For many players, the word "microtransaction" holds a markedly negative connotation, with some associating it with predatory loot box practices and pay-to-win mechanics. While there are indeed games that implement microtransactions in a way that has fostered this association, it is certainly not the case that micropayments are inherently evil. In fact, microtransactions can benefit a game's entire playerbase, including those that abstain from them completely, as succinctly demonstrated in a recent statement made by Destiny 2 Director Luke Smith.
In the first part of Smith's Destiny 2 Director's Update, a 20-page-long, multi-part blog post that looks to acknowledge both Destiny 2's past and its future, the director took a moment to dive into the role that microtransactions play in the game's development. While Smith was quick to note that microtransactions are not enough to fully support major projects like expansions, he did state that they "help fund ongoing development of Destiny 2."
Certainly, generally assisting in the facilitation of more Destiny 2 is a boon to anyone invested in the title, but it is not the end of the ways in which Destiny 2 microtransactions benefit the game's entire playerbase. Continuing on his previous point, Smith states that microtransactions allow Bungie to "fund creative efforts [it] otherwise couldn't afford." The director clarifies this with a specific example, indicating that "Whisper of the Worm's ornaments were successful enough that it paid [dev cost-wise] for the Zero Hour mission/rewards to be constructed."
For the uninitiated, Whisper of the Worm is a powerful exotic sniper rifle in Destiny 2, and its ornaments are cosmetic alterations to the weapon that were purchasable for around $10 each. Indeed, Smith draws a direct connection between the microtransactions that spawned from these Whisper of the Worm cosmetics and the development of Zero Hour, a hidden mission that appeared in Destiny 2 earlier this year.
"Whisper of the Worm's ornaments were successful enough that it paid [dev cost-wise] for the Zero Hour mission/rewards to be constructed."
Some players suggest that Zero Hour is among the best missions that Destiny 2 has to offer, and its reward, the Outbreak Perfected exotic pulse rifle, was certainly an exciting addition to the game. While the financials behind the development of Zero Hour are likely more complex than what Smith has outlined, explicitly associating microtransactions with the creation of Zero Hour is powerful in its effect.
More specifically, Smith's statement conveys the general understanding that microtransactions provide ongoing development assistance, making their direct impact on the game tangible to the playerbase. To connect a precise microtransaction to a specific, and beloved, piece of content makes it easy to understand exactly how micropayments are benefiting fans. If more developers offered up these sorts of connections, it could go a long way in dispelling inaccurate notions about microtransactions.
Additionally, it is worth noting that the impact of this recent statement from Smith was further amplified by the details that had previously been made available about Zero Hour. That is, it has been indicated that Destiny 2's Zero Hour mission took more than seven months to develop. Thus, players can now understand that their micropayments went toward sustaining developers over a substantial period of time, which many fans will be happy to do when those developers are working hard on a game that they love.
Primarily, this is a shift in perspective, away from the idea that microtransactions are just there to extract money from players and towards an understanding that they play a critical part in development. For the developers out there that reinvest earnings from microtransactions back into their games, it might be advisable to follow Smith's example and make exactly how that is being done exceedingly clear to fans.
All of this said, it would be remiss to not once again acknowledge that certain implementations of microtransactions have left something to be desired. These microtransactions are those that take advantage of a playerbase and push towards extravagant spending. However, when they function to give players a chance to support creators who's work they admire, like Bungie's, and offer a cool cosmetic to boot, I say bring them on.
Destiny 2 is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, with a Stadia version currently in development