Gambling, Greed, and Gaming: What are microtransactions?

Zach Powell, Contributing Writer

     Not long ago, gaming was a simple affair. You would buy a game and play it, period.  In the good old days, when a player wished to unlock an item, let’s say a new weapon skin in “Call of Duty,” he or she would earn it either by completing a challenge or simply playing long enough. For gamers, some of these in-game items were worn as a badge of pride. However, in recent years an infection has spread amongst some of the larger game developers. This infection consists of “Microtransactions” and “Loot Boxes.”

     These two features undercut the sense of pride and accomplishment a player would feel after earning a new item. Loot Boxes were introduced as an aside to traditional challenges. The player could earn these boxes by playing the game but are encouraged to buy them with actual money (as opposed to in-game currency).

     Loot boxes are problematic as the items received are completely random. More and more frequently, games are eliminating traditional rewards in favor of the loot box system. Instead of earning that weapon skin you’ve always wanted, you must now spend time earning Loot Boxes and hope to get that item by chance, much like a slot machine at a casino.

     Loot Boxes are part of the larger category of “Microtransactions.” Microtransactions are simply an assortment of in-game items you can buy with your money. You have probably seen them before in mobile games on your smartphones. Ran out of gems for today? Pay up some cash and you can continue!

     Imagine if you had to stop reading this article halfway through because your daily allotment of reading tokens ran out. It would be frustrating to say the least, and for many mobile games, it is.

     The system is understandable in a sense. After all, at least for these mobile games, they are usually free to download. The companies creating these games do need to make money somehow, but in the process, they have created a monster.

     What was wrong with just buying a game and playing it? The game corporations made their money and I was able to play some pretty fun games, everyone won! Now I download them for free and am expected to shell out at least two or three times what I would have spent in the past. How about no?

    The most infuriating part is that no matter how many people stop paying for Microtransactions, there will always be a small group of people who will. This small group is responsible for allowing companies to profit from this behavior and actually reinforces it.

     Although, there is a point where the system starts to become predatory. For example, many children have access to mobile and console based games. It is one thing for an adult to waste their money on in-game rewards; it’s another thing for a child, who may or may not understand buying these items costs their parents money.

     This has been a cause for concern for lawmakers, as showcased with the recent and controversial release of Electronic Arts’s “Star Wars: Battlefront II.” Lawmakers in Hawaii, as recently as Feb. 12 2018, have introduced legislation to regulate Microtransactions. Although most of the points are up in the air, their main focus is to limit sales of games containing them to those over the age of 21.

     This measure would not only protect children from these predatory features, but also cut off a huge stream of cash-flow to gaming corporations. Companies exist to make money and hurting their wallets is the best way to make them stop.

     Make no mistake, this system started as a quick money-making scheme. Children are not the only victims in the situation, either. Many adults are prone to gambling addiction and are tempted by these features. Gambling is a disgusting habit to begin with, but please, let’s keep it out of video games and leave it where it belongs: in casinos.

Zach is a senior Creative Writing major with minors in Professional Writing and History. He is a contributing writer for The Voice.