Has EA Learned a Grim Lesson About Microtransactions?

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Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Has EA Learned a Grim Lesson About Microtransactions?

On the surface, microtransactions are a great idea. Start with a game that's worth playing, and then let the players at said game at no charge. Then, make money with that fantastic game by offering up new options that make the game even better but aren't strictly necessary: certain weapons, costumes, keys to things, a handful of special levels and so on. The players get a great experience and the studios make money. But sometimes it goes overboard, leading to a surprise pronouncement from EA.

EA's Blake Jorgenson, the company's chief financial officer, made the pronouncement while speaking at the UBS Global Technology Conference, saying that EA wasn't interested in "nickel and diming" gamers, and that it wanted to avoid falling into the similar trap some games did in which "a lot of mobile games don't allow you to have fun unless you've paid for it." All of this is somewhat surprising coming from EA's head of the budget, but then, perhaps those two years the company spent atop the Consumerist's list of worst companies in the United States had some impact.

Jorgenson elaborated, noting that game times were constantly keeping in mind "What's the engagement model to keep the consumer, to really entertain the consumer for a long period of time?" Jorgenson topped it off by noting that "the economics come afterward," and that a focus on keeping the customer around, playing, and entertained was top priority.

There's nothing wrong with the microtransaction--indeed, every gamer knows that a company has to make money in order to continue producing games in the first place--but by like token, no one wants "insert money to win game" options that end up breaking the game, or worse, a game so broken that the only way to salvage it is with paying a little extra to make the game actually worth playing. I found that "Neverwinter" actually did an excellent job of the microtransaction system. It's wholly possible to play "Neverwinter" without spending a dime--I did for several weeks, building up an impressive ranger character--but getting the most out of it requires a bit of spending on keys to open special chests that contain the best gear. You can open those chests without cash, of course, but it takes a lot more grinding that way.

Microtransactions can be a good way to get players in the game and keep them there, happy with a base model that's fun to play but even more fun with some upgrades. That's a business model that should be sustainable for the long term, and one that even EA players would likely welcome.

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