Instead of buying a house or a dream car, one big-pocketed gamer spent over $150,000 on a mobile Transformers game. Yes, really.
Mobile games are juggernaut bread-winners that rake in hundreds of millions every year. Reliant almost universally on in-game microtransactions, these games monetize every part of the experience. The idea is the same as coin-op arcades: Want to keep playing? Stick in another quarter. One quarter becomes four, four becomes 16, and before you know you've spent $150,000 on digital items.
That's what one "whale" (the term used to describe big spenders on microtransactions) did in Transformers: Earth Wars, an online-only RTS-style mobile game. According to Earth Wars publisher Yodo1, someone spent over $150,000 on microtransactions in the game. That's over double the massive $62,000 spent on Runescape. The big reason to spend is to make it easier to unlock new Transformers, making the mobile game into a kind of old-school collect-them-all toy scheme.
Here's what Space Ape CEO Simon Hade told PocketGamer.biz in 2016:
"One way you see this play out is in stats. Typically someone who has played a lot of these games has a particular play pattern.
"They buy their extra builder early. They join a ready-made alliance, usually because it is made up of friends they met in a previous game. As a result, they retain and monetize better, but also are less patient about deviations from the formula.
"People who are less familiar with the genre, on the other hand, take longer to convert to spender, they need more help finding the right alliance and take longer to ramp up."
For its credit, Earth Wars looks pretty interesting. It's a base-building game that's prime for microtransactions, but it has lots of moving parts and ways to keep you playing. The interesting parts come in when players battle each other with huge hulking Transformer mechs.
But again, the game preys on a specific psychology that's predicated on pushing intense engagement by creating a never-ending grind, and monetizing you every step of the way.
Should this be allowed though? Regardless of how much money you have, should people be allowed to spend like this? That's part of the argument when it comes to unregulated monetization. Game devs may have to cap out max monthly or yearly spending in the future, but for now it's the Wild West with very lax rules.