ForumsWEPRThe Ethics of Microtransactions

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I feel like we haven't had a proper philosophy discussion in a while, and something came up recently. In particular: The King of Towers.

The game, I feel, is pretty poorly put together. But that's not my complaint. As I was playing around, I noticed there were these 'VIP tiers' that you could traverse by spending in-game premium currency (diamonds or gems or whatever). Each tier would confer benefits like reduced cooldown times, faster energy gain, etc. The more diamonds you spent, the higher tier you would get.

Now, all this is fine to me, personally. Since the game is free, I think it's reasonable to encourage players to spend a few bucks on the game so they can get more enjoyment out it. That seems fair.

Here's the issue I have. The highest VIP tier is called VIP 9, which needs 100,000 VIP points to reach. That means spending 100,000 diamonds to get there (each diamond spent confers 1 VIP point).

So is 100,000 diamonds a lot? Yes... yes it is. The standard (i.e. non-discounted) purchases for diamonds are ridiculous. If you wanted to reach the 100,000 VIP mark, you should buy the package with 2,600 diamonds in it (since it gets you 30% more free). If you divide 100,000 by 2,600 you get about 38.4.

I'm sure there are some free ways to get diamonds here and there, so let's just round that down to 35. That's 35 packs of 2,600 diamonds. The issue is that the 2,600 diamond pack costs $200 USD. That's right--200 dollars. And for just 1 pack! You'd need (conservatively) 35 of these packs to reach VIP 9 bringing your total to $7,000 USD.

This is staggering and upsetting to think you could spend $7,000 on a game. And I want to argue that it's immoral to even have this as an option.

Now, you might say that it's your money and you can spend it on whatever stupid thing you like. You could buy a motorcycle and jump it off a waterfall if you wanted. And I totally agree that you're well within your right to do that.

This is where the conflict for me arises. While I think that an individual who spends $7,000 on some MMO is kind of an idiot, I don't think they're necessarily doing anything immoral. Like I said, it's their money.

Instead, the point I want to make is that the game itself should not make this option available. That's where the immorality lies. By giving people this option, they are allowing individuals to throw away large sums of money. And just about anything else they could spend it on would be money better spent.

So here's my question: are games like this that allows users to blow thousands of dollars doing something immoral? Are they taking advantage of people? Or is this just a business model that I'm upset about for no reason?

N.B. You might have noticed that I don't actually have an argument here for the conclusion that these practices are immoral. That's partly by design and partly because my reaction has been more emotional than logical. Plus, I'd like to hear you guys' thoughts on this kind of activity.

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