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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 3 of 3

Restraining the Player

During my interviews it became apparent that all my respondents had experienced some degree of restraint or self-control issues where they had problems managing their own time consumption. This overconsumption might be beneficial in the short run, because players will be deeply fascinated by the game, but it also results in a high attrition rate of players:

"The game would consume too much time to me. I was in a pro guild in oGame. I quit because it was me or the game." (Dennis)

It was not unusual that the players had left the game cold turkey and deleted their accounts. These quotes reveal a general problem that often -- in the words of the respondents -- is equated to drug abuse, although with some ironic undertone. A large number of respondents had quit their player accounts solely due to restraint issues.

This is a serious loss as they actually enjoyed the game, but felt that they had to enforce this restraint on themselves. The importance of this factor is further underlined by the fact that the interview questions did not address restraint, but that the respondents did.

A good use of designed restraint is seen in the game Pardus, which is a browser-based sci-fi game. The player accumulates action points that are spent traveling and trading and can only accumulate up to 5000 action points. Additional points beyond this are wasted.

This limits the amount of interaction per day, and a premium account only allows the player to accumulate up to 5500 action points, which in effect just gives him more freedom to schedule the play sessions. This design forces a greater restraint on the player, while still enabling the player to get engaged with the game.

It is important not to employ excessively strong restraints either, for example limiting interactions to a few times per day, as they can limit the player's ability to get engaged in the game and have fun.

Silkroad Online

The Value of Friends

In the interviews the players assigned great weight to social bonds within a game, as for example:

"What keeps people playing is the obligation to other players." (Lars)

It is commonly accepted that having online friends motivates players to play more, but does this also cash out into a greater willingness to pay for microtransactions? Several of the interview respondents had in fact bought goods because of social obligations or peer pressure:

"It is pretty much like [in] my experience: If you want to play with the big boys, you have to pay." (Mads)

This makes it crucial to facilitate social connections between players, for example in the form of guilds, chat rooms, or short-term groups. However, some games, such as Evony for example, require the player to pay a small fee for posting a message in the chat room.

This reduces the player's ability to produce social connections and even though it might produce some revenue for the company, the method seems counterproductive. To motivate the production of social obligations, the players should gain benefits from socializing with other players, and not be punished financially for trying to.


Microtransactions are becoming more prevalent in the business models for games, either as the exclusive or a partial source of revenue, but the transition is not without problems. The goods must be designed to both offer a strong value proposition for the potential consumer, while not alienating the player that does not purchase the goods.

I hope to have shed some light on the methods that can be employed to secure more satisfied consumers, who are presumed to be more willing to continue engaging in microtransactions.

The key lessons are 1) to balance the relationship between paying and non-paying players, 2) balancing the transaction conditions that are expected from a virtual good and a real-life good, for example rental terms for in-game items. Furthermore it is important to create a good game where players can have fun with other people, but that is in no way exclusively tied to microtransactions, of course.


Thaler, Richard: "Mental Accounting Matters" pp. 183-206 in Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, vol. 12, 1999

Oh, Gyuhwan and Taiyoung Ryu: "Game Design on Item-selling Based Payment Model in Korean Online Games" pp. 650-657 in Situated Play, Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference, University of Tokyo, 2007

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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