By Scott Smith
Mobile gaming has introduced a new business model into the gaming landscape: micro-transactions. A micro-transaction is the exchange of real world currency into a game currency. Game currencies allows the player to buy items or costumes, bypass time walls, and more. While most micro-transactions exist in free to play apps, full priced titles now include these fees.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a campsite designer game with micro-transactions built in. The games paid currency, Leaf tickets, can speed up processes that would take hours to complete. Limited time offers push players to spend real money on the chance of missing out on a rare item. The lowest sale option starts at 20 tickets for $0.99, increasing all the way to 1200 for $39.99. These tickets go faster than expected. One item may cost a whole 200 tickets.
Micro-transactions are not exclusive to mobile games, they also appear on console games. In Star Wars Battlefront II, major characters like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker are locked from the start. According to a Kotaku article by Ethan Gach, these characters would take 40 hours to unlock. Not only do you have to pay $60 to get the game, you have to pay more to get faster access to the heroes. Most games do not even last 40 hours. There are so many games to play that by the time you unlock one character, everyone has moved on.
The issue is that money is being used to bypass time. In both of these games, it becomes difficult to get what you want without spending countless hours in the process. The desire for completion or to own things that others do not have is an intentional measure. The designers made the content this way to make you play more or to buy in to get to the content that you actually want. You pay for having prize instead of earning it.
Games that build their structure around this idea are dangerous. If you have already paid an admission fee, there is an expectation that what you are getting is complete. Star Wars Battlefront II angered players and led Electronic Arts to delay the micro-transactions. Free games are also deceptive because they have no barrier to entry. Anyone can download the game and start playing. If the game is engaging enough and you wish to continue, then you have a greater chance of buying into the game. Animal Crossing: Pocket Edition players also stressed to reduce the need of paid currency.
So the next time that you start playing a game or app, keep in mind these techniques. Your time is precious and these companies understand that. Some players want to spend more, but not everyone should feel forced to buy into the practice. Some games are fads, clever time wasters between classes or some spare time during a commute. In the end, you have the power to set down the game. Do not be afraid to step away. There is always something else worth your time.