Ethan Matchinski

With the release of Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, video game companies increasingly designed games around micro-transactions (paying for additional content within the game) rather than a quality product for players. Paying for additional content in video games is not new, as developers have always sought additional profit beyond the base cost of the game. However, today, many newer games require that players spend a significant amount of real-world money to play.


Before, video game companies would create more content if fans demanded and charge a small amount for this new content. Now, new games have a vast amount of content locked behind a paywall at the time of release, or players have to keep paying throughout the game to win. This monetization has gone so far that some games accept in-game currency for real-world purchases (Mountain Dew and Doritos with Call of Duty Franchise and Halo Franchise ).


In the early 2000s, subscription fees for platform services (i.e. Xbox Live) and in-game trading marketplaces (i.e. Blizzard) were introduced by video game companies to regulate and financially benefit from sales that were already occurring through backdoor online channels for in-game characters or items for real-world money. At first, paying real-world money for in-game purchases (micro-transactions) were intended to give players additional content, in some cases doubling overall gameplay time (i.e. World of Warcraft, Fallout 3, Borderlands, ect.). At first, players were paying a small amount for a large amount of additional gameplay.


Alongside these expansive content releases, companies began marketing aesthetic content. First notably with the “Horse Armor” add-on featured in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim for which Bethesda Studios received extensive user backlash, which eventually quieted and was largely forgotten. Grand Theft Auto V was the turning point because it was the first title to institute micro-transactions as the defining source of income for the game.


In the past 5 years, Rockstar Studios has stuck to increasing in-game aesthetic elements, weapons, and vehicles in Grand Theft Auto V that players have to pay for instead of creating new games. Rockstar Studios had produced at least one game annually since 1999 (excluding 2010) until the release of GTA V, since which not a single game has been released. They have yet to produce a single player expansion, as was initially promised. Rather, their focus has been on elements of the game that require minimum developer input and design but produce the most profit.


The current trend for in-game micro-transactions is in the form of loot boxes, which are randomized item selections that cost in-game currency. Easily obtained with real money, loot boxes are difficult to obtain through gameplay. This initially only included aesthetic and character personalization aspects. However, this has now expanded to incorporate in-game performance-based items (e.g. Destiny 2, Star Wars Battlefront II). Video game consumers are now competing by how many loot packs they can purchase or how “lucky” they are with a limited number they receive without purchasing, vastly expanding the already premium price tag to make the game playable.


The “loot box” and similar trends that rely on micro-transactions to make a game playable has seen blowback from video game consumers and enthusiasts worldwide. There are still games that are not based on micro-transactions. Witcher 3, Assassins Creed: Origins, Just Cause 3, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are just a few. The best places to find non-parasitic game development is through independent game hosting services (like Steam).