June 25, 2022

Microtransaction Run Amock as RuneScape Player Spends £50,000

The spending habits of one RuneScape player has left the community shaken. One player spent £50,000 in the game, landing himself in extreme debt. Yes, the shady business of microtransactions rears its ugly head yet again.

Since 2012, RuneScape players have been vocal against the games’ various money-grabbing events. The “Squeal of Fortune” was plaguing the community to start with. That update allowed players to spin a wheel in exchange for in-game bonuses.

More than just cosmetic, these bonuses ranged from armour to money to experience points. Players could buy the opportunity to spin the wheel for more chances to play. Prices ranged from £3.50 up to £69.99. It’s a level of pay-to-play that left the community outraged.

Parliament’s Report

The controversy was escalated to Parliament recently. A report on immersive and addictive technologies directly referenced the £50,000 spending. Though heavily mentioned, it should be noted RuneScape was not the only culprit here.

The same predatory practises were still displayed in Squeal of Fortunes’ replacement, “Treasure Hunter.” A promotion called “Prize Pool” was once offered within Treasure Hunter. Players could gamble their winnings on better prizes at the risk of losing everything.

Following backlash, RuneScape developer Jagex stated how they;

“…let the balance tip too far and promotions seemed to dominate the game, especially when coupled with underwhelming content updates. The Prize Pool promotion design was misjudged and it crossed the line.”

Taken to Parliament

The report from Parliament showed how the player, an adult son, whose spending habits caused “significant financial harm for both the player and his parents.”

The report continues, stating;

“Jagex … generates about one-third of its revenue from microtransactions, with two-thirds coming from an alternative subscription model. The company’s director of player experience Kelvin Plomer told us that players ‘can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month’ in RuneScape, but that only one player had hit that limit in the previous 12 months.”

“The company’s reasoning for setting this limit seemed to stem from fraud prevention, rather than out of a duty of care to prevent people spending more than they are able. Jagex does allow players to ‘request deletion of the account or suspension of the account or a payment block’; however, crucially in the case of the parent who contacted us, for data protection reasons it can deal only with account holders and so was unable to take direct action in response to the parent’s concerns.”

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/1846/1846.pdf

Jagex’s claim that microtransaction only makes up a third of their revenue missed the point entirely. Back in April, the company announced its highest revenues ever with £92.8 million made in 2018. Using their own defence, a staggering £30.9 million came from microtransactions alone.

Lootboxes and Microtransactions Galore

The whole story is one of many about the ongoing issues surrounding microtransactions and loot boxes. Kotaku interviewed several players about the practices.

“The nature of loot boxes I do find very predatory, the fact that they hide the true value of items and experience to get more money from players is particularly nefarious,” one player said. “I think that players would be a little less critical if they just sold experience outright.”

Another mentioned how;

“A combination of especially aggressive Treasure Hunter promos, a lack of content updates for several months, and a strong feeling from the RuneScape community that they are being taken advantage of. Outrage over microtransactions in RuneScape isn’t a new thing; there is just an overwhelming sense of ‘this company really doesn’t care about us’ when they keep, keep pushing these promotions after many years of being told to stop, or at least tone down, without any signs of interest from Jagex.”

It’s yet another example of how such shady practices are ruining the industry. With several countries already banning loot boxes, surely it should only be a matter of time until we see the last of them?


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