Microtransactions, also called Micropayments, are small transactions found in online games and services where a user pays a one-time fee for access to a piece of exclusive content (Virtual Goods). This could be pretty much anything—a cute new hat for your Virtual Paper Doll, a cool new piece of armor, a temporary power-up, whatever. It could even just be a shortcut to content you could access for free—for example, you might pay real-world money for a cache of the in-game currency. The Virtual Goods can be bought directly, but it's also common for your real-world money to buy some amount of special in-game currency to spend in a special shop. See also Allegedly Free Game and Freemium. You need more TV Tropesbucks to see the rest of this trope's definition. Please enter your credit card details to continue.
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This is the most common form of Bribing Your Way to Victory because it generally allows you to pay as much as you like (although payments are often framed as "donations"), giving the richest players the ability to outpay everyone else. The most extreme cases can require players to pay to access vital game content, resulting in an Allegedly Free Game. However, it's entirely possible to have Micropayments without giving an unfair advantage to those who pay—for example, by making the exclusive content strictly cosmetic.
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Freemium is a Sister Trope that sometimes overlaps—a Freemium game that also uses Micropayments may offer them as an alternative to, in addition to, and/or as part of a Premium membership. Sometimes games will offer a one-time pack of credits for the Virtual Goods for free to give players a taste of power, in hopes that they'll come back to buy more—this is roughly analogous to a 30-Day Free Trial.
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The difference between this trope and Real Money Trade is that Microtransactions are sanctioned and sold by the game itself, whereas Real Money Trade is done by third parties, without the involvement of and, usually, against the wishes of the game's publisher.
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For the infomercial analog, see Four Equal Payments of.
- All Artix Entertainment games (AdventureQuest, Dragon Fable, MechQuest, WarpForce, EpicDuel, and AdventureQuest Worlds) have the basic storyline and most equipment available for free, but the best weapons, armor, Titan quests and battles (best for farming!), and so on are only available to upgraded players and (in the case of equipment) often only for special currency that must be purchased with real-world money. (although small amounts can be gotten rarely in AQ, DF, and MQ) The worst for it is probably AQ; MQ is probably the best, but DF and AQW both have an awful lot of content available for free players.
- Iron Realms Entertainment games such as Achaea games use "credits", which can be bought with real money. Credits are traded for gold and items in-game at a varying exchange rate, but the credits-to-real-money rate remains constant.
- Playfish games like Pet Society and Restaurant City have separate in-game and real money currencies.
- Harmonix sells songs to go with their games. Rock Band has 300 or so songs found across the five released games, and a handful available on "track pack" discs. The other 4000 or so require individual purchase at $2 a pop, or in packs which cost a little less. Thankfully, non-RBN songs before Rock Band 3 (i.e. before keyboard and harmonies) have had their price cut in half, making them $1 a-la-carte. Dance Central also has its own DLC.
- Konami has adapted this model for their arcade games, using proprietary currency called PASELI. Aside from allowing you to pay for your games without having to insert anything into the machine other than your e-Amusement Pass (which up until the introduction of PASELI was simply used to log in to save scores and game options, among other things), you can use PASELI to use special items, modes, and services in-game. For example, you can pay to play DanceDanceRevolution on a per-song basis rather than pay for a full round, and in beatmania IIDX, you can purchase a "DJ VIP Pass" that allows you to play all three stages even if you fail your first two. For parents concerned that their children might overspend at the arcade, users under the age of 18 have a monthly limit to how much PASELI credits they can use.
- Perfect World has Zen, bought with real money and transferrable to any of their games. What you can buy with it varies by game, and Star Trek Online also has an exchange market that lets those so inclined to grind dilithium in-game and trade it for Zen.
- Three Rings Design's games have a separate currency is used for all the things players would normally have to buy a subscription for. Naturally, this currency is bought with real money, but can be traded afterwards.
- Voltage Inc's reverse harem games run on microtransactions. The player downloads the free app, and then can buy as many or as few routes as desired. The versions of the games adapted for the social networking system GREE also use microtransactions to make them Allegedly Free Games.
- All of Zynga's games, including FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and many others, work this way.
- King, maker of such "gems" as Candy Crush Saga, which exist just for the purpose of draining your wallet, with certain in-game purchases going about ten times your average in-app purchase.
- Angry Birds. You get a smattering of the powerups for free when you start, and more trickle in day by day, but if you're impatient, there's always the marketplace where you can buy some more (and they entice you into bigger buys with bonuses at the higher quantities). Angry Birds Space applies the same principle for their Space Eagle. You get one use a day for free; more than that and you have to buy in.
