other major gripe: “The thing that pisses me off the most is when they are in a subscription-based game. It has no place there, and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Despite all that negativity, the community also offered not only positive examples, but gave up the microtransactions they happily purchased.


Cosmetic add-ons came across as a popular choice, whether it was mounts, pets, armor, skins, or trading the random drops in Team Fortress 2. Particularly when it came to role-playing games, the customization held a lot of appeal.

“I think Guild Wars 2 has a good model,” said Nick Modrowski, echoing the sentiments of several other players. “An up-front investment to dissuade the less serious players and then free play for the duration. I would like to see microtransactions limited to vanity items.”

Time and again, the personal held an advantage over the powerful. Microtransactions that unbalanced or altered the game itself were almost universally hated; “short-cut” purchases to gain access to in-game item faster were frowned upon, but tolerated. Personalizing one’s character or their possessions, on the other hand, met with both respect and enthusiasm.

It just goes to show that people will always pay more to get exactly the experience they want.