3 virtual loot boxes that can be purchased for real money.

Why I Have a Problem with Microtransactions and You Should Too

Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire!

Recently with an update to Fallout 76, I noticed in the patch notes and through research online that the Atomic Shop would now be offering repair kits for sale. These kits can be purchased with real money like everything on the Atomic Store or they can be purchased with in-game currency called Atoms. The repair kits themselves are fairly benign and can be gained with in-game play without a massive outlay in time. This brings me to my issue or at least my first of many. Why should someone who has worked hard and grinded day in, day out to build up enough resources to gain quick repairs, be in the same game world as people who have purchased the kits with real-world money instantaneously?

I feel that this, however small, disadvantages players who want to play the game as it was meant to be played. Bethesda has been one of, if not my favourite, developer for years and this move is a nod to the direction the company is possibly going in.

I have a reasonable following on Instagram for which I am extremely grateful, I try to provide good content regularly and engage with people truthfully, especially when it comes to my opinions on video games. At the end of the day my message is that gaming is something worthwhile and can be an incredibly enjoyable endeavour, so why would companies want to taint this experience?

Microtransactions come in many forms. The type that provide skins, the type that provide weapons and armor, the type that provide random loot and so on.

I must differentiate some of this as, in my opinion, it is extremely important to do so. Any type of microtransactions which is paid for with real money, that gives you an advantage over an opponent is morally wrong in my opinion. This type of MTX, much like playing the game itself provides you with a hit of dopamine which is similar to the rush you get from playing a sport you love, getting likes on a social media post or even gambling!! This, in my opinion, is not something that, young people especially, should be exposed to and I will proceed to lay out my arguments and evidence as to why I feel this way.

Recently I did a little research into how much money is actually made from loot crates or MTX as I will refer to them and it brought to my attention some very interesting facts. Fifa, which in the Ultimate Team part of the game has a function allowing you to purchase player packs has a level of uncertainty. For example, if you buy a gold pack you will receive a number of players at a high level of competency within the game. But here’s the rub, you won’t actually know what players you are going to get. The quality of the players is not in debate but if you are looking to get Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo then you may have to buy many packs before they appear. Does this sound familiar? Rolling the dice looking for that elusive 6.

Slot machines? Roulette? Any type of gambling where skill is not really involved follow this same pattern in my opinion. Now that in itself should not be a problem as gambling is legal here in Scotland and UK wide and I don’t have as much of an issue with it when ADULTS are doing it as every adult has to take responsibility for their own actions in society.

Children, however, are another matter altogether.

I mentioned prior to this that Fifa has an ultimate team option within their game which in turn has player packs available for purchase. I am of the opinion that anyone who hides behind the trope that people “know what they are getting into”, or use the line “you don’t have to purchase them if you don’t want to” doesn’t have much or any empathy for people young or old who maybe don’t know the full facts about MTX and their dangers in regards to addiction.

Those people are probably the ones who aren’t affected by that type of craving or indeed do not possess an obsessive nature. The sad fact of the matter is that many people, namely children cannot control those urges and regularly spend their own money or their parents on loot crates/player packs. This is breeding a culture along with social media of constant highs. People want the best players so they can be better at Fifa, people want more likes, follows and comments so they can be more popular online. The dopamine high from this is addictive and if they don’t achieve it then they hunt for it, in some cases doggedly. This, of course, can lead to, in some but not all cases, depression when things don’t go their way.

Of course, addiction doesn’t affect everyone. Before conducting any research into the subject of gaming addiction I imagined that the numbers of people who have such an affliction would be low. Completing some research online I found some figures that give me pause.

Around 211 million Americans are considered gamers in one form or another. From a survey* sampling approximately 3000 of such gamers, 9% were seen to show signs of video game addiction with 4% showing extreme levels of addiction (more than 50 hrs per week). I’ll put this into context a little before moving on with my argument. More than 7% of Americans are known to be alcoholics and in 2017 around 6% of aged 12 and upwards battled with some form of substance abuse. I feel this gives an idea of the levels that gaming addiction has reached or at least could reach. (Americanaddictioncentres.org)

In terms of gaming addiction, the % may seem low at 9% but in terms of raw numbers, the number of people who are showing mild and extreme signs of video game addiction will be staggering when scaled up to real population numbers even with a decent error correction factor. As I mentioned previously 211 million Americans take part in gaming** yearly. Using the 9% as a guide this translates to approximately 20 million people. Sure my numbers could be off due to errors in surveys, but in my opinion, they are not off by a huge margin here. Surveys and studies will have a certain level of tolerance but if it’s even plus or minus 5 million that means between 15 and 25 million gamers suffer from some form of gaming addiction. That potential range of numbers is extremely alarming to me and MTX are not helping this with their existence.

