In 2006, video game company Bethesda Softworks executed the first microtransactions by a major publisher in the industry. A microtransaction is the purchase or sale of a piece of digital property using real-world currency, usually a relatively small amount. That first microtransaction was the sale of cosmetic horse armor for $2.50 in the video game Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. To be clear, microtransactions dispense no tangible products, only the visual appearance of the “item” in-game. For $2.50, customers were receiving the appearance of an armored horse in their game.
Ever since then, microtransactions have exploded in popularity with companies realizing that their customer bases are willing to spend these increments of real money for what amounts to a few lines of digital code. It was and still is a gold mine for virtual entertainment companies. Just from October 2017 through December of 2019, the video game Fortnite brought in $4.3 billion on microtransactions alone, that is, not including the sales of the actual game itself.
Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, Patrick and Cyrus dove into this topic to explore just what the implications of this phenomenon are.
Patrick and Cyrus read through an article that explained just what people were paying for and essentially, they were spending their hard-earned dollars on pixels, digital clothing, and images. Some digital blockchain retailers are selling digital clothing that they will photoshop onto your pictures or videos so that you can show off fictional clothing. The article discussed one of these designers who was able to sell just such a digital dress for $9,500.
Patrick said, “That’s the whole story. And my reaction to it is, what a colossal waste of money. What a colossal waste of time for the people who are just so immersed in this online world. What about the real world?” It should be taken into account that the point of photos is to capture a moment in time so that you can remember it. If you’re paying any amount of money, let alone thousands of dollars, to alter the image to falsely reflect reality, why take the photo? To that point, if video games are intended to be fun, challenging, or a form of relaxation, what purpose does a digital mall serve? It has no function and it barely has any form.
It would stand to reason that the purchases of such items reflect a sort of digital status or rank. People purchase these purely cosmetic effects to show that they are rich, beautiful, or powerful. In an increasingly digital world, people’s egos get lost in the potential attention or virality that they can capture.
Cyrus also brought up the idea that virtual reality is an emerging technology that will serve to displace people even further from reality. Oculus and Valve are two of the biggest VR companies that sell headsets and haptic, motion-sensing controllers to immerse the player into the world as much as possible. With people willing to spend significant amounts of money on a fully digital cosmetic product, it’s worrisome to think about what people will be willing to do in virtual reality.
That being said, it should be noted that technology like this is innovative and the potential for its usefulness has yet to be explored. While every tool can be used for the wrong reasons, we don’t know enough about the effects of digitization to have comprehensive results. The development of virtual reality and augmented reality could certainly prove to be very helpful in the future, just as the idea of online shopping has. In the face of companies taking advantage of digital video game shops, the ability to order groceries and necessities online has proved invaluable. It remains to be seen what the benefits of new technologies will be, and we can only hope to minimize the detriments.
Listen to the whole discussion below:
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