Microtransactions, and Mobile Games: Digital Lottery Tickets

Microtransactions
An avatar is displayed in an arranged photograph of the Honour of Kings mobile game, developed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. The mobile smash, where professional doppelgangers get paid to help newbies climb both social and gaming ladders, is expected to generate as much as $3 billion in revenue this year. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Microtransactions have been gaining a ton of attention on console games recently. Over the past few years, the term has been almost infamous to encompass add-ons and downloadable content in games like Fortnite and Final Fantasy XV. Downloadable content that locks entire parts behind the game behind an additional paywall has been the subject of criticism. But for games like Fortnite, that are free-to-play on PlayStation 4, the microtransactions only add content that is aesthetics. In fact, people can enjoy the game for no cost thanks to the microtransaction model that keeps it afloat. This is something that is becoming more and more common on the mobile game front.

Microtransactions, Gachas, and Mobile Games: Digital Lottery Tickets

The Rise of Free-to-Play Games

Microtransactions have given rise to a completely new genre of games dubbed Gachas. These are games that can be downloaded for free and played in their entirety without the player ever having to spend a penny. For the most part, they are RPG style games and have original stories and characters. The catch is that either the characters or the equipment that makes the characters more powerful are obtained through a system akin to buying lottery tickets.

Games like Fate Grand Order and Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle have made hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue using this blueprint. The way it works is that players are awarded digital currency for completing the story or other quests. This currency can then be spent to draw for powerful units. However, the chance of obtaining one of the top-tier units is low – usually between one and five percent per pull. Hence the lottery feeling

A Digital Lottery

To complicate things, the games only have a finite amount of currency to pull for these units. So, what happens when this digital currency runs out? Enter microtransactions. These mobile games have a storefront that players can spend real money on electronic currency to give them a shot to obtain that powerful character or piece of equipment. And with such a low percent chance of getting a specific star, it can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars before a player gets what they were pulling for.

For the most part, the story mode can be cleared without having to drop big bucks. But, due to the ridiculous amount of revenue, the games bring in, and the motivation to keep people interested, fresh content is added to these games on a weekly basis. This content usually includes various difficulties. Someone who downloaded the game the day the event drops could clear the first mode. However, even longtime players might have trouble completing the highest tier – that is, unless they have one of those “meta” characters.

Positives and Negatives

Microtransactions have been under increased scrutiny by government bodies in different countries. In fact, Belgium has banned this model completely. This is due to the fact that the games are marketed to children and are borderline gambling. On one end, this is something the genre is going to have to address if they want to continue long term. On another end, the style gives those with less socioeconomic status access to a myriad of quality titles for free.

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