Modernizing Microtransactions: From 1920’s Penny Arcades to Fortnite

This Turtle is Apple, Epic, or Bethesda; the choice is yours!

If you need some background on the gigantic legal battle that has stirred up talk surrounding this topic of microtransactions, start by reading the wonderfully written article by Ash Parrish on Kotaku.

Microtransactions are the small payments you make on your phone for small/virtual goods. These goods are real and exist, but they are virtual, which means they are part of a virtual-created world or game space. Most games that run this finance model are free to play/pay to win, giving the person spending money more advantages against the computer enemies or even other human players. The more money you pay, and the more benefits or uniqueness you add to your experience. People will pay for a lot of things, even virtual clothes for their characters to play in.

Many people hate microtransactions, as some games are designed to create/mandate that you spend money on these microtransactions to get the full experience of the game. I disagree with Dave Smith’s article in some respects, as most purchased games do not have many microtransactions, and the idea of paying additional content does not mean they did not give you a full experience without the additional content.

That stated, even games and companies that often give you tons of free/well priced content can try to earn a quick buck, like the famous horse armor catastrophe by Bethesda, though they say they learned from the experience. I remember a gamestop employee trying to sell me on it, and you can buy versions of the game today with the “Horse Armor Pack” bundled.

Some people point out that Horse Armor was the first major microtransaction where people paid real money for “fake” items or virtual content. Let me stress again that I believe that these things are as real as any other idea, like the idea money has value or Fruit Loops have different flavors, and those ideas are powerful even when they are inherently not based in reality.

In my classroom I would point out to students that I believe in Santa Claus, not because there is a bearded man at the North Pole giving children toys after sneaking into houses and stealing foodstuff, but because he is believed in and advertised with regardless of a basis in physical “reality”. I see Horse Armor as an evolution of microtransaction from another video game sources, as well as having lineage in older technologies.

This article by Patrick Scott Patterson discusses in length that there is no working concept of a “good ol’ days” period where gaming was free, as you either had to pay lump sum for home games or using coins for transactions at an arcade. I personally spent a lot of money at my local arcade on NBA JAM and TMNT arcade just to get to the end of the game or to play my friends. You pay for an experience, and the micropayment equals a small experience. These were fun experiences, and I was more than willing to spend money to play my friends over and over again, not realizing how many quarters we used.

Long before video games were Penny Arcades, where you could learn your love potential, play pinball, or watch short reels on a mutoscope if it wasn’t banned and sent to Denmark. Show up in the early 20th century and leave with experiences and leave without your money; pennies were yesterday’s quarters.

What does this have to do with EPIC VS. APPLE? Everything, because if you imagine Fortnite as the arcade game bringing in quarters, Apple and Android were taking 30% or so of those quarters away for “expense” of allowing EPIC to have the game on their App Store. If you are not on the App Store, you cannot get on the Operating System of the device, as App Stores have become software quality control gatekeepers.

EPIC argues it should be able to have its own connection directly to the customer, and tried to work around the Apple and Android App pay model to keep 100%, and they were punished for doing so.

That stated, it is not that EPIC fights for my rights. They do not want to save users money. EPIC just wants a bigger cut of the cash.

Should Apple/Android get a cut from everything that runs on their system? Should the creators get direct payment, and if so, should EPIC stop stealing dances from people? I do not know, but I know that parents need to watch phones closely, as you can’t ground your kid from the virtual world like you could ban them from going to the physical arcade.

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