Microtransactions are a comparatively new business model in gaming that sees continuous growth and increasing popularity, both among game developers and among players – but not all players. In addition, there are many nuances and controversies connected to the very concept of psychology of microtransactions and their potential for becoming overwhelming.
The main controversy surrounding psychology of microtransactions for acquiring in-game currency and additional perks in video games primarily revolves around concerns about game balance, pay-to-win dynamics, and the potential for exploitation.
Let’s research the psychology of microtransactions, in more detail:
1. The Key Controversies That Cause Concerns
Microtransactions as a marketing method and business model seem to be completely beneficial for the game developers but other stakeholders point out the risks and drawbacks.
When players can purchase in-game currency with real money instead of earning it with in-game activities, it can create an imbalance in the game’s economy and progression systems. Players who are willing to spend more money can acquire powerful items or abilities more quickly, giving them an advantage over those who choose not to spend or cannot afford to do so.
This pay to win dynamics leads to the fact that skills and effort are not needed anymore for winning. While an additional source of revenue in the psychology of microtransactions is obviously good for game developers in the short perspective, it is not so good in the long term. Players who can afford paying will pay, progress, and leave, while players not able or not willing to pay may not want to be engaged anymore.
This leads to the concern of players being exploited, particularly younger or more vulnerable individuals. The urge to progress faster or acquire rare items can lead to impulsive spending or even addiction, especially if loot boxes or betting on skins are available in the game. Game developers and publishers have been criticized for implementing manipulative design techniques to encourage more frequent or larger purchases, such as limited-time offers, exclusive content, or psychological triggers.
In fact, psychology of microtransactions in the form of loot boxes are compared to gambling because they suggest a strong element of chance and a totally uncertain value of an item bought. And yet, loot boxes are even worse because even the most popular and affordable 1 dollar deposit casinos clearly state their limits, bonus terms, wagering requirements, etc., being strictly regulated and forced to comply. Game developers, for now, have not yet faced such regulations. But the time seems to be near considering the psychology behind microtransactions.
2. Why People Are Buying: The Psychology Behind Loot Boxes
It’s important to note that not all players are equally enticed by the psychological tricks that promote loot boxes, skin betting, and buying in-game currency for progress. While some players may enjoy the excitement and customization provided, others often feel frustrated or exploited. And yet, most players tend to buy rather than buy.
The player psychology behind being lured by microtransactions, loot boxes, and other similar mechanics in games can be influenced by various factors, including
- Reward and pleasure – the anticipation of obtaining a desirable item or experiencing a positive outcome triggers feelings of excitement and pleasure. The random nature of loot boxes adds an element of surprise, making the experience more engaging. This is basically the Kinder Surprise chocolate egg effect with the difference that in this case, you at least have guaranteed chocolate
- Fear of missing out – Game developers often create a sense of urgency or scarcity around certain items or offers. This causes a fear of missing out on exclusive content or advantages, leading players to make impulsive purchases they didn’t plan
- The psychological tendency to continue investing in something due to past investment in hopes it will pay off eventually (if you invest long enough)
- Believing that one has control over random outcomes – this is a basic bias behind any activities that resemble gambling and stimulate the players to continue playing.
Marketers and game developers are happy to tap into this psychology to create additional revenue for themselves and make the players even more engaged. However, with time, players grow tired of this manipulation, or simply grow aware of the triggers used. This causes player alienation, negative user experience and feedback, and eventually causes negative long-term effects for the game or platform.
3. Player Alienation: The Psychology Behind NOT Buying
Extra focus on pure game monetization and making in-game progress close to impossible without additional investment causes the following consequences:
- Pay-to-Win imbalance causes by lack of effort and plenty of investment
- Limited gameplay features caused by the developers’ effort into creating monetization features in the first place, making storytelling and other features a secondary priority
- Overwhelming monetization prompts, reminders, and pop-ups that are annoying and interruptive
- Exclusion of non-paying players: In some games, psychology of microtransactions can create a divide between paying and non-paying players, leading to a sense of exclusion for those who choose not to make purchases
Obviously, players feeling overwhelmed, exploited, or excluded, will stop paying for extra features. They are likely to feel frustrated, being treated unfairly, and annoyed.
Overusing microtransactions as a marketing tool can lead to losing players who seek community in the first place and who eventually form the core of the long-lasting playing community of fans.
As a final thought, it seems that getting more money now and destroying the community in the long-term isn’t a viable marketing strategy.