A common trope in every capitalistic economy is the idea of “voting with your dollar.” The concept is simple; if you don’t wish to support something, don’t buy it. If enough consumers vote the same way by not purchasing it, then production of the product will cease as the company creating it won’t see the profit in doing so. It’s an idea that has worked numerous times in the past and is largely seen as the most powerful way consumers can shape companies’ products. The system truly works best when there is a limited amount of products coupled with a limited want. Now with the prevalence of purchasable free-to-play content and lootboxes, what was once an effective practice is now simply worth a fair amount less.
Your Dollar Isn’t Worth Less, You Are
The value of the dollar hasn’t changed. The value of a game, whether it and parts of its content are purchased or not, is still worth the same amount of money. Opting not to purchase said game still results in the company not receiving that money. The difference now is that while your money holds the same value, you don’t. When games were worth a set amount of money and featured no additional purchasable boxes, you could effectively withhold that money from a company. For example, if a company was to receive $60 from selling a game, you could vote-with-your-wallet and not purchase that game, effectively preventing them from receiving $60. Through this, you are signaling to the company that you do not support their product, for one reason or another and won’t be giving them money for their product. When you change this formula to account for purchasable free-play-content and lootboxes, that value shifts dramatically.
Lootboxes and free-to-play content change the value of a consumer. When typically one was limited to a single purchase (of course you could purchase more, but one is all you need), that’s all they can be seen to have the potential to vote with. Lootboxes and purchasable free-to-play content shifts this by allowing a single consumer to make multiple purchases. This makes one’s “vote” hold less value as you can only withhold so much from the company while your potential to purchase is essentially limitless. In this scenario, one can be assumed as being able to withhold $60 in a single purchase of a game as a consumer. However, as a consumer who purchases a title, you can be assumed in giving at least $60, with the potential of giving much, much more.
Now, it’s that much, much more that is key. There is now a much higher ceiling for the potential someone can give to a game. It’s no longer just the purchase of the game, but the many lootboxes or limitless purchasable content as well. This turns what was before, $60, into something that could be $120 or $180. So while on one hand, you can vote-with-your-wallet and withhold an assumed amount of $60. On the other hand, someone else can devalue your vote, by simply increasing his or her own by spending more. Where before one’s voice would have an equal say, now, that equality has been removed.
The act of withholding a purchase has become devalued, and because of this, other voices have come to be the voice of what is wanted. Companies will always go where the money is, and now that the money has shifted to a smaller but more influential group, their voice is being heard and only theirs. If there is to be any hope in reclaiming that voice, where those who support microtransactions are not the loud minority, other methods must be employed to assure consumer’s voices are heard.
Your Wallet Isn’t Enough
In a world where voting with your wallet has lost its value, then there are only a few other avenues left to employ, and one of them is just like this website here. Take the time to criticize developers and companies whose practices you disagree with. Write those long blogs, create more videos, and record that next episode to make sure that voice can be heard. Simply purchasing a game isn’t enough; there must be discussions and examination of flaws when it comes to games, not just voting-with-your-wallet. Not only does this create a message that publishers might see, but more importantly, it makes others more aware of the problems that are present. If more consumers become aware then that devalued vote-with-your-wallet suddenly starts to garner more value as it’s no longer just yourself but others making the same complaints and potentially changing what we are all up in arms about.
While the value-of-your-wallet might be less than once before, it doesn’t mean it holds no value, just that it’s going to take a bit more effort than before to get your message across.