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Published on April 19th, 2008 | by Deejay Knight, Editor/Founder

What Happened to Microtransactions?

There are many awesome things that have come from the next generation gaming consoles that gamers hadn’t seen before. Online gaming in both single player and co-operative experiences, real-time graphical quality that rivals CGI movies, and media center capabilities involving high-definition content have all been made standard – at least as far as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are concerned – and gaming is open to a bit larger an audience due to that fact.

Another feature that’s been made standard in this most recent round of consoles is something that PC gamers have been getting for years, but has been hotly debated since it’s introduction to consoles: the ability to expand on the base game experience with the addition of downloadable content. What sets the console counterparts different from their PC bretheren – and is the source for the contreversy and debate, is the seemingly standard practice of charging for these extras.

Being a gamer since the Atari 2600, this is the only aspect of “next-generation” gaming that has yet to drag me kicking and screaming into the future of what gaming is to become. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve downloaded content from both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network without problem. The problem I have personally is the word “Microtransaction.”

You can begin to understand my frustration with microtransactions in general in the definition. If you google the word, the first link that comes up ends with this quote:

 Charges for each page or item are likely to be minuscule, perhaps a few cents (pence), and the cost of processing such small sums, called microtransactions (or sometimes micropayments) is prohibitive at the moment. Various companies are working on systems which would aggregate payments and so reduce the number of transactions, or charge users through their telephone bills or issue scrip tokens redeemable by the merchant. One slightly cynical provider has commented that the true meaning of microtransaction is “any transaction whose value is currently too small to be worth bothering with” — about one US dollar (60 pence) at the moment.

That is where the key question arises. Although it may have been a cynical provider to admit it, they key is the last bit “about one US dollar at the moment.”

Considering the pricing for XBL is a bit skewed in how the points translate to dollars, 100 points translates to $1.25. With that in mind, here’s a little exercise: Take about five or six minutes to peruse Xbox Live or PlayStation Network and try to find something that costs less than 80 points ($1.00). Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Back yet? If you’ve found a couple of Rock Band tracks or gamerpics, you’ll have found a great minority in DLC. When microtransactions were introduced to gamers, first with XBL, prices like 25 cents, 75 cents, were tossed around with reckless abandon to get gamers hip to the idea. Looking at the current market though, it seems that not many developers or companies are following the original suggested pricing structure. The same lack of “micro” occurs on both PlayStation Network and the Wii’s online system as well.

The worst offenders of the transaction madness have content ready for download within a week of the game hitting store shelves. It doesn’t seem all that bad until you think about how long certification takes. That means the fresh DLC could likely have been on the game disc, but was purposely held back to make more money off of the downloads.

Having said that, higher pricing in some situations is understandable. Maps for shooters in packs for $10 isn’t all that bad, even though it splinters the user base a bit. That $2.50 per map is pretty miniscule when you think of how long you’ll be playing online with them.

What’s the point of all this, you ask? It’s simply to remind gamers everywhere, whether they agree or not with prices for downloadable extras, that collectively, we have the power to shape what will come of our medium. Whether you’re hardcore or casual doesn’t make a difference, companies respond to consumer willingness to purchase high-priced items all the time. Look at the PlayStation 3 – the original price didn’t move as many units as they wanted, now they’re neck and neck with the 360 every month.

Think about this next time you go looking for DLC to buy. You may only be one person and think your choice doesn’t make a difference, but if it’s too expensive for your tastes, hold off. If enough people decide not to buy that DLC, don’t be surprised if it’s halved in price after a short time. It’s possible, you just have to resist the defeatist thoughts like “They won’t change it, anyways”.

Silence and obedience to the prices you may not be comfortable with may be the end of gaming as we know it. I still haven’t come to terms with the concept that $60 apparently doesn’t buy a complete game anymore. Together we can do our part to make sure that if we do have to pay more than that, it won’t be much.

You never know – prices may even become as “micro” as they were advertised to be.

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About the Author

Deejay has been a gamer since the Atari 2600, has wrestled–and defeated–alligators with only his toes, and once aligned all the planets in the Solar System by uttering the words "Coo Coo Ka-Choo". In his sleep. He currently bides his time behind the scenes here at GAMINGtruth.com, streaming at http://www.twitch.tv/deejayknight and teaching.

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