Video games plagued by too many microtransactions

Alison Robles, Editor-in-Chief

You are playing Candy Crush on your phone and you are stuck on a very hard level. You can feel how close you are to beating the level – you are always just a few candies short of reaching your goal – when you run out of moves and receive that dreaded message: you have run out of lives, and you are going to have to wait before you can play again, unless you’re willing to pay a bit of money to get some more lives right now.

This example is what most people think of when they hear the term microtransactions. Microtransactions are small, electronic purchases that free-to-play mobile games like Candy Crush popularized and have used to make a lot of money.

In free-to-play apps, I am not opposed to microtransactions being used. For the most part, microtransactions are a way to just cut out waiting time. Instead of waiting an hour to play a few more levels of Candy Crush, I can pay a few dollars and get several lives and power-ups so I can start playing again right now and beat that tough level.

The majority of people don’t spend this money – it is usually easier and better to put down your phone for a little while – but if you choose to spend money, it doesn’t give you a marked advantage to playing the game. It is possible to gain lives and power-ups by just playing the game over time. It may take a long time, but it is possible for me to not spend any money and still play the game and enjoy myself.

However, it is when microtransactions cross over this boundary – when spending money is a necessity to truly enjoy the game – that I am reaffirmed in my belief that microtransactions are ruining video games.

Many triple-A games – video games produced by large developers with very large budgets – are padding content with microtransactions. Anything from cosmetic outfits for your character to upgrades that can improve your game are hidden behind a pay wall. In the past, you could grind out a few hours of in-game work to earn these items for free. But more and more games are taking out the ability to earn these rewards or making it incredibly difficult to earn them without spending money.

Take for example Bethesda’s Fallout 76. The game has been swamped in controversy almost constantly since its release, and its latest patch has created even more drama. The in-game Atomic Shop recently added two new items – a refrigerator which slows down the decay rate of food and drinks, a necessity to help your character survive in-game, as well as a workstation that sends out robots to collect scrap for your workshop, a resource necessary to level up and build your character’s camp. Together, these items cost $15. These are not cosmetics, nor are they able to be earned in game – they are items that make the game easier to play and gives you a leg up against other players you meet online. Those $15 can mean the difference between enjoying your experience and being crushed by another player who has the money to buy these perks.

There are plenty more examples of video games that have created these pay-to-win systems – Destiny 2, Star Wars Battlefront 2 and NBA 2K20. This isn’t like Candy Crush, where I can choose to put the game down and still win at the end of the day. These games and the developers that make them are making money by holding rewards that players want behind a pay wall. As long as large developers keep profiting off this system, it isn’t going to go away any time soon. Developers aren’t going to be making games for the sake of making a good game, but creating systems that draws in players and asks them for money until our pockets run dry and theirs are full to burst.