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Why I Have a Problem with Microtransactions and You Should Too

Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire!

Recently with an update to Fallout 76, I noticed in the patch notes and through research online that the Atomic Shop would now be offering repair kits for sale. These kits can be purchased with real money like everything on the Atomic Store or they can be purchased with in-game currency called Atoms. The repair kits themselves are fairly benign and can be gained with in-game play without a massive outlay in time. This brings me to my issue or at least my first of many. Why should someone who has worked hard and grinded day in, day out to build up enough resources to gain quick repairs, be in the same game world as people who have purchased the kits with real-world money instantaneously?

I feel that this, however small, disadvantages players who want to play the game as it was meant to be played. Bethesda has been one of, if not my favourite, developer for years and this move is a nod to the direction the company is possibly going in.

I have a reasonable following on Instagram for which I am extremely grateful, I try to provide good content regularly and engage with people truthfully, especially when it comes to my opinions on video games. At the end of the day my message is that gaming is something worthwhile and can be an incredibly enjoyable endeavour, so why would companies want to taint this experience?

Microtransactions come in many forms. The type that provide skins, the type that provide weapons and armor, the type that provide random loot and so on.

I must differentiate some of this as, in my opinion, it is extremely important to do so. Any type of microtransactions which is paid for with real money, that gives you an advantage over an opponent is morally wrong in my opinion. This type of MTX, much like playing the game itself provides you with a hit of dopamine which is similar to the rush you get from playing a sport you love, getting likes on a social media post or even gambling!! This, in my opinion, is not something that, young people especially, should be exposed to and I will proceed to lay out my arguments and evidence as to why I feel this way.

Recently I did a little research into how much money is actually made from loot crates or MTX as I will refer to them and it brought to my attention some very interesting facts. Fifa, which in the Ultimate Team part of the game has a function allowing you to purchase player packs has a level of uncertainty. For example, if you buy a gold pack you will receive a number of players at a high level of competency within the game. But here’s the rub, you won’t actually know what players you are going to get. The quality of the players is not in debate but if you are looking to get Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo then you may have to buy many packs before they appear. Does this sound familiar? Rolling the dice looking for that elusive 6.

Slot machines? Roulette? Any type of gambling where skill is not really involved follow this same pattern in my opinion. Now that in itself should not be a problem as gambling is legal here in Scotland and UK wide and I don’t have as much of an issue with it when ADULTS are doing it as every adult has to take responsibility for their own actions in society.

Children, however, are another matter altogether.

I mentioned prior to this that Fifa has an ultimate team option within their game which in turn has player packs available for purchase. I am of the opinion that anyone who hides behind the trope that people “know what they are getting into”, or use the line “you don’t have to purchase them if you don’t want to” doesn’t have much or any empathy for people young or old who maybe don’t know the full facts about MTX and their dangers in regards to addiction.

Those people are probably the ones who aren’t affected by that type of craving or indeed do not possess an obsessive nature. The sad fact of the matter is that many people, namely children cannot control those urges and regularly spend their own money or their parents on loot crates/player packs. This is breeding a culture along with social media of constant highs. People want the best players so they can be better at Fifa, people want more likes, follows and comments so they can be more popular online. The dopamine high from this is addictive and if they don’t achieve it then they hunt for it, in some cases doggedly. This, of course, can lead to, in some but not all cases, depression when things don’t go their way.

Of course, addiction doesn’t affect everyone. Before conducting any research into the subject of gaming addiction I imagined that the numbers of people who have such an affliction would be low. Completing some research online I found some figures that give me pause.

Around 211 million Americans are considered gamers in one form or another. From a survey* sampling approximately 3000 of such gamers, 9% were seen to show signs of video game addiction with 4% showing extreme levels of addiction (more than 50 hrs per week). I’ll put this into context a little before moving on with my argument. More than 7% of Americans are known to be alcoholics and in 2017 around 6% of aged 12 and upwards battled with some form of substance abuse. I feel this gives an idea of the levels that gaming addiction has reached or at least could reach. (Americanaddictioncentres.org)

In terms of gaming addiction, the % may seem low at 9% but in terms of raw numbers, the number of people who are showing mild and extreme signs of video game addiction will be staggering when scaled up to real population numbers even with a decent error correction factor. As I mentioned previously 211 million Americans take part in gaming** yearly. Using the 9% as a guide this translates to approximately 20 million people. Sure my numbers could be off due to errors in surveys, but in my opinion, they are not off by a huge margin here. Surveys and studies will have a certain level of tolerance but if it’s even plus or minus 5 million that means between 15 and 25 million gamers suffer from some form of gaming addiction. That potential range of numbers is extremely alarming to me and MTX are not helping this with their existence.

