The Popularity of Microtransactions: Who’s to Blame – Gamers or Companies?

There have been a few gaming-related controversies in 2017, but by far the biggest has been all the negativity surrounding microtransactions and loot boxes. As more and more games adopt these ‘features,’ including AAA-titles, the collective angst from the majority of the gaming community will continue to grow. This raises the question: who is there to blame for the outbreak of microtransactions and loot boxes, the buyers or the sellers?

One of the big reasons why this has become such a controversial topic is because it has been lumped into the same boat as other controversial topics like gambling. In fact, some lawmakers arguably consider the act of buying loot boxes as another form of gambling; no different than going to a casino. As a result, they want loot boxes to be regulated since they’re arguably responsible for introducing the kids that come across them to gambling. After all, anyone can play a game, but only adults are allowed into casinos. Indeed, this situation is rightly considered to be one of the biggest gaming controversies in recent times as even lawmakers and mainstream media have gotten involved.

Yet, there’s still the matter of determining where to point the finger of blame. Is it right to blame the developers that keep trying to put these things in their games? Or, should the blame instead be pinned on all the people who keep buying them?

To answer this question, we will have to continue to look at microtransactions and loot boxes in the same light as other vices like gambling, such as smoking and drinking. These are all categorized as forms of addiction.  With that said, people constantly buying into microtransactions and loot boxes is seen as a fundamentally yet another form of addiction, sharing a lot in common with that of gambling, as mentioned before. So, let’s dive a bit into the matter of addiction as a whole.

– Image Credit: Jeff Djevdet – speedpropertybuyers.co.uk/

Those who get tied up in the frequent purchasing of microtransactions are essentially addicts.

When most people think of addiction, they usually think of things like what I just mentioned. But, one can become addicted to just about anything. Even when you look at the definition of “addiction,” you can see that it can be applied to virtually everything: “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.” What makes addiction so bad is that it shows that a person has an imbalance. This even applies to someone who is addicted to something good, like exercise. But, as the old saying goes, ‘too much of anything can be bad.’ That’s why addictions are even worse when it comes to destructive things like smoking, heavy drinking, and yes, gambling. 

With that said, when it comes to addictions that are truly destructive, the answer to the main question of this discussion more-or-less falls directly onto the creators/sellers. Let’s take smoking, for instance. It’s been a well-known fact for quite some time now that smoking is just plain bad; there really isn’t any way to justify it. Smoking has no benefits whatsoever and only serves to accelerate the inevitable outcome of death. But, the nicotine substance in cigarettes has such a heavy effect on the brain. Hence, you have millions of people who are addicted to smoking. On the one hand, you could say that the blame falls on the smokers who are responsible for controlling themselves. That is true, but, what about the ‘big tobacco’ companies making the products in the first place? They also share a bit of the responsibility. They’re the ones who continue to make the harmful tobacco products, despite the fact that we all know there’s nothing good about it. Even if they ‘warn’ people, they’re still selling products that everyone should avoid.

So, where does this put something like microtransactions and loot boxes? Well, things are a little more complicated. It’s more similar to that of alcohol. Now, unlike smoking, drinking alcohol is not inherently bad. The problem comes in when people drink to the point of drunkenness. As long as you drink just enough to avoid even getting ‘tipsy,’ then you’re fine. Microtransactions more or less follow the same pattern. It’s okay to buy them every now and again, but those who are sinking hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of dollars into them definitely have a problem. Loot boxes technically aren’t as bad as gambling in a casino or playing the lottery since you always get something in return, but that doesn’t really justify it. That’s the justification that those who in favor of loot boxes have given, and while it’s not incorrect, there’s still the matter of it fueling a gambling addiction. Yes, it’s still up to every individual to control themselves. But, the truth is that there are people who have very impressionable minds; it’s far easier for them to pick up habits and addictions. Of course, this applies to kids especially, which is why microtransactions are seen as such a problem.

Microtransactions have become popular due to their low prices. This has what’s caused so many people to become addicted. 

Microtransactions have become effective because they come off as ‘innocent.’ People get hooked because they start off with paying just a few dollars. As time goes on and they get more enjoyment out of the game thanks to purchasing them, they buy more, and sometimes in bigger amounts. The reason why microtransactions even exist is that they’re an added source of revenue. The companies behind them are looking for ways to turn single customers into repeat buyers. It’s typically hard to make someone buy the same game more than once (although ports and remasters do happen to be popular), but it’s a lot easier to get them to buy multiple items in one game. This is understandable in free-to-play titles since the developers need to make money in some way. But, the problem really comes in with retail titles, especially the AAA ones that are $60. People are already paying big money to access these games, so it’s just plain greed on the developers/publishers part when they try and squeeze even more out of their customers; all these companies want is that precious ‘sack of green.’

To be frank, this behavior is almost to be expected. After all, these are for-profit companies ran by businessmen; of course, they’re chasing after money. As I’ve repeatedly said throughout this article, it is still up to each individual to maintain self-control. But, the responsibility still falls to the creators of these vices for putting the ‘bait’ out there, especially with it all being so easily accessible. In the minds of the bosses of these big businesses, they’re thinking: “If someone wants to buy it, then let them.” That’s really the problem here. As long as you give people a choice, unfortunately, there will be those who choose poorly. With that said, millions of people are choosing to buy into microtransactions, thus resulting in these big gaming companies reaping in massive amounts of profit. As long as this continues to be the case, then these things won’t go away.

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