By Liam Brand
It’s no secret that League of Legends is dominating the gaming market nowadays. It’s the most played online game in the world, and absolutely free. And yet, every year, League rakes in millions of dollars in revenue every month. So if nobody is paying money to get the game, where is all this money coming from?
A report from CNBC has discovered that Riot Games made approx. $1.62 Billion in 2015 alone, primarily through microtransactions we get a rough estimate that the average active League of Legends player spends $24.2 on the Free-to-Play game through in-game purchases. Now, if we want to really dive deeper and get an accurate idea of player spending in LoL, we could apply the Pareto Principle (“The 80/20 Rule”). According to said rule, 20% of League of Legends players spend $97.10 each, while the rest of the players spend only spend about $9.10 each, on average.
Okay, so boring math aside, we can actually draw some interesting conclusions here. League of Legends, a game that costs nothing to jump in and play, still has a huge number of players who spend nearly a hundred dollars in-game, while the majority of players don’t even break ten dollars of spendings. Are these purchases towards upgrades for champions? Boosts that give players a hand-up in combat? Nope and nope. The fact of the matter is that a large majority of in-game purchases go towards skins. That’s right, something as simple as offering new appearances for champions, with no alteration in the way the champion plays, is enough to be one of the game’s primary sources of revenue.
A similar trend pops up in Counter Strike as well, where weapon skins are auctioned off at ridiculous prices. However, where this case differs is that due to the Steam Market’s failed attempt at restricting item costs to $400, the CS:GO community has taken third-party to sell skins.
This has gone as far as using Steam Keys as sub-currency to buy and sell weapon skins. At about $2.50 apiece, keys can be traded for items, and then sold back into the steam marketplace. It’s all very elaborate for something as seemingly insignificant as weapon skins. But to underestimate the value of skins would be a grave mistake, as prices for some of the most desired skins are through the roof.
What this points towards is that, in a competitive online setting, gamers are willing to spend much more money on skins and changes in appearance than they would in any other setting. I feel like this says something about culture surrounding such competitive titles. Players seem to care about reputation, status, and looks, just as much as they do about enjoying themselves.
Though players may sign up for a free-to-play experience, developers are quickly learning the value of marketing exclusivity and prestige to gamers through expensive and rare skins, adding a layer of financial competition to the mix. In the case of games like CS:GO it’s the community doing it to themselves.
The question is, is this a problem? Is the obsession over skins spoiling the base content of the game, and breeding a corrupt community? I’d like to think not, but I do hold a concern for what this means for the future of gaming.