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What Gamers Think About Microtransactions
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What Gamers Think About Microtransactions

December 3, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Consumption of Goods

Instead of enforcing a time-based rental period it is possible to instead have it be use-based. This could for example be a durability system -- as typically seen in hack-and-slash RPGs -- in which the player buys repair kits to fix his armor and weapons. This system could also include the option to buy premium items that deteriorate by use, instead of renting them.

A durability system could give the player a sense of controlling his investment, since the inevitable deterioration of the item is the player's responsibility rather than an arbitrary game rule. The durability system also makes it possible for the player to decide when to buy repairs, which is actually just an extension of the rental period.

The players who have experienced games with paid repairs are positive towards the increased feeling of self-control:

"In Secondhand Lands you can repair your items through tokens. If you don't the items [that the player has gathered] break. It seems fair enough because it is only a time-saver by paying for it [instead of finding a new item]." (Steen)

The notion of selling premium items for a fixed price can have a positive influence on the player, because he now feels that he owns something of value in the game. By giving the player a tangible asset for his investment, the game might be successful in keeping him longer.

Going for Cheap

Another topic that should be touched upon is transaction utility, which is the idea that consumers often buy unnecessary goods if they're good bargains.

However, microtransactions typically have low prices, and the discrete value saved on a single purchase, even at half price, is so small that it might not convince non-paying players to enter their credit card information. To remedy this effect, an investment model could be implemented, where the player invests in the in-game currency for a guaranteed return on investment.

The investment scheme could be framed within the fiction, for example that a local king needs funds for an ongoing war and will pay back the amount in one month at 20 percent interest. The logic behind this specific, hypothetical offer is described by Thaler in his research of purchasing habits of wine enthusiasts, who considered the initial payment for large quantities of expensive wine an investment that actually saved them money.

If a similar cognitive trick could be applied to microtransactions, then it is expected that the players sink larger amounts of money into the game, which is then captured by the company as revenue. How often this event should happen and at what discount, requires demographical knowledge for each individual game, but the model should increase financial investments.

There is presumably some lost revenue associated to this model since the regularly paying players will have to pay less for the same amount of coins, but the number of new paying players might outweigh this.

Furthermore the unavoidable attrition rate of players means that some consumers will stop playing before spending all of their sunk, in-game wealth. This sum of unspent wealth is expected to be bigger than usual when players are enticed to sink larger sums into the game. In other words: Players are expected to have larger sums of money in the bank when they eventually quit.

Improving the Player's Experience

The perceived value of an item is naturally important if you want players to engage in microtransactions, but other factors can facilitate the player's decision to pay, too. The following suggestions aim to build an overarching frame that facilitates microtransactions, while also increasing the perceived fairness of the trade.

This means that the suggestions do not touch upon the utility of the assets themselves, but rather look at other elements in the game that have an influence.

Some games have premium items for sale, but the interviewed players were largely skeptical towards these transactions. The reason is that they threaten to tilt the perceived fairness of the game, because established players fear that newcomers can buy their way to success:

"I don't think they would like [expensive, powerful items] very much. Because then it means that you can be better than me, [just] because you have a bigger wallet." (Peter)

It therefore seems sensible to include effort-related rank in the game and require a certain rank for the premium items, as also suggested in other design analyses (such as one by Oh & Ryu). The rank requirement means that a buyer has to play for a while before he can use the asset. This system both diminishes the influence of outside wealth on game balancing and also gives the player a tangible reward for advancing in the game.

Limitations to the player's purchases can thereby become a part of the game's reward structure or even the main rewards in themselves. To further increase the perceived fairness, the non-paying players should be able to obtain the premium items for free if they complete difficult tasks. It theoretically enables all players to compete equally, which is something that the players sought:

"I already felt that a small difference [between paying and non-paying players] was ridiculous, so if the benefit [to the paying player] was greater then I would see [the microtransactions] as even more of a scam." (Anders)

These free premium items could be extremely rare, and for example still require regular paid maintenance from the player. In this way paying and non-paying players can compete equally, and payments would only relieve the player for large time sinks, which is a benefit that is valued by the players:

"Grinding is really boring [in Silkroad Online], so [players] pay to avoid it." (Anker)

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