For me, the game companies will not change the way they operate and it comes down to one single irrefutable fact. MONEY TALKS. Every year since its inception Fifa Ultimate team has generated an average of $800 million. Approximately $8 billion in the last ten years and that’s just Fifa, EA own many more gaming franchises like NBA & Madden etc all contributing to the pot.

Epic who owns Fortnite which contains a different type of MTX to EA sports franchises, made, in 2018 $2.4 billion***. These amounts of money mean that the companies will not change their policies one iota.

Now I am not naive, I know video games need to turn a profit like all businesses. If they want to continue to operate, they must make money, however, these companies are essentially printing money from not a huge amount of work/outlay, this to me is morally wrong considering what they are selling.

Something has to change in the industry, in my opinion, for the issue of gaming addiction to be taken seriously. I don’t feel as if a big enough conversation has taken place at any level within the industry about this to date.

So far all I have provided is the problem, It would be pretty foolish of me for pointing out a problem without providing some form of a solution, realistic or not.

The first solution I would offer up is that all games that monetize through MTX should be free. If a game is free you are more likely to

A. Play it or at least give it a chance

B. Put an amount of money into it that you are comfortable with.

Of course, option A doesn’t solve the addiction part but at least it would save gamers some cash and would hopefully MAKE devs/publishers release their product in a more stable and polished condition. No game monetized this way would be able to sustain itself if this was not so.

The other part of my solution, option B, leans more towards helping the addiction problem. This is where is education, especially for parents would be helpful. Not many parents, in my opinion really understand or care about the ins & outs of video games. They need to be educated to the FACT that some games include elements that are similar to gambling, they provide that hit of Dopamine I have mentioned before. In many cases, people are doubling down on the hits as the first one is from playing the game and the second is from either getting the player they want from a Fifa player pack or picking up a much-needed advantage with a repair kit etc all of which can be purchased with money.

Parents need to be aware of this especially since recently the world health organisation has now classified video game addiction as a verified addiction. It is no longer just something people can brush off, it is real and many people are dealing with it daily. Just because perhaps you aren’t, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. The fact MTX exist within games for me is a parallel with an alcoholic or drug addict. The game is the drug/alcohol and the MTX is that little extra boost that increases the pleasure & in many instances makes you chase that extra added level of pleasure.

Some will argue children shouldn’t be playing games that are out with their age restrictions because games that contain elements of what, again, some would consider gambling would have an adult rating surely? Nope is the answer as games like Fortnite (Pegi 12) and Fifa (Pegi 3!!) are not deemed to fall into the unsuitable category even although they have certain elements that no doubt increase levels of addiction.   

3 virtual loot boxes that can be purchased for real money.

This whole concept of MTX is a moral issue in my opinion and is why I took considerable time to write this article. I love video games and want as many people as possible to experience the joys that I have over the years. Surely we, as gamers, should be looking out for each other. We should stand together when something happens in our community and say plain and simple “No, this is wrong”. Some of you will no doubt think I am being overly sentimental and unrealistic here and will again roll out the trope that people know what they are getting into, or you don’t have to buy them, but surely it’s better for everyone if gaming remains a positive past time and not something that will increasingly cause some people, namely younger ones to descend into addiction. I am, believe it or not, a positively charged person, I take great joy in seeing people do well and flourishing especially if it involves video games, the pastime in which I love. For me to stand by and not speak out against something that I find is a danger to the gaming community young and old is something I could not do.

I encourage you to comment on your own experience with microtransactions, have you experienced some form of addiction through gaming or with the use of MTX? Some, of course, will try to change my mind on this issue & of course you are welcome to try, all I will say is that for the past few years my mind has not been changed and in fact, my opinions on the matters discussed have become strengthened and even more steadfast.

At various points in this article, I have held what you may consider a dim view of people who dole out the excuses that MTX don’t need to be purchased and that anyone who buys them knows full well about them going in. To those people, and you may very well be one of them, I would say this, you are probably someone who does not have a gaming addiction, I would implore you to have some empathy to the many people who possibly can’t help themselves. Sure gaming addiction affects people with or without MTX but, without them embedded in games it may help some of these people young or old break the habit easier than if they were included.