- The Assassin's Creed series got into the game with Assassin's Creed: Unity, which allows players to purchase "Helix Credits". A select few items are only obtainable with these credits (namely, several in-game maps that reveal the location of collectibles and missions that, by themselves, can be found by exploration), but everything else is equipment that is also obtainable with the various types of in-game currency (namely, Livres and/or Creed Points that are obtained by performing in-game "assassinly" actions like using Fast Lifts or stealthy assassinations).
- Atlantica Online makes its money by means of an Item Mall, where various items can be bought for real cash, such as the Blessing Potion (which makes the players group much stronger for a limited time), Mounts (faster movement and other boni) or certain valuable items that can also be gotten ingame. All these items can also be traded with other players, allowing customers to make ingame money for real money as well, provided they can find someone rich enough. Some items are also occasionally given away for free or can be found during seasonal events.
- Battlefield Heroes has clothing available to all players, but some of it must be bought. Strictly cosmetic, though.
- Battle Stations allows the player to buy rare items, which usually require a lot of luck-based exploring or questing to acquire. There are, however, three items for sale which cannot be found via exploration. These items can be traded on the ingame auction, though, so a wealthy character could try and get them there instead. Also in the cash shop are Action Point packages, allowing the player to gain more Ap than the regular Ap regeneration provides.
- BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger lets you pay a small fee to unlock the "Unlimited" forms of some characters, instead of playing for them.
- BlazBlue: Continuum Shift went the extra mile by making it much harder to unlock "Unlimited" characters without paying for them. You can also unlock Mu-12 by either spending several hours playing story mode, or just buying her as well.
- BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma makes it even harder to unlock the "Unlimited" characters without paying. Like Mu-12 before him, Kagura is unlocked by several hours in the Visual Novel story mode, or paying real money.
- Bloodline Champions lets you spend real money to unlock characters. However, you can play your way to most of the things in the store, and nothing that can be bought with real money affects gameplay in any way.
- Burnout Paradise has a variety of downloadable content, the majority of which is new vehicles.
- Civilization V has DLC for civs, wonders, and map styles.
- Combat Arms has a lot of equipment that can only be bought, or more often, rented, with real money.
- Cyber Nations lets players get tech levels, infrastructure, land, and in-game cash in exchange for donations, but limits players to one donation per month. It's not essential, but it can lead to a nice boost in tax collections if timed right.
- Disgaea 3 allows you to purchase and download additional sidequests during the post-game, almost all of which have new characters as rewards.
- Parodied in DLC Quest where everything has to be bought from the ability to move to the left to the ending of the game. Fortunately, you have to pay with in-game money.
- In Doritos Crash Course 2, there are coins that you can purchase with money. You can subsequently use those coins to unlock levels or get power-ups. However, apart from a few cosmetic effects, you can earn everything by just playing the game, if you wish.
- Possibly the Ur-Example, the US arcade version of Double Dragon III:: The Rosetta Stone had additional player characters, weapons and moves that had to purchased be with real-world coins or tokens.
- Dragonica. It allows players to sell most in-game items for cash points instead of the standard currency.
- Dungeons & Dragons Online is an MMORPG which requires paying real cash to unlock certain areas, purchase powerful equipment or unlock certain classes.
- Entropia Universe, which also has (extremely tedious) ways of getting the virtual money without paying anything in Real Life.
- Fallen London allows you to buy Fate with real money. Fate is obtainable in game on very rare occasions, and can be used for mundane functions like restoring your opportunities deck to unlocking new and complex story inlets.
- Final Fantasy All The Bravest was marketed as a Massively Multiplayer Crossover with playable heroes from all across the Final Fantasy franchise. In actuality, the player is only given generic character classes for free (admittedly, there are forty of them). All named characters have to be purchased for about a dollar - that is, 99 cents apiece, meaning that unlocking all of the characters would cost just short of 35 USD on its own. Moreover, players couldn't pick and choose which characters they wanted, as the purchased character was selected by the Random Number God; a player who just wanted Cloud Strife on his team could potentially blow through all 34 other characters before getting his spiky blond-haired prize. On top of that, there are three purchasable missions each priced at 3.99 USD, which is the price of the app itself, bringing the total cost of a fully-unlocked game to just shy of 50 USD (plus however much you spent on Gold Hourglasses to instantly revive your team). Fans and critics alike were not amused.
- The Forza Motorsport series, starting with the fourth game, allows real money to be exchanged for Tokens to purchase cars in-game before you have the requisite amount of in-game credits. Not to mention the downloadable car and track packs; the latter case being a Double Unlock, as you pay with real-world money to unlock the cars, then you have still have to buy them with game credits or tokens. Forza Horizon requires purchase of tokens to unlock gameplay enhancements such as Fast Travel and the Treasure Map; thankfully the second game made microtransactions optional.
