Microtransactions are more complicated in the metaverse.

Microtransactions are more complicated in the metaverse.

Pay-to-win microtransactions that give some players a distinct advantage over others absolutely ruin games for those who don’t pay. As a result, many games have chosen to relegate all microtransactions to cosmetics only. These can make one’s character look cool, but don’t give them an advantage in a fight. Makes sense in a competitive game, but what happens when cosmetics are the main draw?

This is a puzzle that I couldn’t get out of my head while playing Fortnite this week after buying her battle pass so my cousin would feel more comfortable playing on my PS5. I’ve played Epic Games Battle Royale more than ever this past week. During that time, I realized how critical cosmetics are to the Fortnite experience and how most outfits and emotes are locked behind a paywall. As companies increasingly strive to turn games into metaverses, it’s time to re-evaluate whether cosmetic-only microtransactions are still acceptable.

Endless Easter

Characters from the new Fortnite Battle Pass together, including Doctor Strange and Spider-Man's Prowler.

Over the Easter weekend, my younger cousin visited me as part of the Christmas celebrations. She finally lured us to the PS5, and had installed Fortnite (their favorite game) on the system so they could see it in action on a next-gen console. As we had fun playing together, they pointed out that my character had the default outfit and were surprised that he hadn’t spent money to buy more cosmetics.

Spending money on cosmetics immensely changed my relationship with Fortnite.

Understanding that sentiment, I spent $20 worth of V-Bucks to buy a Chapter 3 Season 2 skin, emote, and battle pass. My cousin eventually left, but I didn’t stop playing. Fortnite for the rest of that holiday weekend. He had just spent money on the battle pass and wanted to unlock the Prowler and Doctor Strange outfits that he had paid for but needed to play to win. He is at the end of this season’s battle pass.

Call it the sunk cost fallacy, but I’ve tried to get my money’s worth from Fortnite during the last days. During that routine, I came to a surprising conclusion: cosmetics are so crucial to the Fortnite game-like experience.

It wasn’t like that when I played Fortnite a bit during its early days, but now that Epic Games is turning the battle royale game into a crossover-filled metaverse, how players look is just as important as how they perform in a match.

Whether in a pre-game lobby with random players or in a session with close friends, the outfit that your Fortnite the character is using and the emotes they use are vital aspects of the social experience. Unlocking cosmetics also serves as the backbone of FortniteThe progression of, because one has to keep playing to unlock outfits or earn the currency to buy them.

Spending money on cosmetics immensely changed my relationship with Fortniteso I would say that the game’s microtransactions have a significant impact on the experience.

The cost of self-expression

Fortnite is a leading metaverse game now despite its humble origins, and many competitors like Manticore Games’ Hub They are following your lead. Cosmetics are the main things that are monetized because they supposedly don’t affect gameplay. But this approach directly contradicts the statements of the developers. Manticore Games CEO Frederic Descamps recently explained to Digital Trends how “the metaverse is a new place for self-expression and creativity.” Right now, an important aspect of player expression is locked behind a paywall or extremely long grind.

Developers and players now value these cosmetics so much that people like my cousin feel like they’re missing out when they don’t have cool outfits or emotes for characters. I also keep playing Fortnite due to the cosmetic I paid but still can’t access. I’ve realized how much iron grip cosmetics have on experience, and I hope future metaverse games do the same.

Cast of chapter 3 of Fortnite.

Due to their more positive reputation, cosmetic microtransactions are not immediately noticeable or ridiculed by players. But if you don’t pay in Fortnite today, you’re not taking full advantage of the social aspect of the game that Epic Games loves to promote. Cosmetic microtransaction could be the best of two evils when compared to pay-to-win microtransactions. Still, it seems cosmetic-only microtransactions are becoming just as negatively intrusive in metaverse games as pay-to-win ones.

I don’t blame my cousin for wanting his characters to look special and uniquely emotional or I don’t regret spending the money so he and I could have so much fun playing together. But it is clear that a very important part of the fun of Fortnite for people of all ages is locked behind a paywall and that leaves me worried about the future of cosmetic microtransactions. These microtransactions are likely to only get worse and become more prominent as more metaverse games like Fortnite continue to emphasize customization and player expression over gameplay from moment to moment. As such, it is no longer possible for me to consider cosmetics as the “good type” of microtransactions.

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