I will end with a quote from Winston Churchill as I found it particularly apt whilst writing this article.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”

I feel as if I have poured my thoughts and emotions into this article, now it is time for me to listen to you in the comments if you so choose.

Thanks,

Phantom.

Sources

*Addictions.com

**Variety.com

***businessinsider.com

Comments

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  1. I disagree with a few points – firstly:

    “I would say this, you are probably someone who does not have a gaming addiction” – I’ve been a pretty obsessive gamer for easily over a decade, at which my high point would see me play 8 – 10 hours of video games a day with free time. I’ve never once bought into microtransactions and am still of a mind that they often are optional and people know the risks.

    I don’t see the bother in people opting in to spend real-world cash to get the goods faster than somebody who grinds – that’s their choice. What if this were a scenario where the player that grinds has ten hours spare a day, while the MTX-purchaser has just one hour free a day, but wants the same benefits? How do we cross that gap?

    I’m a firm believer of the “you’ve made your bed” idiom. If someone wants to spend their hard-earned (or indeed given) money on MTX, then that’s their decision. As for companies ‘deliberately’ constructing them in a way that makes them addictive and lures people back in for more, I say well done. It’s a valid and proven business plan and is the same thing that companies do across all industries the world over. Incentives, merchandising, marketing, bonuses, discounts, offers, etc.

    The argument that such a mechanic shouldn’t be featured in games aimed at younger players isn’t something that I think has any traction. One could argue against your exclamation of “PEGI 3!!!” as being pointless, as this doesn’t directly indicate the game is *FOR* children, only that it doesn’t contain content that determines it must receive a stricter rating. In any case, surely it’s much easier to police children’s games owing to their restricted capacity to get hold of any money, and it’s the PEGI 18s we should aim our attention toward?

    At the end of the day, I say to let sleeping dogs lie. As you’ve said, the industry isn’t going to change, so any argument against the matter is moot. People know the situation as in the last year or two, the industry has been saturated with discussions and debates concerning MTX. If people don’t like them, then don’t buy them. We all have our vices, I guess.

    • So you disagree with a few points…

      By my estimations you essentially dont agree with my whole article considering you have tried to dismantle some of my main arguments and have completely dismissed others considering their absence from your critique of my work.

      To your point about “the grind”, why should there be one at all? Most people call anything a grind because it is just that…a grind. Its not enjoyable for the most part but is something you have to live with.

      My question is Why? Why isn’t the grind in games eradicated. Why cant games have an outstanding and almost genre defining experience in a reasonable hour count. Why should there be a grind to slow down the experience or in fact why should there be the option to speed up the game ( xp multipliers ). This screams to me, profit for the publishers of certain games nothing more. Profit with a false outlay in terms of genuine craft and ingenuity in my opinion.

      In addition, I would opine that on your first point that you havent actually taken on board my sentiment. You are clearly not the type of person I am referring to in the article. Regardless of the number of hours you have put into a game or games, addiction is not about that & if you had taken the time to really understand or look into addiction then your opinions may be a little different.

      On to your next point about “you’ve made your bed”. I would in many instances agree with you but not in the circumstances that I mentioned. I am not talking about the mass population of gamers here. I am talking about a small yet substantial amount of people who fall foul of the “lures” you mention.

      The fact you use the word lure points towards something negative and underhand. You mention that there should be more power to companies who achieve this. In my opinion & in respect to the sentiment of my article especially the closing narrative, that statement offends me.

      I spoke of coming together and making sure that the people who were the most vulnerable and possibly the least well off in terms of finance and “street smarts” wouldnt be misled. I asked people to think upon this and be a little more mindful. Clearly this has been lost and the attitude of ” each to their own” or even ” every man for himself ” seem to apply here if I am not mistaken.

      You are obviously correct in the textbook definition of the pegi rating. Fifa player packs, strangely enough, seem to be MTX that are of a level which DO NOT makes a game unsuitable for younger children even although it contains facets of gambling. The legal element of this is currently in debate in many countries and states in America as I type this.

      Besides, parents who are a little more switched on ( only a little ) will see the rating and note that a pegi 3 game is suitable for their children if above 3. No mention of the fact that the game contains elements which currently are not deemed illegal but are being discussed and fought over.

