Someone Spent Over $220,000 In Microtransactions On A Transformers Game

Alex Walker

Published 3 years ago: October 11, 2019 at 9:00 am

You thought $90,000 in microtransactions was bad? Then you should see what one person spent on a mobile Transformers game.

A large part of the Game Connect Asia-Pacific conference, held days before PAX Australia as part of Melbourne International Games Week, is developers sharing their wisdom with other developers. Some of that wisdom comes in the form of monetisation strategies, because most Aussie developers are small studios working on mobile platforms or free-to-play titles, and at the end of the day, everyone needs to pay rent.

So there’s often quite a few talks about making money, what strategies work for what games, and at what parts that should factor in the design process. Henry Fong, the CEO from mobile publisher and developer Yodo1, and Featherweight Games co-founder Dylan Bevis, spoke about how free-to-play games needed to consider the monetisation process from the design stage, instead of factoring it in afterwards.

But a key part of the process is understanding the audience of a game — and what they are likely to pay. In the case of Rodeo Stampede, an endless runner which has gotten over 100 million downloads, Fong told the crowd that the highest spending users (or ‘whales’, as they were referred to in the talk) might spend a few hundred. But in the case of Transformers: Earth Wars, another game published by Yodo1, one whale spent around $US150,000, or just over $222,000.

I asked Fong to clarify that figure after the GCAP talk, or whether that was just a projection for the mobile game’s highest spenders, and he confirmed that one player “has spent over $US150,000”.

Given the concern and outrage over microtransactions already, like the player who spent $90,000 on Runescape purchases, it’s hard not to imagine this capturing the attention of regulators. The authors of the recent Entertaiment and Media Outlook told the local games industry only last week that regulator attention on loot boxes and microtransactions was likely to intensify.

Player Spends $90,000 In Runescape, Reigniting Community Anger Around Microtransactions

“At this point, it’s no longer pay-to-play,” said a commenter on Runescape’s subreddit. “It’s pay-to-pay.”

Read more

That’s especially the case once more AI tools become incorporated into the mobile market. Another element of the panel concentrated on the possibilities of automated tools and finding ways to locate the most likely spenders in a game. One tool allowed developers to automate the moderation of communities within mobile games, while the Yodo1 developers created a machine learning neural network that analysed player behaviour and session times to predict what players would become high spenders.

The bot could spot “potential whales” with about 87 percent accuracy, but “we think we can get it up to about 95 percent,” Fong said. The model was trained with around two and a half years of player monetisation data, and Fong explained that it was even technically possible to build in logic that would target different players with different monetisation packages.

But such a model would ultimately backfire. When asked to clarify the capabilities of the tech that, Fong explained it would be a net loss for the studio, since the backlash from players would be disastrous. “We don’t want to create a situation whereby different people pay different prices for the same thing,” he said.

The fact that studios can incorporate that kind of behaviour, however, is usually a good argument for more industry regulation. Fong expected more regulation as video games continues to grow in status, but it was important for developers to work with government along the way. “As gaming becomes a mainstream industry that impacts billions of people, regulation is inevitable and its part of our industry growing up and hitting ‘prime time’,” he said.

“We need to work with the regulators to make sure that they have the full context of the industry and that any regulations work as intended and don’t break a bunch of other things by accident.”

The author’s accommodation through Melbourne International Games Week and PAX Australia was provided courtesy of Airbnb.

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  • Micro transactions are never going away no matter the backlash when 5% of the people playing the game Basicly fund it.

  • I really don't want to think how much I've spent over the years, although there have been some games in particular that have particularly sucked me in. Probably enough for a house deposit.

  • It should not be possible for this shit to happen. There should be a fucking ceiling on expenditure. And it should be well fucking below a house deposit.

      • A number of them do. But then they add the next one, and the next and the next. Venus Vacation has the 'you win!' mechanic, where if you spend $360 - $600 you're guaranteed to get one of the new paid gem only characters. You 'could' get them earliar with Gacha pulls, but if you fail that much you can just trade for the item.

        • This is absolutely not me justifying it or saying it’s a good thing, just pointing out it exists as a thing.

          And people thought their season passes were overpriced!

  • I know people either like him or hate him but Jim Sterling made a video a couple of months ago about the monetisation of games and how predatory the whole industry both AAA and mobile has become.

    I suggest watching his video "The Addictive Cost Of Predatory Videogame Monetization" and be appalled at the psychological tricks they try to get you addicted.

