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Enjoying Pay-To-Win Games as a F2P Player and Avoid the emotional toll of micro-transactions

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After spending the last 5 years playing many many mobile games, I can't help but notice the increasing amount of games entering the market filled with micro-transaction elements. I also have noticed a wave of players including myself falling victim to a game's mechanic of getting players to make that first purchase and eventually into an addictive habit of daily/weekly spending. After forcing myself to quit multiple games because of the mental drag and waste of money this had on me, I had to look back to see what happened and how I can still enjoy these games (as they were actually fun at one point) without being affected by the negative emotional toll and feeling of FOMO micro-transactions create.

Types of Micro-Transaction Driven games

P2W Addiction on Mobile Games

First I will go over some of the common micro-transaction elements which you may have seen many times (most games will have this because both the Unity and Unreal engine already comes with these monetisation packages so it's easy for developers to implement):

  • First Time / Beginner's Pack for an incredible deal (900% OFF!!)

  • Timed Packs / Event Packs (Limited time packs with exclusive items or super special deals that you won't be able to get again if you don't buy now - the fomo tactic)

  • Raw top-up discounts and rebate bonuses for more in-game currency.

  • Daily Packs (Fairly cheap and gives a really great value and usually has some sort of loyalty system as you will get an exclusive exchange item once you get enough by buying many daily packs. - Once you are half way there, you might as well keep buying daily packs til you reach that point right?)

  • Battle Passes (You pay an up front fee and you'll get something by completing challenges to level up the pass and get things in return. They sell you by highlighting the total value of the pass and it looks like it's quite worth the cost right? However, battle passes are a way for games to get you to play more because you now have more requirements to do to level it up)

  • Some sort of Gacha/Gambling system where players can spin a wheel for a cost of paid currency and get something incredible at a low chance.

  • Many many more other tactics with the above listed being the most common.

The Mental Journey players go through from F2P to a paying customer

Here is a journey map to monetise gamers from most studios, can you related to any of this?

  1. Give players an initial fast progression to hook them for the thrill of a fast paced progression system and stickyness of accomplishing a lot even though they've only been playing an hour.

  2. Promote an incredible value "beginner limited' time pack at a super low cost of ($1-2) so it's easy for people to take action without thinking too much on it. (Also FOMO)

  3. Now you've spent some money, you're invested. Just your action of putting even 1 dollar into the game makes your mind feel more loyal to the game.

  4. Now each player will receive lots of free things from the game and get used to the feeling of receiving things, furthermore, you will continue to see very fast progression...getting addicted and used to the thrill yet?

  5. Ok now the progression will start to slow down, and the freebies will come less and less. (Think about drug dealers giving you some free samples at the beginning then stopping because now you're addicted to the product and need to pay to get more)

  6. To get your fix and fill your addiction of fast progression, there will be all of these amazing deals that you can purchase so you think why not? On top of that, the game has already introduced a ranking system so you know there are a lot of players who are spending and further than you.

  7. Games also takes advantage of community driven competition. Players will start to interact and engage with others and see their progression and their spending which will provoke encourage to spend, fomo and mitigate the chance of regret of making in-game purchases.

  8. Ok now you're officially a paying player.

  9. Then the game systems will track your spending habits and if they start to see a decrease in spending activity, they will tailor an exclusive limited time package for you for a fairly low cost in order to wheel you back in. Guess what, as you buy this one, it will signal to the game that you will take action on this type of product, so they send you another one the next day for something of a higher value at a higher cost.

  10. Of course, there will be Gacha/Gambling systems in the game where you can try your luck at getting something incredible. Too bad you need in-game currency to do it though, better spend more money.

  11. Usually by this point every paying player have gone through a roller coaster of emotions about their addiction to the game and the addiction to keep spending. Now they have to make the hard decision of whether to stop spending and lose their spot in the ranking boards, quit the game or keep spending to stay at the top.

Does all of this sound familiar to you? This is just one of the journey maps games can take, there are many others you may have experienced too. In the end, their goal is to turn you into an active spender and that's all they care about. Most mobile games are created for the purpose of monetisation, rarely do we see a game made out of passion anymore.

How Do I Enjoy Games with Micro-Transactions Then?

First I want to make it clear that this article isn't about the principle of paying money for a game but the actual spending on pay to win elements of a game and developing an addiction to buy in-game items.

Here are a few tips that may help you enjoy games filled with micro-transactions without spending any money:

  • First understand in most games, people are paying to advance quicker. So you should be able to get all the things you want (if not stuck behind a paywall) over time with some patience and grinding.

  • Go into games with a more casual mindset as a time killer instead of a competitive activity. This will help you set expectations in your head and not purchase everything in sight as you are just there as a side hobby and feel no commitment to the game.

  • Understand every game can be played and enjoyed as a free to play player, and if you hit a paywall for progression or enjoy-ability, just move on to the next game because this game has already served its purpose by giving you entertainment.

  • This tip is a bit extreme but if you see a game completely driven by competitive PvP and has a lot of pay to win elements, I suggest you uninstalling it asap.

  • If you get the urge to purchase something, take a step back and truly think about if this purchase will make you any happier. The answer is often no. Micro-transactions gives you a hit of dopamine which is a chemical released in your brain that gives you a very short-term/temporary sense of happiness (just like drugs), and usually leaves you with negative emotions in the long run.

  • Set the expectation of fully enjoying the game without spending any money before starting anything new. Make yourself a pact so that you'll feel less inclined to do so.

  • DO NOT look at leaderboards and rank charts in pay to win games and stay away from people who talk about being the best and their spending. These 2 things will only encourage you to spend more.

  • Split your time with other games or hobbies/activities so the game with micro-transactions will feel more casual, and typically, you won't want to spend money into something that is temporary or just casual.

Anyways, these are just my suggestions and you can take them with a grain of salt. If you have any suggestions or tips, I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has given you some insight about micro-transactions and how to think about pay to win games as a free to play player. For more information on the latest mobile games, guides and just thoughts around the topic, follow me on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. See you soon!

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