Microtransactions (MTX) are as viable a payment model for games as paying at the counter – especially as many of the products that rely on them for income are given out free on the App and Play stores. However, abuse of the mechanic in full-priced games (and in a largely unregulated space) has turned public opinion against microtransactions. Let’s not forget that the $60 Star Wars Battlefront II game required a time or cash investment of 4,528 hours or $2,100 respectively to unlock all the content available at launch.
While the aftermath of EA’s misstep birthed a thousand memes, especially with regard to the company’s defence of its “surprise mechanics” in front of UK Parliament and the most down-voted comment in Reddit history, there’s still no clear solution to the issue of microtransactions in video games. 2K Games recently took the concept to its logical extreme by including slots, roulette, and pachinko in its popular NBA 2K franchise, forcing the PEGI rating board to defend itself.
While the gaming industry may be reluctant to embrace a framework for care and responsibility from online casinos, the latter nevertheless provides a solution for developers that want to adopt gambling in all but name. It goes much further than simply protecting players though. EA faced prosecution in Belgium over irresponsible payment models in FIFA 19, a development that will inevitably prove costly both in terms of human hours and financial penalties.
Paddy Power, a provider of jackpot slots, roulette, and other casino games, is associated with several organisations that try to ensure both responsible play and the authenticity of the website in question. This includes self-exclusion service GAMSTOP, which, even in isolation, could help ease the burden of microtransactions on the gaming experience. In brief, the option for players to avoid loot boxes altogether could help reduce players’ and developers’ current reliance on them.
As inclusion in the service (or a hypothetical gaming-orientated one) is currently voluntary, signing up also works as a positive PR move, by signalling that players come before profits. Paddy Power is also licensed and regulated by the UK Gambling Commission and the Malta Gaming Authority, ensuring that it adheres to at least a minimum set of rules regarding security and other player-conscious elements. As of late 2019, the UK had no video game regulation at all, beyond a rating board.
Striking a Balance
Of course, the problem that remains is that some companies are almost entirely dependent on microtransactions yet it’s still irresponsible for, say, the App Store to give almost anybody the power to create apps and games with predatory microtransactions. A balance needs to be struck somewhere. But, given that nothing much seems to be happening beyond political bluster and the mass down-voting of Reddit comments, it’s not easy to see how the era of microtransactions comes to an end.
In any case, the framework established by Paddy Power and co. could at least provide a stop-gap for regulators, even if it has to be forced upon publishers in certain markets.