      The fact remains, these elements such as fifa packs can become addictive. I have seen it first hand on numerous occasions. Gambling in its purest and (current) definition it may not be, but it’s close. I wonder…are you in favour of children using games which exhibit elements of gambling in this form?

      Children like their adult counterparts, at times, are unaware of such things and I believe it would be helpful if the pegi rating was increased and a warning added.

      I would hope you agree that education of the whole truth about a game or even anything within life itself is something we should all strive for if we collectively want to improve things in any way.

      My last rebuttal is your words “we should leave sleeping dogs lie” a nice sentiment for sure for anyone who doesnt care about anyone other than themselves.

      I mentioned, and you alluded to the fact game companies will not change in regards to MTX, I feel we should, as a gaming community, continue to ” have each others backs” . We should point out when game companies are trying to exploit ANY member of the community no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. I personally know from experience that a lot of people do NOT know about the debate on MTX and it is only people with a genuine interest in the world of gaming, like You & I, that know about it’s current importance / controversy. For many who are “casual gamers” it is a lost concept entirely. In addition simply allowing game companies to do as they wish in regards to MTX without as much as a whimper from the gaming community is something I cannot sit by and take part in.

      I would end my comment with the fact that yes, we do all have our vices but real friends, real people who care about others try not to let those vices become burdensome or even corruptive. This was part of my message and I may not have communicated it as well as I could have.

      I apologise if I have come off as hostile in any way. It may be the case that we ultimately share different ideals about how the world in general should work.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • It’s interesting reading different opinions on the same subject.

        I’m for microtransactions, but do think that there should be more gambling-related regulations on them. I’ve spent plenty on Fifa packs and don’t regret it, but can see how some people would watch YouTube videos of wealthy YouTubers dropping serious cash on packs, getting great players as a result, then follow them down a bad road.

        With the cost of developing video games, developers are having to look at alternative means to generate income without raising the price of the games.

        I hate pay to win and convenience items. No, I shouldn’t have to pay £10 for an animal to pick up loot for me – that should be a skill you unlock in the game. No, I shouldn’t bury 20 hours into a game for a gun that someone can buy for £5.

        I’m all for microtransactions that add to the game. An expansion introducing new maps/quests/characters/whatever.

        Ultimately, as long as the developers reinvest a decent percentage of their MTX into the game to make improvements, that’s positive.

        Not everyone will agree on this subject, and that’s fine. 🙂

      • As you’ve quite aptly written: “something you have to live with”. I like to live by the idiom, ‘why worry about what you can’t change?’ It’s the same circumstance as people revolting against EA – it will amount to nothing, or very little at the most. A search of ‘”article” microtransactions’ returns over half a million results. That much discussion, yet so few changes made.

        “You are clearly not the type of person I am referring to in the article.” – You’ve determined a high measure of clarity regarding this fact based on a sole mention of hours played. I could go into video games causing a fervent aggression when I was younger, playing relentlessly to the point of my parents confiscating consoles or the withdrawal symptoms I’d attain without playing games regularly, but that’s all presumably irrelevant given my that I’m ‘clearly’ not the type…

        It isn’t every man for himself but I believe people should learn self-control and sensibility in life. I still stand by the statement that children are much less able to access funds, which takes them out of the equation almost entirely. Adults should either a) already have a sense of self-control or b) make the mistake and live with it. It’s their money, I suppose.

        Any and all references to children playing games solely built for their age groups or bearing a PEGI rating befitting their age are quite frankly laughable. If you were to take FIFA 20 and emblazon it with a PEGI 18 rating, are you really suggesting this would ensure children wouldn’t play it? Children play Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat, and the list goes on.. *I* played those games, my friends played them, and my friends’ friends played them.

        There can be no totalitarian rule over video games. Children will play the games if they have the games. It’s not a case of being “in favour” of exposing children to these elements, but being indifferent through futility. Much like the EA boycott and the MTX argument, you cannot stop children playing these games.

        At the end of the day, if developers want to employ microtransactions, I’m all in favour of allowing them. For want of a better term, it’s a necessary evil in the world. If it allows developers to fund their next title more effectively, then they can knock themselves out.

        • It looks like we have reached an impasse. I have not been able to convince you to take on board my opinions on microtransactions & likewise you have not convinced me to take onboard yours. Agree to disagree.

          Thank you again for the discourse.

          Phantom

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