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“The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it”
-George Bernard Shaw
Money is about to do some REAL damage to gaming. Yesterday, EA announced that all of it’s future game will include microtransations. For those of you who don’t know, microtransactions are those lovely bits of DLC that give you a virtual item or currency for real world money. Mobile gamers will already be familiar with this idea, and computer gamers have been seeing this in MMO- and free-to-play games for years, though console gamers are only beginning to see this system. I myself got my first console exposure in Mass Effect 3, where you could use Microsoft Points to purchase Reinforcement Packs. I purchased a few with the extra Points I wasn’t using and at the time I thought it was great. Looking back, it represented a bad call and an even worse idea. And here’s why…
“The value of achievement lies in the achieving.”
Don’t have the resources? Use real money! No need to play games when you have shortcuts!
You just bought a video game with real money, $60 if it was a new one. Assuming the game developers and designers did their jobs well, the game is balanced, fair and has a planned (or choosable) progression for the player, including what enemies should still be challenging at a certain point and what kind of places you shouldn’t be able to shoot past. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a great example. As you gain items and experience points, not only can you last longer in more varied combats, you can access different areas, boosting replayability and overall time to complete. Now imagine you could BUY experience points and unlock everything right from the beginning. It would ruin the whole experience. Side quests would serve little purpose, non-boss fights would be unnecessary, and you’d be getting an entire game’s worth of content in one payment!
Half the fun of games it learning as you go, picking up something new, exploring how to integrate it into your tactics, and use it until you reach the next upgrade. Or saving experience to get something you really want, like a powerful new throw, or the last level of combat armor. Let’s do the same for Borderlands. You would quickly become a god with the level ups you would gain, dispatching early game enemies without even trying, with the lowest of damge because you already got a 200% to damage upgrade in experience. In-game dollars would be even more sensical for Borderlands, and that would be even more damaging considering half the fun of the game is finding new items and comparing them to the ones you have. With the best items early on, who cares how many combinations there are? You’ll just use the one.
“All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.”
-John F. Kennedy
Day One CoD Microtransactions: You start at scratch, someone else pays money to unlock everything…
This one applies to Multiplayer exclusively. Players start out on the same level playing field when the game first comes out. Sure, people have differing skill levels from previous game experience, but everyone starts with the same pre-made classes, selections for creating a class, or game modes available. But for a price, you can get past all that. Now the kids who annoy their parents enough to shell out the extra $20 has access to all that, plus a whole boat load of extras. How is that even remotely fair to anyone else? Everybody paid for their game, they deserve the same chance as everyone else. This is what ruined Assassin’s Creed 3’s multiplayer for me. I played to level eight, and worked hard to get together enough Abstergo Credits (the in-game, free-to earn game currency) to buy a decent set of abilities, perks and a little visual customization for my Independent avatar. I entered a room with a few level ones and a level five, thinking I had earned the advantage I had in extras. Nope.
Three deaths and no kills later, I had been shot with the pistol twice by the same guy and another player just completely disappeared right before I struck. I later looked at the costs for these items, and even with out all the Credits I had accumulated, there was no way I could afford the upgrades they had (deductively) purchased with Edrudito Credits (real money game currency). A couple of more rounds of the same kind of unfairness and I was done. Don’t get me wrong, if I was playing against someone who was thirty levels above me and had earned those bonuses, I’d be a little pissed, but at least I know they earned it. And with the way most console Matchmaking services work, eight level me wouldn’t be IN a room with someone that much more powerful than me. New players who can afford to pump cash into a game created a playing field where the one with the most money invested was the strongest. If I wanted that kind of gameplay, I would have popped Capitalism II into my computer instead of this game.
“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
Wasn’t kidding. Did I mention it doesn’t protect your horse?
Firstly, I acknowledge that this one is very subjective, but hopefully the points are universal to some degree: What are you really paying for? And how much are you paying for it? Certain DLC, like mission packs or additional vehicles, can be worth the extra coin if it adds something of substance. And there’s the keyword right there: ADD. Most good DLC adds to the game itself in the form of Items, Armor, Weapons, Maps or other considerations that function or are differently than other similar things in the game, and more importantly weren’t in the game in the first place. Crappy DLC adds new colors, shallow cosmetic changes or something that simply does nothing to affect the world. A statue in the middle of town square that functions to start a new quest is good value. The statue itself is not.
In the case of real world game currency, if playing a game for two rounds nets me the same bonus that a three dollar DLC gets, why the hell would I pay for it? And here you have the choice of the lesser two evils: if game developers make an item too easy to get, no one will bother to give their money for it, and if it’s too hard to get those items, it shows as poor game design, or just greedy on the part of the game. No one likes to feel ripped off, least of all after you’ve already purchased the product. And if I have to pay so much for the product in the first place, five dollar charges seem like a slap in the face if it’s not worth 1/12 of the game. The trends that would follow is what scares me most. EA is a huge publishing house. If smaller houses see it makes money and follow the example, would they be able to deliver quality for the money they have?
“The learner always begins by finding fault, but the scholar sees the positive merit in everything.”
-Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
We love you, EA, we’re just going through a rough patch.
I’m no scholar, but with the countless late night discussions and debates with good friend (not a typo, just unsocial bad grammar), I’ve learned the value of seeing the other side of every argument. The cost of developing games is at an all-time high, and the upcoming eigth generation of gaming consoles will predictably become more so. Microtransactions can be a great way to generate more income from a given game, and more importantly, gamers are actually buying these things. Obviously if EA is making a new division to add security in-house, there must be statistics, business guys and a vault full of gold coins to support this expensive move. Assuming Microtransactions move toward more exclusive/additional/balanced digital products, I may even reconsider my own stance on the issue. But if I need to empty my bank account to stay competitive in a video game, I won’t even bother to pick it up. Keep that in mind, EA.
Love, the Owner of more than a dozen of your products on the 360 alone.
What’s your stance on Microtransactions in Video Games? Drop your response below to let us know!