After his recent chat with game pirates, independent developer Cliff Harris of Positech Games muses on pricing structure of games, as 'cost' was listed as a major reason for piracy. As he points out, plenty of other products have a wide continuum that ranges from 'economy' to 'deluxe'; games can often be divided into 'normal' and 'collectors' editions. Why can't we go a bit further, he asks:
Rather than just a normal and a collectors edition, shouldn't we go further? The idea of being able to pay for gameplay advantage in an online game is hideous, but some Asian MMOs have done very well by charging players for cosmetic improvements. The idea of 'free game, charge people for hats' is much talked about in industry circles. There's no reason why this can't be extended in a different way.
Take a game like Call of Duty 4. I loved it, and enjoyed it online and off. I'd have happily paid £50 rather than £30 for it. But some people ONLY wanted it for online play. Some of them might have used voice chat (I don't bother) and maybe some of them could only run it on low-resolution or detail. Why do we all pay the same price? Conversely I hate paying for the campaigns in Company of Heroes. I never play them, just skirmish and online.
I've found a lot of people to be suspicious of the microtransaction model in games, mostly for fear of poorer service and/or nickel and diming to death. I think the ability to pay for just what you want is nice — there are plenty of games floating around on my shelves with functionality I never use (or have used maybe once). It's an interesting article on potentials for more modular games in the future.