Microtransactions Done Right: 4 Ways EA Can Make Them Work

EA recently announced their intention to incorporate microtransactions into all of their games. Microtransactions have been a dreaded topic for gamers since they were first introduced. The fear of pay-to-win shortly follows any mention of microtransactions. However, I would argue this fear is largely unfounded, and more the result of a healthy dose of slippery slope reasoning. Below I’ll discuss four ways EA can implement microtransactions in a way that won’t upset anyone or disrupt the competitive balance.

Make microtransactions random

Mass Effect 3 microtransactions

EA has already implemented microtransactions in last January’s Mass Effect 3 in a manner hearkening back to buying booster packs for trading card games. You could either spend in-game currency or real world currency to get a random pack of assorted weapons, characters, and power-ups. This microtransactions pill was much easier to swallow because of another item on this list: the cooperative nature. Had this system been in place for a competitive multiplayer, it could very well turn into a pay-to-win.

Make microtransactions temporary

CoD microtransactions

Another form of microtransactions players have already seen, whether they realize or not, are temporary stat boosts. Frequent in games like CoD and Halo, the notion of buying Mountain Dew for an hour or two of Double XP is commonplace. While this might also lead to the problem of pay-to-win, it has already been implemented without too much complaint from the gamer population at large. I could see a similar system in place for EA’s shooter franchises in the future.

Make microtransactions cosmetic

Anyone who has played an MMO has already been introduced to this model of nickel-and-diming. As featured in EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, players can spend real world money to purchase non-combat pets and snazzy-looking speeders. Other MMOs have featured the ability for players to buy dyes for clothing, race changes, mounts, faction swaps, server transfers, and a plethora of other services that are all cosmetic or functional in nature, but none of which alter a player’s strength. This too, has the potential to get a little out of hand. Hal0 4 already stirred the pot when 343 decided to gate emblems and emblem colors behind levels, where they had previously been available from the start. To address this, try adding new cosmetic options before putting old ones behind a pay/level gate, as gamers are a nostalgic bunch.

Make them only available for single player/coop

Lastly, and the most all-encompassing way to assure microtransactions don’t upset gamers is by only applying them to single player or cooperative play modes. The recently released Dead Space 3, also from EA, incorporated microtransactions into the game’s workbench. The player could pay to improve the speed at which their bot retrieved materials, or the maximum load it can carry, but ultimately wasn’t isn’t necessary. Which leads to a final point.

If EA truly intends to add microtransactions to all of their forthcoming games (see promise to require multiplayer in all upcoming games) then they must follow one rule. The player must never feel they have to spend the extra money. The minute a player feels their hand is forced, and that a microtransaction is required to stay competitive or beat a boss (or what have you) EA has lost. EA must first and foremost implement microtransactions that aren’t in the way of player’s enjoyment, but rather enhance it should they choose to indulge without effecting other players. On both these counts EA has been successful, so looking toward the future I trust EA won’t do anything too rash.


Image courtesy: PS3.MMGN, Girlsplaygames, Gameinformer