Microtransactions, sometimes abbreviated as mtx,[1][2] are a business model where users can purchase virtual goods with micropayments. Microtransactions are often used in free-to-play games to provide a revenue source for the developers. While microtransactions are a staple of the mobile app market, they are also seen on PC software such as Valve's Steam digital distribution platform, as well as console gaming.

Free-to-play games that include a microtransaction model are sometimes referred to as "freemium". Another term, "pay-to-win", is sometimes used pejoratively to refer to games where buying items in-game can give a player a disproportionate advantage over other players,[3] particularly if the items cannot be obtained through free means. The objective with a free-to-play microtransaction model is to involve more players in the game by providing desirable items or features that players can purchase if they lack the skill or available time to earn these through regular game play. Also, presumably the game developer's marketing strategy is that in the long term, the revenue from a micro transaction system will outweigh the revenue from a one-time-purchase game.

Loot boxes are another form of microtransactions. Through purchasing a loot box, the player acquires a seemingly random assortment of items. Loot boxes result in high revenues because instead of a one-time purchase for the desired item, users may have to buy multiple boxes. This method has also been called a form of underage gambling. Items and features available by microtransaction can range from cosmetic (such as decorative character attire) to functional (such as weapons and items). Some games allow players to purchase items that can be acquired through normal means, but some games include items that can only be obtained through microtransaction. Some developers[4][5] ensure that only cosmetic items are available this way to keep gameplay fair and balanced.

The reasons why people, especially children, continue to pay for microtransactions are embedded in human psychology.[6] There has been considerable discussion over microtransactions and their effects on children, as well as regulation and legislation efforts. Microtransactions are most commonly provided through a custom store interface placed inside the app for which the items are being sold. Apple provides a framework dubbed "in-app purchases" for initiating and processing transactions.[7] Google's framework for the same use is referred to as "in-app billing",[8] named more from the developer's point of view. Apple and Google both take 30 percent of all revenue generated by microtransactions sold through in-app purchases in their respective app stores.[9][10] Steam offers support for microtransactions in games on its platform through the Steamworks SDK.[11]

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