EA Announces All Future Games Will Use Microtransactions

According to EA's Chief Financial Officer, Blake Jorgensen, all future games from the company will include microtransactions in a bid to further monetize the product. "We're building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be," Jorgensen said. "Consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business."

Jorgensen acknowledged the security challenges inherent to processing microtransactions in a server backend, but claims EA has plan in place to mitigate the potential risk. "If you're doing microtransactions and you're processing credit cards for every one of those microtransactions you'll get eaten alive," he said. "And so Rajat's team has built an amazing backend to manage that and manage that much more profitably. We've outsourced a lot of that stuff historically; we're bringing that all in-house now."

Whatever Happened to Free-to-Play?

Originally, microtransactions were billed as a way for first-party titles to go F2P without critically endangering their revenue streams. MMO's and mobile games may have led the charge, and the F2P model isn't a perfect fit for all games, but the original concept was that microtransactions were a replacement for other revenue streams -- not a charge that got piled on top.

The problem with microtransactions is that they can easily distort the concept of game balance in both single-player and multi-player titles. The multi-player problem is obvious -- if you sell features that can change game balance, you can create two classes of players -- those that pay for gear, and those that don't. Even if the people paying for gear can eventually earn the same items, you typically earn the most points by winning matches. If you're constantly on the losing side, you're doomed to never catch up.

The single-player problem is more insidious. Monetizing gear/state upgrades gives the developer good reason  not to award the same items to players. Dark Meadow: The Pact, a mobile game for iOS and Android, flubbed this aspect badly. If you weren't willing to buy Sun Coins with real money, it took hours and hours of grinding to build up the supply of gear you needed to take on the end boss.

To be fair, most game developers have shied away from egregious violations of this principle, but we suspect customers are less willing to tolerate monetization in $59 titles than EA thinks they are. Dead Space 3''s decision to include microtransactions kicked up significant protest from gamers, even though the feature was implemented in a fairly non-invasive way. Unless this new model is deployed alongside significant price cuts for new games, it could easily spark a consumer backlash -- especially if developers try to create a premium tier of armor or weapons that can only be purchased rather than found in-game.