Look, lower your pitchforks and turn off those chainsaws, hear me out first. The inexorable rise of microtransactions in games has been nigh-on unstoppable ever since I stupidly forked out £5 for my Oblivion horse armour, kick-starting a trend which would ultimately prove incredibly divisive.
You wouldn’t know microtransactions are divisive though, at least on the surface. All we actually see are complaints, usually totally valid, but when the likes of EA are now making more money from microtransactions than they are from game sales, it raises one interesting fact - people are buying them. And they’re buying a lot. You don’t even see these people defending spending $200 on Overwatch skins though, they’re just quietly going about their business, spending fortunes.
But while we’re busy fighting back against microtransactions, and to some degree of success with EA and Star Wars Battlefront 2, have we ever really stopped to think whether they could actually be beneficial to us if implemented correctly?
You’ll have to bear with me on this slightly tenuous analogy, but this is one of those shower thoughts that just sort of stuck with me. Imagine your weekly grocery shop, if you do one. I usually spend about £60 and pick up all the specific things I need. Now, how about if the supermarket said you could just hand them £60, and they’d deliver you £60 of what they think you’d like. Which of these scenarios would you prefer? Being able to pick exactly what you want, or being spoon fed what the supermarket wants you to have?
Now let’s pluck that scenario out and apply it to games. Would it be such a terrible thing if a £50 game was divided up into all its subsequent parts, and then you could pick and choose exactly what you want? You may pick up the first few levels for £5 and then perhaps decide it isn’t for you. Or you might think you only want to pay £25 for the multiplayer portion of the game. Or perhaps, when you look at Forza Horizon 4’s 300-strong range of cars, you’d rather just spend 30p and get a Maserati GranTurismo? With a game split up in this way, you’d only have to buy the specific parts you want, and if you wanted the whole lot then you could buy it for £50 anyway.
In its current incarnation, we’ve probably got practically the worst incarnation of microtransactions you could conceive of. But, there are, surely, methods like this that could provide gamers with more granular choices than ever before, and also help not get stung by games that ultimately disappoint. The pressure would then be on the developers to deliver a game that delivers from start to finish, not one that’s front-loaded with quality before fading away.
The downside to a system like this is when publishers inevitably take it too far. Fortunately, with small purchases, you're hopefully going to be more attuned to the value proposition, and a game that tries to repeatedly rip you off with small chunks of content wouldn't be rewarded.
What do you think, is there a theoretical way in which microtransactions could become a force for good in gaming? Or would you prefer they all just stay the hell away?