As game developers grapple with making microtransactions more appealing to Western gamers, there are roadblocks to the full acceptance of the business model that stem from users' perceptions of value, fairness, and fun.
In a new Gamasutra feature
, Daniel Kromand interviewed hardcore gamers, and found that there are places where the model is on the right track, and some areas that still need significant work.
One of the outstanding microtransaction issues that many gamers are concerned with is the potential ability to buy better items, such as weapons or armor, enabling a paying player to overpower a non-paying player.
"Some games have premium items for sale, but the interviewed players were largely skeptical towards these transactions," Kromand found. "The reason is that they threaten to tilt the perceived fairness of the game, because established players fear that newcomers can buy their way to success."
One of Kromand's respondents said, "I don't think they would like [expensive, powerful items] very much. Because then it means that you can be better than me, [just] because you have a bigger wallet."
But it's a difficult balance, because a game developer at the same time has to show a real benefit for paid items. Kromand said, "Limitations to the player's purchases can thereby become a part of the game's reward structure or even the main rewards in themselves. To further increase the perceived fairness, the non-paying players should be able to obtain the premium items for free if they complete difficult tasks."
There's also the perception of value that each player holds. In their own minds, gamers will often compare real-life transactions to microtransactions -- so if a microtransaction seems like a "bad deal" compared to real life, the value of the microtransaction can deteriorate, Kromand said.
"Most virtual assets in current games are actually rented, rather than bought, and this means that the consumer has to compare the expected gained utility within the time frame of the purchase," he said. "Because the future use within a set time limit is uncertain, this can cause some annoyance."
He cited one interviewee who said, "I find it kind of annoying that when you rent items it is in real time, not in-game. So if you rent an item for a week and then only play twice a week then you only have the item for four or eight hours."
Kromand added, "Games encounter this very product-specific problem. Consumers obtain goods that have a physical presence in the game world, a sword for example, but also realize that the virtual reproduction of the item is costless: there is in fact no logical reason as to why the developer needs the sword back. The clash can easily produce annoyance if the players believe that they have to agree to unfavorable conditions that only serve to maximize the developer's revenue."
For more player responses to microtransactions and analysis from Kromand read the full Gamasutra feature
, available today.