"Microtransaction" has become something of a dirty word in the video game industry. Originally, the in-game purchases were limited to mobile games — you'd pay for an extra turn or faster crops or some such nonsense.
Then, microtransactions slowly began to sneak into mainstream, "hardcore" gaming: at first, it was just the free-to-play games, but soon enough, seemingly every triple-A title featured some way to pay for small chunks of in-game content.
There are plenty of arguments against microtransactions: they ruin the game's balance, they take away from launch-day content, they're just a cheap ploy to make extra money. Quite a few gamers have even started questioning why microtransactions exist in the first place — if no sensible gamer will spend money on them, why bother ruining a game by including them at all?
As it turns out, people are paying for microtransactions — and they're paying quite a bit. According to EA, downloadable content accounted for roughly $1.3 billion in sales over the last year — and half of that money comes from microtransactions.
During an investor conference (via IGN), EA CFO Blake Jorgensen revealed that the company's "extra content" — which includes everything from Season Passes to microtransactions — pulls in over $1 billion on an annual basis:
"The extra content business is a billion-three [$1.3 billion] a year. Half of that is roughly our Ultimate Team business."
Ultimate Team refers to EA's overarching sports division — it's the part of the company that curates franchises like Madden, FIFA and NHL. Seeing as those franchises are some of the biggest in the industry, it makes sense that they'd make a lot of money — what's surprising is that, for games with few pieces of "traditional" DLC, EA's Ultimate Team accounted for $645 million in extra content. That's roughly half of all of EA's DLC-related sales, and only EA's mobile division even comes close to matching it.
Jorgensen himself summed it up nicely:
"[Players will] typically pay money to beat their friends."
We're not saying that microtransactions are actually a good thing and that gamers should just submit to them — quite the opposite, actually. Some games do manage to find the balance between in-game purchases and keeping the experience fun ... but most of the time, game balance and player experiences just fall apart. Microtransactions don't seem to be getting any better, either: it might not be long before players end up paying for modes that were once considered standard-issue.
However, any argument against microtransactions tends to fall apart when EA makes hundreds of millions of dollars on microtransactions alone. Millions of people are spending money on these sort of purchases every day — why would publishers stop implementing microtransactions when there are so many people willing to buy them?
If gamers want to be heard, they need to argue with their wallets — and judging by all the cash that EA is raking in, that's just not happening.