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Getting Micro-Transactions Right

Updated on May 2, 2016


Written by: Ty Chase


The Hows and the Whys

In the last few years, more and more game developers are putting micro-transactions in to their games, whether that be from the request of a publisher or at their own doing. Micro-transactions are downloadable content for a game that cost real world money to acquire. I fully understand the need for micro-transactions, and I don’t think they should go away. I think the way micro-transactions are handled should be different though. The reality is that today’s games cost much more to make than those of ten years ago, but they still cost the same to the consumer. I think raising the price of games is likely to do more harm than good as it will likely fuel the already growing anger in consumers. Game developers arguably make more with the use of micro-transactions than they would if they increased the price of the base game. Take a look at the following article to get an idea as to how much money can be made by developers via micro-transactions. Just recently, the prize pool of the Halo Championship Series was doubled as a result of the massive amounts of money that the Halo 5: Guardians REQ packs bring in.

Types of Micro-Transactions

Micro-transactions can range from new levels, new gear, or even in game currency. However, recently AAA games that cost full retail price are including random packs to lock their content behind a paywall. Basically what these are, you pay two or three bucks for a digital pack which when you open it will reward you with a random set of in game content ranging from weapons, costumes, or emblems. However, getting the stuff you actually want in these packs can take hundreds of packs and thus hundreds of dollars.

The Problem with Micro-Transactions

The reason why micro-transactions have become so controversial is because people feel like they are paying full retail price for an incomplete game. Many times, the content is in the game from launch, but it is locked until you gamble with the random packs. Making matters worse, some pack systems allow you to get duplicates of items you already have unlocked before meaning that your odds of getting something you do not have decrease every time you open another pack.


The Problem

Recent research was conducted to determine how much money had to be invested in supply drops, the pack system in Call of Duty Black Ops 3, in order to unlock a new weapon. And it found that on average, an alarming $56 needed to be invested in packs before getting one of over ten weapons locked behind the packs. Considering that the game itself only costs $60, that is a ridiculous amount of money to have to spend to get a single item in game. Another side effect of these packs, is that the content locked behind them in today’s games was unlocked though challenges in the past. These challenges made games more enjoyable as it gave you something to work towards. Now however, most of that is gone. I have seen countless videos from popular Call of Duty YouTube channels recently with people ranting on the current supply drop system within Call of Duty Black Ops 3. You pay $3 to open a pack of items that rewards you with three random in game items like weapons, emblems, camouflages, armor, and taunts. However, unlike the better Halo 5 Guardians pack opening system, you can get duplicates in Call of Duty.

And sure, yes you could unlock all of the content in the packs without paying any actual money. However, this would take tens of thousands of gameplay hours. At the current rate, you earn about three cryptokeys per match. Crypokeys are the in game currency in Call of Duty Black Ops 3. You need 30 to unlock a rare supply drop, so that is ten matches I have to play for one pack. And that pack will only have three items, of which there could be duplicates. There are hundreds of items locked behind these packs. How is anyone supposed to unlock what they want without spending real world money? Each match takes around ten minutes, so you have to play for nearly two hours to get a single pack. The issue with supply drops has gone so far as to become a meme amongst the Call of Duty community. You do not have to read that far into the comment section of a Call of Duty YouTube video to find someone saying “[Insert random unrelated item] is only available in supply drops.” and each of those comments alone usually end up with hundreds of likes. Take a look at this video to help understand what I mean.

The Solution

What I think needs to be done is to get rid of the random packs. I’m okay of I still have to pay for the content that is in them, but that content should be sold in a way so that the consumer knows exactly what they are buying. The only real way to get publishers to listen is with your wallet. Spend it on things you support, and not on things you don’t, as tempting as it might be. However, the issue for many gamers now is that if you do not spend money on these packs, then you have a disadvantage in the game against those that do have to the content. I believe that there are multiple things to be done before this is a good microtransactions system. There are two main ways for the developer and publisher to go about doing this:

  1. Get rid of the supply drops and instead allow consumers to purchase weapon/gear packs where the consumer knows exactly what it is they are buying. This is the current system in place for adding new levels and maps to the game. The same system applied to weapons and gear would most likely be successful as well. This idea has already seen vocal support from the community of Call of Duty players.
  2. Keep the supply drops, but make it so you cannot earn duplicates. Also, the developers should decrease the amount of items available so there is better chance for players to unlock what they want. Take camos out and put the under challenges. Right now, there are over 20 camos for each weapon, of which there are over 30. The only reason those are in there now is to make it harder for people to unlock more rare gear and weapons.

I would be far more inclined to purchase in either of these situations. I myself have spent money on the pack system in Halo 5 because there is a much higher chance at a better reward because you can never get the same thing twice. I have also seen the success of weapon packs in other games like Sniper Elite. Take a look at this video for solutions proposed by one of the leading Call of Duty community members.

Taking Action

Without any action, nothing will change. With this particular problems of supply drops in Call of Duty, a vocal movement in opposition of them has already begun. It is our jobs as players to continue to support new ideas by commenting on YouTube videos and contacting the developer and publisher through varied social media outlets. As much as it may not seem like it, these companies do read their social media. They may not reply, but they read it and they want to appease the community. In the end, they are a company, and no company wants their customer angered at them. The only way to get any solution implemented is to spread the word. Also, stop spending money on these packs as temping as it might be. Find another game to play that does not have these packs in them so that you are not at a disadvantage. Also, to those big Call of Duty YouTube channels that claim that the supply drops are bad, stop buying them yourselves. These people running these channels are so vocal against supply drops, but then they make a video with them opening hundreds of them. Then they make more videos covering how awesome the new content is. The developers of Call of Duty has made changes to the games before as a result of player request. And that is really all we have to do in this situation. It will take a little more work due to the revenue that the supply drops bring in, buy if we can convince the developers to add an option to buy individual items alongside the current supply drops even for a short time, then that is a victory. They will then come to see that those will be profitable as well and their players will be much happier as a result.


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