Video gaming is an industry that makes nearly $350 billion a year, far from the world’s biggest industry – telecommunications at $1.7 trillion – but dwarfs other entertainment industries. 

It is for this very reason it should be one of the most watched and scrutinised. Gaming has turned from a simple pastime into a means of exploitation.

If you’re not familiar with the term AAA gaming, think of it as a massive movie production. Except, imagine this. You just bought a film for fifty pounds for the first forty minutes of the movie. To get the rest you have to pay an additional ten pounds for the next ten minutes and so on and so forth. 

The justification has been that with the industry growing, the price of games has been increased to accommodate the cost of developing bigger and bigger games. The biggest increase in consumer costs has been through what are known as microtransactions, in-game purchases. IGN’s Alannah Pierce points out: 

“Microtransactions aren’t about covering increasing development costs…most are just about making more money. Take EA for example, EA makes $1.3 billion in microtransactions annually.”

In 2017 the EA game Battlefront 2 was caught up in a legal battle over creating a system which, in turn, allowed players to gamble their money for the chance of better skills and abilities in their games ‘loot boxes’. Despite the end result being Battlefront 2 losing the gambling aspect, the industry is still rife with microtransactions. 

Microtransactions have been demonstrated to be highly addictive and highly profitable. The impact of these transactions has been shown to create gambling disorders within some youth gamers with over one-fifth of the global gaming demographic made up of players between the ages of 6 to 15. 

Clive Thompson of Mother Jones notes, “microtransactions are a bleak harbinger of where late capitalism is headed”. Marketable items in games can be created and distributed with just the touch of a single button, this instantaneous cornucopia of consumerism is turning a form of escapism into another means of exploitation. 

But not all hope is lost, and not in the Gandalf telling Pippin ‘There was never any hope to begin with’ way. Gamers are wising up to the ways of big gaming companies. They are coming to recognise the companies which are not exploiting them for every last penny. In the last month Palworld was released to thunderous applause from its audience. 

Released with no microtransactions at all with all future content releasing free to all platforms. Palworld, developed by Pocket Pair, has been called ‘Pokémon with Guns’ and is currently in a legal battle with Nintendo who claims that the ‘pals’ of the game far too closely resemble their own ‘Pokémon’. 

What’s truly been most interesting is how some developers are positively interacting with their audience. The Community Manager at Pocket tweeted encouragement for players to “Play lots of games, try different genres, and frequently flick through indie libraries to find hidden gems.”

Of course, games are created to create profit, but, by not using microtransactions, there seems a genuine attempt to avoid the exploitation of players. Whether this turns out to be just another marketing ploy or whether industry pressure will result in the gradual introduction of more aggressive microtransaction marketing we will have to wait and see.

Microtransactions feed into the active nature of quick and short purchases. This need to buy the latest product, encouraging the fear of missing out (FOMO), can be seen in other industries from phones to cars to the latest kitchen appliance. The difference in gaming is that the target for this is often young people who do not even have an independent income.

Any stand against these forms of aggressive consumerism could be a small sign that consumerism itself could soon be facing an existential threat from one of its largest markets.

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