In my previous post, I discussed how Path of Exile’s (POE) unique league system prevents in-game prices from bottoming out, thus holding player interest and keeping the game experience fresh. Today, I will be examining how the league system also continuously generates real revenue for POE’s developers through microtransactions (MTX).
POE’s MTX, which are the sole way that POE makes money off of players, are well-regarded in the gaming community as they keep the playing field fair and level by offering no gameplay advantage to the player. However gameplay advantage does not always equate to gameplay experience as we will discuss. And this difference is how POE makes its revenue–by selling MTX that considerably enhance the gameplay experience and could almost be considered necessary in order to further play the game. POE’s MTX can be split into two main types–cosmetic and utility. Cosmetic MTX, such as character/hideout appearance alterations or a pet tiger, are fun additions to the game, but a player can easily go without these MTX as they only provide aesthetic value. Utility MTX on the other hand, are basically essential quality-of-life upgrades that vastly improve the game experience. Utility MTX, referred to as stash tabs in POE, expand the player’s inventory so that they can hold more items. And in a game that revolves around customization and trying different builds, players need to have a variety of different items at their disposal. Without these extra stash tabs, players would constantly have full inventories and would be unable to pick up valuable loot. Also one of the stash tabs–the premium stash tab–allows players to sell items to other players (which generates much more in-game currency for the player than if they had to just sell the item to an in-game vendor). So stash tabs vastly improve the game experience, and while technically someone could play POE without them, they would have to spend most of their time micromanaging their inventory (which isn’t fun at all).
Not content with the revenues of these “regular stash tabs”, POE’s developers take their “stash tab as a necessary purchase to prevent player insanity” strategy a step further by blending it with the league system. Each league system adds a new game mechanic, and these new game mechanics often involve collecting certain items or forms of currency that drop in bunches and take up valuable inventory space. For example, essences, which are a currency item, began to drop at a regular rate after they were introduced in the Essence League. And while some of the essences can be moderately valuable, after a while they start to pile up in one’s normal inventory. So unsurprisingly, POE also released a special essence stash tab that sorts these essences and helps to clean up the normal inventory space these essences had been taking up. One could get by in POE without the essence stash tab, but buying it, like purchasing other stash tabs, makes the POE gaming experience much better. And these new additions, like essences, are not just particular to the Essence League. Once they are added to the game, they often apply to all other leagues as well, so just as players in the Essence league are incentivized to buy the essence stash tab in order to make their lives easier so to are players in Standard. And this process repeats itself every couple months when POE ends the current temporary league and starts a brand new league with new and different currencies and item drops.
That is not to say that these new items don’t add some sort of value to the game as they certainly do. POE’s developers have managed to strike a nice balance where the new items/currencies are useful and desired, but also clutter up one’s inventory to such a point that the special stash tabs are almost necessities. Due to the stash tabs being “mandatory”, but also not affecting actual gameplay, they serve the dual purpose of generating revenue for the developers and increasing goodwill towards the game. And this idea, combined with the high quality of the game in general shows how a game that is free-to-play can still be a financially successful enterprise. To conclude and provide a bit of context, my dad and I both play and love POE. If we were both to buy a copy of a game similar to POE, it might cost us a joint total of around $40-60 on Steam. The gameplay, skill tree, characters, and other facets of said purchased game may differ slightly, but overall we would probably get a relatively close experience to playing POE. However, POE, despite being free-to-play, has probably taken over $150 from us due to its ingenious MTX plan and league system. Yes, the sample is small, but clearly POE has an effective financial strategy that works in concert with the structure of its game.