- Fruit Ninja makes you pay starfruit to unlock blades and backgrounds. While it's possible (albeit very time consuming) to get blades without paying for starfruit, paying is the only way to realistically get blades fast.
- Gaia Online has AutoCash.
- In the Xbox 360 version of The Godfather: The Game, players have the option of buying weapons and upgrades off of the Xbox Live Marketplace.
- Guild Wars 2 has the Gem Store, mostly selling cosmetic items and convenience services. Gems can be bought with real money or exchanged for gold in both directions. At very different rates, mind, so it's very costly to buy gold this way, but it does provide dedicated players with an alternative to paying real money for gems.
- Kingdom of Loathing has the Mr. Accessory, which you receive by donating $10 to the game. It is generally valued at about the amount of meat (in-game currency) that a reasonably well-equipped character could expect to make in a month's worth of farming for it. Because it is very easy to sell the accessory at the current market price, the price works as a very practical real-money-to-meat exchange rate, albeit a one-way one (the accessory's price also serves as a key indicator of the in-game economy).
- League of Legends uses Micropayments as a shortcut for unlocking heroes. Micropayments are also the only way to buy character skins, which are entirely cosmetic.
- Lord Of Ultima. Free to play, but one can purchase "diamonds" that in turn allow for the purchase of artifacts that give resources, build-time increases, etc. The game limits how frequently you can use them, though.
- Mabinogi, as is typical for a Korean MMORPG, has a good deal of this. Originally starting as an Allegedly Free Game by restricting storyline quests, Empathic Weapons, character rebirth (a vital game mechanic), and certain other content to paid subscribers only; the "Pioneers of Iria" expansion released all content to free players, including empathic weapons and free character rebirth. Despite this, there remain a considerable number of game-enhancing features that are only available in the premium cash shop, or to premium subscribers.
- Cards in Magic: The Gathering Online are bought from packs in the online store, just like real cards. They can be traded, bought, and sold freely among players, although "tickets" (normally used for tournament entry fees) are used as the de facto currency instead of dollars.
- MapleStory sells Money Sacks, which is exactly what it says on the tin. The downside? The illegal market for such things has better rates.
- Gameloft's My Little Pony is ripe to the bone with microtransactions, considering how costly some premium content would cost in real-life cash, pricing up to above $50.
- To unlock cars early in Need for Speed: Carbon, Pro Street or Undercover, buy them for real money on Xbox Live or PSN store.
- Pangya has "Cookie" items that you buy with real-world money.
- Pokémon Rumble World uses Poke Jewels for the same purpose, and obtainable from the same methods, as Shuffle.
- PAYDAY 2 has microtransactions in the forms of safes and drills for custom weapon skins. Through a Random Drop, you can earn a safe that contains a random skin for a random gun that may or may not have stat boosts. To unlock the safe, you have to fork over real life money to purchase a drill that will unlock the safe. The safes, drills, and skins can be traded between players as well and drills can also drop as you play too.
- Pokémon Shuffle lets you pay for "gems", which are exchanged for in-game currency or chances to play a level. You can get gems for free in the game, though, and money and chances can be obtained in-game (by completing a level or waiting).
- Portal 2's multiplayer mode has its own shop where players can pay real-world money to unlock special emotes, accessories, and so on. This is tied to the Steam Trading system, so players can trade between games if they feel like it. Many of the Freemium games in the Steam system (like Spiral Knights and Dota 2) are also in the Steam trading system and use Microtransactions.
- Project Blackout sells special, more powerful equipment for real money.
- RuneScape allows the purchase of extra "spins" on something called the "Squeal of Fortune", a Wheel of Fortune parody on which you can win assorted (mostly junk, but some very good) prizes, as well as experience rewards. There's also a straight store called "Solomon's General Store" which allows you to buy costumes, animations and other cosmetic items.
- Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is an experiment of Nintendo's in microtransaction-supported gaming, being a Minigame Game where each minigame (after the first one or two) is purchased with real money. However, in a typically Nintendo twist, you can take items won in the minigames and haggle with the shopkeeper to lower the real-money prices.
- S4 League. Those who are willing to shell out real money get slightly more effective weapons, flashier clothes, and will gain levels faster. They also don't have to worry about buying their weapons with in-game currency, which is fairly difficult to acquire. However, the advantage supplied by the paid-for weapons is fairly minimal, and none of them are unique; they're just optionally reskinned versions of the stuff everyone gets. Likewise, the paid-for clothes just look good, they don't offer any concrete tactical advantages.
