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What Everyone Should Know About Microtransactions and Loot Boxes in Video Games

Posted In Games - By Techtiplib on Monday, February 19th, 2018 With No Comments »

Over the last few months, the internet has been on fire with people talking about microtransactions and loot boxes in video games. While this business model had always been a hot topic in the games industry, the spark really hit the powder keg last fall and no one has stopped talking about it since.

But what exactly are microtransactions and loot boxes and why are people talking about them right now? Here’s what everyone should know about the ongoing conversation.

Video Games

What Are Microtransactions and Loot Boxes?

First and foremost, it’s important to state that microtransactions and loot boxes are two different things.

A microtransaction is an in-game payment. Any time a player spends money on a game that isn’t the initial purchase price, that is a microtransaction. Microtransactions can be big and small – you could see $0.99 purchases to purchases over $99. 

A loot box, on the other hand, is an unlockable box filled with randomized in-game goodies. Players may be able to unlock a certain weapon, item or character. These boxes offer a small chance of getting the best gear, though players will usually still unlock common and less helpful gear just for taking part. Sometimes loot boxes are not called as such, with Blizzard, for example, selling in-game card packs for Hearthstone.

Typically, people use microtransactions to unlock an item outright without having to open a loot box for a chance at getting that item. Microtransactions are also often used to let players unlock more loot boxes or to let them open better loot boxes or packs that offer a higher chance of getting the best gear, characters or other gameplay elements. 

So there is a difference in the two, but they often are combined.

What Sort of Games Include Microtransactions and Loot Boxes?

Traditionally, microtransactions and loot boxes could be found in free to play mobile games. These are games such as Vikings: War of Clans, Plants vs Zombies and more.  This business model allows mobile game developers to release their games for free, encouraging their most engaged players to support them and invest in them at their leisure. The free-to-play business model also allows curious gamers to test a game for free before they spend any money on it. It’s loot boxes and microtransactions that make free-to-play mobile games accessible for players but lucrative for developers.

But it’s not just free to play mobile games that are including microtransactions and loot boxes in 2018, as triple-A games include microtransactions and loot boxes now too. Games that cost $60 to purchase initially may also take on this business model. In 2018, some of these games include Destiny 2, NBA 2K18, Star Wars Battlefront 2, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

Why are Microtransactions and Loot Boxes Included in Triple-A Games?

One of the major topics of debate – and something that has gotten everyone talking lately – is whether or not triple-A games should include microtransactions and loot boxes. Because triple-A games can be quite expensive to buy in the first place, some gamers are unhappy with the prospect of having to spend more money in order to fully enjoy a game they’ve already purchased.

Some are also concerned that in premium games with competitive multiplayer modes, they will have to spend money on microtransactions and loot boxes in order to keep up (what’s often called pay to win). But triple-A developers and publishers would argue that the rising cost of video game development means that they have had to find new ways to make money and that microtransactions and loot boxes are a solution. 

The triple-A games industry has yet to come to a consensus about whether or not these games should continue to use the business model and so, the debate rages on.

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