Today’s free to play video games can go 1 to 100 in the blink of a frame. That is, you’ll be spending $1 to $100 on microtransactions to actually maintain the pace of your progress or suffer through a mire of grind and gating.

Not all free to play games are guilty of pay to win microtransactions, but can those “free to play” games that do include these types of microtransaction really be classified as free to play games?

jedi's ready for battle

There are an increasing number of video game titles offering purchasable acceleration in the form of microtransactions, sometimes priced to put most players bank accounts in overdraft. These so-called “unnecessary” purchases are designed to feel necessary and they do impact the overall gameplay, design and feel of the video game. The problem with modern in-game microtransactions, is that in some cases they simply aren’t so micro anymore, not to mention that in some popular games they have become a necessity if you want to finish anywhere near the top.

The monetization of a video game and how that interacts with its systems is still part of the overall business plan and we aren’t here to discuss what is fair for the publisher or the developer but what is fair and fun for the players. Some would say that a leveling booster microtransaction is fair but in order to make those boosts worth while developers extend the repeatable content, which creates filler to be bypassed, not enjoyed or properly learned and played.

briefcases from battlefield 4

EA DICE’s BattleField 4, not only a AAA title which retailed at $60 with a “Premium” service but also included a F2P-like cash shop that rewards both cosmetics and performance enhancing additions to be unlocked sooner. The unlock system combines RNG “BattlePacks” with achievement unlocks, the latter of which I am very much a fan of. The issue with this system is the length of time it takes to fully equip a role to competitively fit within a squad which incentivises purchases of the BattlePacks that range from $1 to $3 which could be considered micro if they didn’t offer sparse and random unlocks so you are forced to buy multiple. Plus that is in addition to the full AAA price already paid plus paid DLC. This system has allowed for many free updates, weapons and maps, but it is far from favored. To make this identical system work fairly, the BattlePacks microtransactions should offer far more rewards and the variety of BattlePacks shouldn’t be based on rarity but instead for the different classes so that people could quickly become viable.

SuperCell’s Clash of Clans, which uses the tried and true whale hunting tactic of including expedition items in a shop sharply priced at $1 to $100. The game itself is based on building a base for defense and recruiting an army for assaulting others bases, so time gating is a competitive feature to balance clan warfare. The issue is when you allow players to bypass the time gating with microtransactions, making the game literally pay to win, not pay for convenience. This means only those who purchase hundreds of dollars worth of in-game items, can truly fight at the top of the leaderboards. To make this market work competitively, convenience now items should be very cheap and also result in a time gating effect later such as being able to instantly spawn an army and fight but afterwards the barracks will have a cooldown inflicted.

prices of items in clash of clans

Valve’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive, a $15 dollar game that has an RNG crate system that rewards only cosmetics and also utilizes the Valves Marketplace that allows players to purchase directly from other players for mere cents or hundreds of dollars for rarities. This is likely the least of any evil that could come from microtransactions. Not only is the game fairly priced for a multiplayer only title, a trend we are seeing with more games such as Overwatch at $40 dollars, but its cash shop works in tandem with Valve’s own unique trading Marketplace and that is not rivaled in scope or production at this time. The necessary evil of this marketplace is the in-game RNG crates can be very expensive and every so often a hyper rare drop will be worth in the hundreds but then again, none of it has any bearing on actual matches and players can alternatively just purchase from other players for true micro prices.

For every game, free to play or otherwise, there is a unique in-game economy and monetization that is built around that. More and more video game titles will utilize multiple payment schemes which generally will allow for microtransactions. The true problem with microtransactions is not just their increased prices, but their growing macro impact on gameplay itself. Can we really still enjoy microtransaction riddled video games as a non-paying player?