Well, here we go again with big developers talking about cramming unnecessary shit into their titles. The game industry and I had a talk before when the president of Activision said that every new game they release will include some form of multiplayer. Last week, Blake Jorgensen, CFO of EA, stated that all of his company’s future games would include microtransactions. He’s since recanted, but this is still worth discussing. Don’t get me wrong; microtransactions aren’t inherently a bad thing for gaming. Unfortunately, very few know how to implement them correctly.
There are a few problems with applying the microtranscation-based cell phone game model to AAA console and PC games. First of all, cell phone games cost anywhere from nothing to five dollars; if there are microtransactions, it’s not the end of the world, and you can understand that the developers need to get money somehow. Many of these cell phone games are purely money grabs. Baseball Superstars is a perfect example. The problem with the game is that you can play through the first season without a problem, but the game becomes nearly impossible if you don’t buy a spring training pack or some of the helper items for your second season. I fear that major releases will start to fall into that trap. While I am not sure many intend to go down that road, the temptation to do so has to be there.
There is zero reason for Dead Space 3 to have microtransactions. None. It doesn’t make sense within the context of the game and it is purely a way for EA to try to make more money from gamers. A $60 game doesn’t need the addition of microtransactions to make money. If every EA game included microtransactions, we’d be in a lot of trouble. It’s only a matter of time until these games slowly transition to a pay-to-win model that kills the idea of just playing for fun.
I guess the scariest element, for me, is the combination of multiplayer and microtransactions. While I am not an avid Call of Duty fan, I fear that Activision will adopt the same plan with microtransactions and Call of Duty multiplayer will become pay-to-win. Instead of leveling up to earn guys, you can just buy them. Instead of getting perks from playing the game, you can just throw down some money and trick yourself out instantly. Then, suddenly, there are exclusive guns that can only be purchased with real money–and where is the motivation to keep those guns balanced? They could be released over-powered to convince people buy them, then nerfed just in time for the next model. There is a thin ethical line that could be crossed very easily here. It reminds me of my Diablo 3 conspiracy theory: given that the developers control the drop rate of items and get a cut of the real money auction house, what is stopping them from keeping the auction house prices inflated to continue to turn a profit? What is stopping them from keeping the game unbalanced to force people to spend money? I guess the one thing is that would stop them is exactly what happened to Diablo 3: people stopped playing.
Speaking of Diablo 3, not all microtransactions are bad. The Diablo-style game, Path of Exile, is doing microtransactions on par with the golden standard games, League of Legends and Team Fortress 2. In no way is it pay-to-win. It’s pay-to-look-cool or pay-to-have-extra-storage-space. In no way do these features break the game, and you can play the game fully without spending one dime. As always, this model works, for me at least. It’s a well made game, I love playing it, and I haven’t been “forced” to buying anything yet to keep up. As a result, I want to give the developer my money. I will spend money on the game because I love the game and want to see it succeed. I may be in the minority when it comes to games like this, but I feel I am not. The super-successful League of Legends is the perfect example.
Not all microtransactions are bad, but microtransactions placed into games simply for the sake of having microtransactions are. Developers need to choose their spots; I am sure some AAA games would benefit from microtransactions, but right now throwing that kind of feature into every game just to get some extra cash is wrong and we shouldn’t stand for it. We need to vote with our wallets and leave games that attempt such tactics where they belong: on the shelves.
Check out Episode 132 of the D Pad D Bags Podcast, featuring Tomb Raider, SimCity, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.