How to Implement Microtransactions Correctly

Microtransactions have changed the way we play games, but this highly popular e-commerce system has also changed the way they’re built. By collecting microtransactions, smaller development studios can secure a revenue stream while they keep on building their game. This makes it possible for indies to publish original (and sometimes weird) ideas without having to submit to the whims of a publisher, making microtransactions one of the most important business developments in the modern game industry.

However, microtransactions have garnered an unfavorable reputation from many core/traditional gamers, and not without reason. When the system is implemented poorly, it can turn an otherwise decent game into a sad experience. Here are five ways to utilize the microtransaction system while still respecting the people who play your game:

Don’t expect players to pay for a basic experience — Many games that are designed around microtransactions hold back content that the player must pay for. After all, there has to be some incentive to cough up the quarters and dimes, right? That’s fine, but said content shouldn’t be part of the main game. In other words, it’s fine to ask players to pay cash money for bonus missions and optional sidequests that can yield cool treasures, but it’s uncool to put up a huge gate along the main path and say, “If you want to keep playing through the main story, you have to pay.”

This is a supremely frustrating roadblock for players to encounter–especially if they’ve already paid for the price of admission! Unless your game is just that engaging (and be honest with yourself, here), you’re probably not going to see many players fork over the cash to proceed. It’s more likely they’re going to feel ripped off and go elsewhere for their entertainment.

It’s fair to ask players to pay for locked-away content, but choose that content wisely.

Try not to offer items that break the game — One of the most common criticisms lobbed at microtransactions is that the formula has effectively killed fair play in video games. Far too many games offer a magic item–usually one that’s handsomely priced–that overpowers the player to the point that he or she can “win” the game with ease.

It’s not hard to understand why a dev would want to include a magic win-all item: it’s hard for the player to resist that kind of power, even if he or she knows that using it is cheating. To be fair, it’s up to the player to decide whether or not he or she wants to go for the instant win, whereas the developer simply provides the means. But even the presence of an over-powered item says to the players, “Hey, if you don’t want to surmount challenges the old-fashioned way, just buy your way to victory.” That’s kind of disappointing and lame. If you’re a developer, you’re surely creative enough to tailor an attractive and high-priced purchasable item that won’t break the game.

Hand out “free money” once in a while — Some games that utilize microtransactions have two kinds of in-game currency: the stuff that can be earned while playing the game and completing its tasks, and the kind that is supposed to be bought. Obviously, a developer who puts together a game that utilizes microtransactions won’t want to shower players with the purchasable money, but it’s still important to give players a “freebie” once in a while. That way, the player will keep on coming back to the game in order to save up for a coveted item–and it’s very possible that he or she will save for half the item’s cost, then purchase the difference.

Don’t hassle the player for money — Chances are good that the player understands your game has a store. There’s never any need to interrupt the action to remind him or her. It’s a hassle, and kind of embarrassing.

Offer lots of payment options — The more ways a person can pay, the more likely it is that they’ll cough up the dough. Having multiple credit card options is a good idea, though it can be costly for a small developer. Paypal is another good option, as is Serve.com, a subsidy of American Express.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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