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EA ruffles feathers with visions of a microtransaction future

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EA's Dead Space 3 featured microtransactions (Credit: EA)

Microtransactions can be a lucrative source of income for game publishers, though they're largely limited to free-to-play games and mobile apps right now.

Electronic Arts has a broader vision for the concept, however, and it's not exactly thrilling gamers.

Speaking at Morgan Stanley's Technology Media & Telecom Conference this week, the publisher's CFO Blake Jorgensen said EA plans to include microtransactions in all of its upcoming games.

"The next and much bigger piece is microtransactions within games," he said. "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, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business."

He's using a somewhat loose definition of the words “enjoying” and “embracing.” Most gamers are worried that an increase in microtransactions will make games more expensive. Many feel that a $60 price point should not come with additional costs down the road.

Of equal -- or greater -- concern is the fear that players who purchase items via microtransactions will have an advantage in multiplayer sessions, essentially transforming all games into "pay to win" titles.

"The defense of these microtransactions always comes in the form of, 'You don't have to buy them to play and enjoy the game.'," said one commenter on Gamasutra. "Sure, that's true for now. But, eventually, that will change. You'll have less and less content, with more and more microtransactions everywhere."

EA has certainly had a lot of success with these tiny purchases. The Simpsons: Tapped Out, a free-to-play game for iOS devices, earned $25 million last quarter alone, says Jorgensen.

That's small potatoes compared to some other companies in the space, though. For example, in's premiere title World of Tanks, the average U.S. player spends $7.50 per month on microtransactions, which makes long-term players much more valuable than those who purchase a single console title. CEO Victor Kislyi said the game currently has 50 million registered users in 200 countries, each of whom make an average of 3.5 million item purchases each day.

“Unfortunately, for some big companies, not every one of them understands the world has changed,” said Kislyi at the D.I.C.E. Summit earlier this month. “They need to embrace the new direction."

The question is, will EA's embrace of microtransactions alienate its customer base?

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