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New level of Microtransactions: $300 for an In-Game Cosmetic

Ahri from League of Legends, sitting on a throne while holding a crown

Image Credit: Riot Games


What are In-Game cosmetics?

In many online games, there are usually options to customize your avatar or character in various ways. However, some options are generally restricted to premium players, or players that are willing to pay a few extra dollars (microtransactions) to be able to access them.


In short, these in-game cosmetics, otherwise known as "skins", mostly change the appearance of your avatar, allowing players to personalize how they look in game. For games like League of Legends (LoL), where the characters are not "you" per se (but following your commands instead), players can still purchase skins to set them apart from the default appearance. It is commonly seen as a way to doll up their favorite character, or even flex their skills at using said character.


For context, the author used to play an unhealthy amount of LoL back in the day. It can be described as an exciting MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) that grew fairly quickly in popularity. LoL eventually took over the world by storm when they partnered up with K-Pop idols, and launched their own virtual idol group starting popular female characters (Ahri being one of them).


Selling Skins as a Business, Microtransactions

Essentially, LoL is a free to play game. Anyone can just download it and give it a go. As players get more hooked onto the game and emotionally attached to specific characters that they like to use, or are better at, they would then feel more enticed to purchase skins for said characters. Besides, these skins (used to) cost around the $5 - $20 price range, which is still pretty acceptable.


The above is basically an example of a microtransaction, albeit a slightly bigger one. Players make small and more affordable purchases within a free to play game, such as limited time icons and expressions for their favorite characters... And over time, they may spend over hundreds or thousands of dollars. Compare this to a standard one-time purchase game that will (or should at least) cost you as much as what the price tag says.


Of course, there is the argument that some of these free to play games give players more playtime than some of your one-time purchase games. Besides, the decision to make such purchases also boils down to the willingness of each individual. Their age, income level, and spending habits can significantly influence how much they are willing to spend.


Regardless, we have seen the success of microtransactions as a business model ever since the rise of mobile gaming. It is with little doubt that they are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The question now is, how would you define a "microtransaction"? Just how tiny is "micro"?


Ridiculous pricings

In recent years, the prices of microtransactions have grown quite a fair bit. From $20 skins to $50 ones. And just earlier this week... LoL just dropped their most expensive skin yet: Immortalized Legend Ahri Skin. It is only available as part of a package, costing at a minimum of around US$300 to acquire it.


We have played various games with microtransactions over the years, and we have seen in-game items or packages with similar pricing. However, the key difference is that those items generally have some sort of impact on the game itself. The skin however, is completely cosmetic. As in, it does not change the game mechanics whatsoever. It is purely eye-candy.


Whether it is worth or not is entirely subjective. However, when you look at it objectively, US$300 is no small sum of money. You can easily buy 3 to 5 AAA games with that! Or even up to 20 indie titles! Perhaps even 10 different skins for the other characters that you use in LoL!


Exploiting the Player's Psychology

Perhaps the developers of LoL want to price this skin astronomically to really drive the idea of this skin is indeed one-of-a-kind premium. Together with the hype generated from the trailer, it is obvious that the developers want to make the players feel that it is worth way more than what it actually is. It's just like why people desire to buy luxury bags when a simple bag of the same quality can be ten times cheaper.


Sad to say, this is but just one example when employing microtransactions as a business model. Some other examples from other games include the use FOMO strategies, creating artificial scarcity by putting out limited-time offers and limited-edition skins. Players who do not want to miss out are encouraged to spend within the specific time window. Coupled with the fact that these purchases require premium currencies instead.


Players will have to purchase premium currencies first, before performing the desired transaction. The additional step blurs the actual monetary value of what they intend to purchase. Besides, premium currencies are also generally priced in such a way to entice players to send even more, offering more "bang for your buck" when you make bigger transactions. On top of that, they are usually sold in set amounts, leaving you with a slight bit of "change" at the end of the day that cannot be used meaningfully until you "top-up" more premium currency.


Microtransactions, or "Macrotransactions"?

Looking at the current prices of microtransactions, can they still really be considered "micro"? Spending over $300 for in-game cosmetics is not something many have the luxury to do so. Would you?

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