- Second Life's has an in-world currency, "Linden Dollars" (or Lindens, named for the developer Linden Labs), which can be freely converted to and from real world currency. The exchange rate is adjustable, according to a supply-demand index called the "Lindex". Lindens are required to rent parcels of land and to upload textures, sounds, animations, and mesh models which you've created yourself, but mostly Lindens are exchanged among players in order to obtain clothing, hair, vehicles, houses, furnishings...whatever can be created in-world. It's perfectly possible to enjoy Second Life without Lindens, but most players eventually find something to spend money on.
- Shadow Era is a CCG that allows you to buy crystals that are used to buy starter decks/booster packs. You can buy all the cards with an in game currency, and you slowly gain crystals via play.
- Star Citizen allows players to buy in-game currency with real money, though it places a monthly cap on it in an attempt to avoid Bribing Your Way to Victory.
- Mobirix's iOS and Android ports of Psikyo shooters Strikers 1945 II / Strikers 1945 III add leaderboards, achievements, multiplayer, ads, and... locking all but the first character, earning some through achievements, or grinding through hundreds of playthroughs to earn gems to unlock a character. Or buy $15 worth of gems to unlock all the characters, and further spend gems and gold for power-ups and continues. Other characters can be randomly selected with gold, but not in the port of Tengai (Sengoku Blade).
- Sven Coop, a mod for Half-Life, allows people to "donate" money to its creators for permanent weapon enhancements - namely, their Uzis do double damage, and they can use armor to boost the damage on their melee weapon.
- Tales of Vesperia has this. Some of the stuff is rather easy to get later on in the game, and some of it is free too, so the advantage is mitigated somewhat.
- The Mann Co. store in Team Fortress 2. The in-game store has just about every item in the game, most of which can also be obtained through the random drop system. There is still a small market in Unusual hats, something of a status symbol amongst players. The Mann Co. Supply Crate Key (the only way to open crates) and three hats in particular—Bill's Hat (from the Left 4 Dead series), Max's Severed Head, (from the Sam & Max series) and the Earbuds, when Team Fortress 2 was released for Apple computers—are used as the de facto currency for anything to expensive to easily be paid in metal. With the expansion of Steam trading, however, other options are open such as trading Steam game gifts or items from other games.
- To unlock all the characters and power-ups in Temple Run, you need coins. These coins can be gathered within the game, but for the impatient they are also available for real money.
- Tetris Online Japan. You use TP to increase your stats, which affect how many piece previews you can see, how fast pieces move across the field when you hold left or right, the speed of the line clear animation, and so on. The higher the stat, the faster you can play. Of course, this can give quite an advantage. TP is earned by playing and winning games, at 10-34 TP per game depending on performance. It also takes a total of 9,700 TP to max out each stat of the 5 stats. But for 105 yen each, you can buy a "Point Scratch" that gives a random amount from 500-10,000 TP when used. "Premium" version subscribers paying 315 yen a month get another 300 TP per month.
- War Of Legends has "WoLCash" used to purchase in-game items and bonuses.
- World of Tanks, an MMO tank-simulation game, operates on microtransaction, also mixing in a Freemium system. You can purchase gold, which can be either spent on a "premium account" that gives you a boost in experience and credit generation, or various in-game items and tanks.
- World of Warcraft players can purchase special mounts from the Blizzard store. They differ from ordinary mounts only in appearance.
- Zhengtu Online, a Chinese MMORPG deliberately designed from the ground up for gold buyers. The game physically blocks you from advancing without buying experience and items for real world money.
- Zombie Pandemic allows you to buy a number of coins, which you then spend, coin by coin, to speed up the building of Safe Houses, or buy yourself more Action Points. You can find them yourself but it takes much, MUCH longer, especially alone.
- Dungeon Keeper 2 did this to a horrific degree that managed to make the game fail within days. Doing anything in the game took around 24 hours (which you could speed up by buying gems). The backlash was so bad that it got governments to take notice and pass legislation that games required in-app purchases rather than being touted as "free".
- Extra Credits discussed the topic in detail in one of its videos, calling it a useful tool that many games should embrace and offering some do's and don't's to any developers interested in adopting the model. (Build the content with the payment model in mind, give free players a way to earn paid currency without paying, avoid Bribing Your Way to Victory, etc.)
- Jimquisition discussed it, mostly about the negative part—namely, how easily it is for game companies to abuse it as a cash grab.
- Many game apps on Facebook use Facebook coins, which are bought with money. Some use the direct method as well.
- South Park episode "Freemium Isn't Free" has an in universe example. The Canadian government releases a Terrance and Phillip game, which is essentially a parody of games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff, where the object is simply to collect coins and build a town up. Most of the boys get bored of it very quickly, except for Stan, who racks up $26000 of debt on the game. Turns out that the game is the demonic plot of The Canadian Devil, Beelzaboot.