  • Note the language here...it's about avoid "player backlash", not about whether or not its ethical. They're in it for the money and nothing else. Their goal is to squeeze every last cent possible out of the players that they can.

    They don't care about the impact on society, as long as they get their cashflow everything is good. Regulators really need to step up their game and crack down on the predatory behavior that seems to be behind 99% of free to play mobile games.

    • Warframe was made because the developers loved the idea of the game and wanted to create it.

      These predatory mobile games are made by thinking "OK we need a new cashgrab, lets find a popular franchise to build a shitty game out of so we can start incorporating as many microtransactions as quick as possible. Yes yes we can sign with those guys and have them reskin the same game to as many different franchises as possible"

      For these games there is never the intent of creating a fun and enjoyable experience for your family nights or building sibling relationships or immersing you into a deep story, it's all about grabbing your money and look innocent while doing it.

  • It wasn't that long ago that I pointed that companies are developing and using AI tools to manipulate players in to spending money by adjusting various factors of the game at an individual level.
    If I recall I was told that it was a corporate wet dream and a far fetched threat that wasn't possible with current technologies.

    If its this far along in mid tier mobile gaming developers then you would be a fool to think it's not already far more advanced and more carefully intergrated at a AAA level, the only thing needed is data and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed the interest in increased data collection among gaming developers, publishers and distributors or how privacy statements are appearing more and more when starting up new games at the moment.

    • A rational adult person will always question the value of a transaction. There's no algorithm or monetisation strategy that can make a rational person do irrational things. So they will always be getting their big hits from a small minority - which I guess is the people they target or hope to attract.

      • That's just not true.

        There are a great many psychological tricks that companies use to subtly manipulate rational human decision making, such as by incrementally introduced road blocks that can initially be overcome with small microexpenditure. These microtransactions are intended to gradually desensitise players to additional larger expenditure down the track, although most rational humans would simply refuse to pay if presented with a total up front bill.

        As in my post below, this isn't limited to computer gaming. For example, 'drip pricing' is a well established form of commercial exploitation of psychology, whereby somebody might see an advertised flight (or theater ticket) for $1, but then click through to find a sellers commission, then a fuel levy, then a postage fee, then a baggage charge, then a taxes and charges line, then a credit card surcharge.

        Had all of those charges been bundled into the headline price a lot of people would simply never have clicked on the 'deal' in the first place, however once someone has made a decision to buy it's much psychologically harder to back out part way through the transaction.

        • I tend to just quit the game if it becomes impossible to progress at any decent rate without spending money. Most free to play mobile games have ads already so it isn't like they are not making anything if you don't participate in the microtransactions...

        • I fell a victim of that. In some way at least.

          I rarely spent money on games except for games I really really enjoyed and thought the developers really love their games and sometimes I will also buy older games of the same developers to have them in my library. But lately that I got a stable job and have a medium income I can afford more and more games. I paid for WoW subscription twice, that is two months in a row without playing that much. Then I was "lured" into the microsoft Game Pass for PC where it was 1euro for the first month, then 5 for the second and third and i guess forth and after those is gonna be 10 per month. While I was playing Forza Horizon 4 through the pass I also felt the need to buy a DLC for the game which I found that I needed a lot and I paid an extra 20euros for the DLC. Ok I play the game a lot, but still, i feel like I got tricked into thinkin "ah whatever lets pay that extra 4 per month" "ah lets pay that extra 20 for the dlc"

    • This is indeed already a widespread thing.

      If you normally spend $200 on your loyalty card at the supermarket, next week you might get an email awarding you 2000 points if you spend $250 next week. If you haven't spent any money through Google Play for a while you'll be dropped a $1 off coupon next time you do click on a microtransaction link to help get you over the line and into the habit.

      There is a data war going on against consumers by exceptionally well resourced corporations backed up by hordes of psychologists. The only way you can avoid being exploited is not to play in the first place.

      • Don't forget the old "two for 85% of the cost of two" on things like cans and bottles of soda. Even with the discount the store is making a decent profit per item and most people would have only bought one if they were planning on buying a drink...

  • someone lost 250 k $+ worth of stuff in mobile game last week (Rise of Kingdoms) , check for "Solymar getting zeroed" , he was the strongest pay 2 win player in the Rise of Kingdoms , and lost about 35 million of premium troops

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