Microtransactions: Good or Evil?


This is just a random brain fart but I was thinking this morning, aren't micro−transactions in games kind of scammy?

You could argue if people are willing to pay it's not scammy since no one is forcing them to pay. It's more the issue of value for money. If I buy GTAIV for $60 I'm getting the results of 200 people who worked 2−3 years to make that game. When I pay $1 for some seeds in a game I'm paying effectively for some designer to spend no more than a few minutes. Sure, every thing costs money but feels like charging someone $6 for a burger at McDonalds and then charging them $1 for each napkin, $1 for a straw and 50¢ for a toothpick. Those things cost money too but their costs are so small that no one would go to a restaurant that charged for them.

So why then do people buy micro−transaction virtual items? I guess to some degree it just feels like selling snake oil to me. I suppose that's unfair as there is no deception involved. At the same time if some kid at school managed to sell single sheets of plain white school paper to an 8yr boy for a $1 a piece I'd expect his mom or dad would give him a strict talking to that sheets of a paper are not worth a dollar each. The kid selling the paper for a $1 a sheet would looked at as scamming the other kids. So how is it different with in game micro−transaction items? How are the designers of those games not being scammy?

I can already see the counter argument to the paper example. People ready buy pieces of paper for $$$. Greeting cards, Baseball Cards, Pokemon Cards, Wrapping Paper. I guess my counter argument would be what I'm getting in each transaction. A Greeting Card, I'm paying for the convenience. It's much easier to buy some card for $3−$4 than make my own and trying to think of something witty or funny to write on it. Wrapping Paper? I'm paying to make something pretty for a friend and again for convenience. I've made my own wrapping paper for special occasions but it's a lot of work. Baseball cards and Pokemon cards are generally pretty cheap. Average 10¢ or less per card? It's only the rare ones where the market goes up. I personally find it silly but still, that's different than the types of virtual items sold with micro−transactions. A few bytes enabled in an app that appears as some seeds to plant flowers in a game seems on the surface to be about worth as much as the pencil lead it takes to draw a simple flower. Not the sketch itself, just the lead. Ie, not much.

Note, I'm not talking about DLC. Paying $5−$10 for a new Left 4 Dead campaign seems worth it because I'm getting several hundred man hours of work for my $5−$10. Paying $1 for a virtual sofa to decorate my virtual house though seems like a rip off, especially when I get say 5000 items in the main game I paid $50 for. That's 1¢ an item. Less if you put a value on the game itself and everything that's not items.

It's as if the music industry started charging $10 per single music track after CDs had already set the price at about a $1 a track in bulk.

I've heard some people claim that the whole microtransaction market is about to collapse. That the novelty is wearing off. We'll see I guess.

My First Game Jam
The WebGL Aquarium running on the Google Liquid Galaxy