Understanding Microtransaction Pricing

As more developers turn to free to play or monetization for their games, it's important to understand the thought process that should be going into deciding pricing on this type of content.

Micro transactions have become a major point in both F2P and traditional games. But one area that many designers wonder about is how to price content in these titles. 

Microtransactions and how to make these little purchases add up.

While coming up with a standard for F2P content is not possible, we can set up some guidelines that any designer can make use of when determining pricing for their game.

Making the Most out of Micro transactions:

Before we begin, it's important that for the designers reading this to understand what kind of possible micro transactions there are. In a previous post we broke them down into gameplay, personalization and restrictive to categorize them.

As we just mentioned, defining a universal pricing guide for F2P monetization isn't really possible. The problem is that every game has its own pricing guide and design that went into it. Unlike buying a game which we can compare content, developer and genre, you can't do that when comparing micro transactions.

Overkill Software with Payday 2 charges $5 for new guns, masks and content while Riot Games with League of Legends has charged $20 for a single skin. But as we're going to talk about over this post, there are several factors that need to be considered when coming up a price.


"The microtransaction is so strong and it's definitely a much better model [that the traditional pre-packaged model]. I think all companies have to transition over to that"-- Tommy Palm, Game Guru at King

When it comes to pricing, the first important detail that you need to think about is: what is the frequency of the purchase? If you are designing your game around restrictive or temporary micro transactions that are meant to be purchased at a regular basis, then they have to be priced cheaply. This goes back to the arcade mentality of the 80s-90s, the cost was low enough that the developer made money with bulk purchases but small enough so that a person wouldn't think too hard on spending a quarter or fifty cents.

The higher the cost is on a single purchase, the longer someone will have to think about spending that money. This is a big deal when trying to convince core and hardcore gamers to spend money as they know the prices of other games on the market and your game will have to be something special for them to spend money on your game instead of buying another game.

Another factor with pricing that also goes into the game design is the concept of permanence.

Persistent or non Persistent Purchases:

Building from the last section, we need to talk about permanence with your micro transactions. For this post we're going to use permanence to define whether or not a purchase unlocks something permanent for the gamer.

There is a big deal between asking someone to spend money on something that unlocks forever vs. something that needs to be re bought. Ownership is a big deal when it comes to any kind of product. Being able to say that something is yours forever has a different weight to it compared to saying that you're only renting it.

Martin KppelA bad game will not become successful even if it has a brilliant monetization strategy. Meanwhile, games with excellent content and quality will keep players coming back for thousands of game sessions, and it is a logical consequence that these games also make the biggest profit -- Martin Koppel, Fortumo

Unlocking something permanently can be used as a way of increasing the price of the micro transaction. In Team Fortress, items are priced by their availability and rarity. What's interesting about Team Fortress is that Valve does have non permanence purchases with their "Mann Up" mode. A person has to spend a dollar for every completed run in the mode and if the player completes an entire set of levels, they receive a rare item.

Another part of this is the concept of "slot machine" purchases, where the player can spend money for a chance at an item that they want. Depending on the game, even though they may unlock something permanent with a slot machine, it's still not a guaranteed item that they would want and that should be factored into the price in the sense that being able to pick the item would cost more than running the slot machine.

In Conclusion:

Wrapping up this post we can sum up pricing content by how much value a consumer gets out of it.

Purchases like this that are meant to be repeated often have to have low price tags.

Is the purchase one time or continuous, does it give them something rare or unique and can the user buy exactly what they want? These are the critical questions to be thinking about over every microtransaction you have in your game. The more value you are offering, the more you can charge, but conversely the less value there is to that purchase, the cheaper it has to be.

(Reprinted from the Xsolla blog)

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