For me, the game companies will not change the way they operate and it comes down to one single irrefutable fact. MONEY TALKS. Every year since its inception Fifa Ultimate team has generated an average of $800 million. Approximately $8 billion in the last ten years and that’s just Fifa, EA own many more gaming franchises like NBA & Madden etc all contributing to the pot.

Epic who owns Fortnite which contains a different type of MTX to EA sports franchises, made, in 2018 $2.4 billion***. These amounts of money mean that the companies will not change their policies one iota.

Now I am not naive, I know video games need to turn a profit like all businesses. If they want to continue to operate, they must make money, however, these companies are essentially printing money from not a huge amount of work/outlay, this to me is morally wrong considering what they are selling.

Something has to change in the industry, in my opinion, for the issue of gaming addiction to be taken seriously. I don’t feel as if a big enough conversation has taken place at any level within the industry about this to date.

So far all I have provided is the problem, It would be pretty foolish of me for pointing out a problem without providing some form of a solution, realistic or not.

The first solution I would offer up is that all games that monetize through MTX should be free. If a game is free you are more likely to

A. Play it or at least give it a chance

B. Put an amount of money into it that you are comfortable with.

Of course, option A doesn’t solve the addiction part but at least it would save gamers some cash and would hopefully MAKE devs/publishers release their product in a more stable and polished condition. No game monetized this way would be able to sustain itself if this was not so.

The other part of my solution, option B, leans more towards helping the addiction problem. This is where is education, especially for parents would be helpful. Not many parents, in my opinion really understand or care about the ins & outs of video games. They need to be educated to the FACT that some games include elements that are similar to gambling, they provide that hit of Dopamine I have mentioned before. In many cases, people are doubling down on the hits as the first one is from playing the game and the second is from either getting the player they want from a Fifa player pack or picking up a much-needed advantage with a repair kit etc all of which can be purchased with money.

Parents need to be aware of this especially since recently the world health organisation has now classified video game addiction as a verified addiction. It is no longer just something people can brush off, it is real and many people are dealing with it daily. Just because perhaps you aren’t, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. The fact MTX exist within games for me is a parallel with an alcoholic or drug addict. The game is the drug/alcohol and the MTX is that little extra boost that increases the pleasure & in many instances makes you chase that extra added level of pleasure.

Some will argue children shouldn’t be playing games that are out with their age restrictions because games that contain elements of what, again, some would consider gambling would have an adult rating surely? Nope is the answer as games like Fortnite (Pegi 12) and Fifa (Pegi 3!!) are not deemed to fall into the unsuitable category even although they have certain elements that no doubt increase levels of addiction.   

3 virtual loot boxes that can be purchased for real money.

This whole concept of MTX is a moral issue in my opinion and is why I took considerable time to write this article. I love video games and want as many people as possible to experience the joys that I have over the years. Surely we, as gamers, should be looking out for each other. We should stand together when something happens in our community and say plain and simple “No, this is wrong”. Some of you will no doubt think I am being overly sentimental and unrealistic here and will again roll out the trope that people know what they are getting into, or you don’t have to buy them, but surely it’s better for everyone if gaming remains a positive past time and not something that will increasingly cause some people, namely younger ones to descend into addiction. I am, believe it or not, a positively charged person, I take great joy in seeing people do well and flourishing especially if it involves video games, the pastime in which I love. For me to stand by and not speak out against something that I find is a danger to the gaming community young and old is something I could not do.

I encourage you to comment on your own experience with microtransactions, have you experienced some form of addiction through gaming or with the use of MTX? Some, of course, will try to change my mind on this issue & of course you are welcome to try, all I will say is that for the past few years my mind has not been changed and in fact, my opinions on the matters discussed have become strengthened and even more steadfast.

At various points in this article, I have held what you may consider a dim view of people who dole out the excuses that MTX don’t need to be purchased and that anyone who buys them knows full well about them going in. To those people, and you may very well be one of them, I would say this, you are probably someone who does not have a gaming addiction, I would implore you to have some empathy to the many people who possibly can’t help themselves. Sure gaming addiction affects people with or without MTX but, without them embedded in games it may help some of these people young or old break the habit easier than if they were included.

I will end with a quote from Winston Churchill as I found it particularly apt whilst writing this article.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”

I feel as if I have poured my thoughts and emotions into this article, now it is time for me to listen to you in the comments if you so choose.