Take-Two has struck it big with microtransactions in GTA Online.
The multiplayer component of the legendary series' latest installment has an insanely large player base of which an overwhelming majority often buy into the game's Shark Card microtransactions. The game doesn't even use your typical pay-to-win model with premium content accessible only by paying extra, as microtransactions only net you the same in-game currency that can be earned through missions, and yet they sell like hotcakes.
Turning to the most recent NBA 2K release, Take-Two managed to strike gold twice. While the series has at times been criticized for going overboard with microtransactions, it has also been a financial success nonetheless.
And beyond the sphere of Take-Two, many other AAA publishers have been enjoying major success with this model, Blizzard and Ubisoft being chief among them.
Now it seems Take-Two wants to take things further and its recent quarterly investor call practically confirmed (albeit indirectly) that microtransactions - or "recurrent consumer spending opportunities" as CEO Strauss Zelnick calls then - will be in Red Dead Redemption 2. More specifically, they will be in every game that Take-Two Interactive publishes henceforth.
It may not always be an online model, it probably won't always be a virtual currency model, but there will be some ability to engage in an ongoing basis with our titles after release across the board. That's a sea change in our business.
For years now game publishers have been looking at ways to get existing consumers to pay more beyond the initial $60 purchase price for their games. The content used to achieve this has shrunk over time while the relative cost of doing so has grown.
Expansions became DLC, DLC became much smaller DLC, and that became microtransactions. In the meantime, the content/price ratio has gone way up, with the same amount of money that used to buy a proper expansion with several hours of full gameplay content buying a mid-tier in-game currency pack today.
During the early years that microtransactions were present in AAA mainstream titles they operated on the same whale-principle as mobile games. This meant that a tiny percentage of the player base would spend ridiculous amounts of money on microtransactions, while the vast majority of players would never touch them. Usually the biggest, most expensive packs were the "best sellers".
This has changed recently as consumer dynamics have adapted to a new environment.
The buyers of microtransactions are now the majority of a game's overall player base, and instead of relying on massive whale purchases, these systems thrive on the mass impulse purchases of the cheaper tiers. When every second player of a major game decides to toss $10 into some microtransaction, that adds up to a fortune.
Ever since the announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2, fans have been concerned that the runaway success of GTA Online would prompt Rockstar to de-emphasize the singleplayer experience in favor of a more heavily monetized multiplayer mode. As Red Dead Online was announced simultaneously with the main game these fears did not seem totally unfounded, and the policies we're reporting on today could add weight to them.
However, as we also reported, a Rockstar employee recently clarified that singleplayer experiences are still a priority to them, so we shouldn't worry too much about how Red Dead Redemption 2's storyline will fare. The extent of microtransactions in the multiplayer section likely won't outstrip that of GTA Online, simply because that existing model is proven to be so ludicrously lucrative.
Why fix what isn't broken?
Returning to the investor call at hand, Zelnick was also asked how he thinks the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 will affect GTA Online, and his answer lines up exactly with what we've been saying - in no special way at all.
Zelnick points out that Take-Two holds its releases to a high competitive standard, not only seeing their games as competing with those of other publishers but as competing with one another. This mentality sprang from the simple observation that market-wise, the release of a new game published by them affects their other games the same way as external rivals, and thus "Red Dead stands alone".
So the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 isn't expected to affect the continued success of GTA Online or Grand Theft Auto 5 (which also recently broke 85 million copies sold by the way) in any significant manner.
It seems that whether we're speaking of future Red Dead or GTA games,
microtransactions recurrent player spending opportunities are here to stay.