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Microtransactions Cannot be Justified

Microtransactions are slowly becoming the next big trend within the gaming industry. They found their niche in 2012 within the growing free-to-play market, and have since began to spread to the rest of the industry as a whole. 2012 proved to be a huge year for free-to-play games; with titles like Blacklight: Retribution,  Tribes Ascend, and most notably League of Legends leading the charge, the free-to-play model began to catch the eye of developers and publishers everywhere. Free-to-play became a force to be reckoned with, and the big name companies took notice; however, they did so for the wrong reasons.

Instead of fostering the market with their own competitive titles, the big names decided to tear the free-to-play model apart and incorporate the spare parts into their own games. Unfortunately the only parts that they utilized were those that contained microtransactions. Why keep a game free-to-play and make money of the microtransactions, when you can charge people the regular $60 price tag and still include the microtransactions on top of that? It’s a sound idea right? Wrong!

Including microtransactions in any game is impossible to justify outside of the free-to-play model. They work in free-to-play games because it’s the only way to make these types of games profitable. The industry has begun to transform such a well thought out model into another of its abominations. Free-to-play is good for the industry, it forces developers to earn every last cent by delivering a high quality experience from the start, and maintaining it throughout its lifetime. More importantly, it puts in the hands of gamers the ability to decide how much they think a game is worth, meaning that if an experience is damn good then gamers will invest money in it through the microtransactions.

However, that’s not good enough for the industry bigwigs. In their minds not charging a premium upfront fee and not including microtransactions is money lost, therefore both have to be implemented in order for them to make any money at all.

One of the worst offenders has been Electronic Arts(EA) with its release of Dead Space 3. Dead Space 3 came with a new weapons crafting system that in itself worked well, however, the problem was that it was blatantly clear that EA did not include weapon crafting to enhance the gameplay. It did so in order to implement its new microtransaction system. Try to craft a weapon without sufficient materials and the bloody game automatically throws up a prompt to try and get you to purchase extra materials with real money. If you want to upgrade your gathering bots then you best cough up an extra $5 to improve them because there is no other way to do it. It’s shady practices like this that leave gamers feeling nickel and dimed, like a developer is more concerned with getting more money out of them first and entertaining them second.

Yet EA isn’t even the worst offender. Naughty Dog is currently holding down that title with its new “free-to-play” Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception multiplayer. When I first heard that Naughty Dog was trying their hand at the free-to-play market I thought it was a great idea, but then I saw what Naughty Dog was actually trying to do.

Their so called attempt at “free-to-play” was nothing more than a demo for Uncharted 3′s multiplayer. New players are capped at level 15, if they want to reach level 25 then it’s going to cost them $5, and if they want to remove the level cap altogether well that’s going to run them a full $20. The microtransactions that are part of every free-to-play title are virtually nonexistent in this atrocity because there is nothing micro about them.  All their new experiment turned out to be was shady practices masked under the free-to-play label.

At least EA had the audacity to tell gamers “yeah there are microtransactions. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?” I will probably never say this again, but take a page out of EA’s book Naughty Dog and be upfront with your customers about what you are doing. Or even better, remove the ridiculous charges from the multiplayer, implement a real microtransaction system, and actually make the game free-to-play.

Of course no controversial topic would be complete with the opinion of that ever so lovable Cliff Bleszinski(Cliffy B). In a recent blog post Cliffy B was quick to defend EA as well as microtransactions as a whole.

“I’ve seen a lot of comments online about microtransactions. They’re a dirty word lately, it seems. Gamers are upset that publishers/developers are ‘nickel and diming them.’ They’re raging at ‘big and evil corporations who are clueless and trying to steal their money,’”  he wrote in his blog.

“To produce a high quality game it takes tens of millions of dollars, and when you add in marketing that can get up to 100+ million.”

“I’m going to come right out and say it. I’m tired of EA being seen as ‘the bad guy.’ I think it’s bullsh*t that EA has the ‘scumbag EA’ memes on Reddit and that Good Guy Valve can Do No Wrong.”

“However, it blows my mind that somehow gamers don’t seem to get that Valve is a business, just like any other, and when Valve charges 100$ for an engagement ring in Team Fortress 2 it’s somehow ‘cool’ yet when EA wants to sell something similar it’s seen as “evil.”

” If you don’t like EA, don’t buy their games. If you don’t like their microtransactions, don’t spend money on them. It’s that simple.”

I definitely agree that microtransactions are not a dirty word. However, the word has to be used in the right context. When its attached to free-to-play the word is fine and I completely support it, it’s when it comes paired with triple A that I have a major problem.

Cliffy B tries to compare Valve and EA but it’s like comparing apples and oranges. I know Valve didn’t always utilize the most consumer friendly model with Team Fortress 2, and at some point Cliffy B’s argument would have been damn good and valid, but Valve has since made their game free-to-play and have started to clean up their act. EA on the other hand is only getting worse.

It’s obvious that it’s expensive to produce a game, but still tacking on more work with microtransactions is not the way to solve it. It makes no sense to add on more work and more cost to try and make more money. That’s already the problem to begin with; publishers are throwing so much money into a game that it’s not making it profitable: they are offering a bandage, not a solution, and will presumably only make a move when things get worse.

The solution that Cliffy B offers, even though very reasonable, still falls short.  I agree that gamers should make it clear that they aren’t going to stand for this with their wallets, but developers and publishers also have to do their part. Gamers shouldn’t be forced into awkward situations where they want to play a game, but they find themselves unable to because they refuse to support a company with shady practices.

Publishers and developers need to start practicing better public relations. I have said this before but a good deal of this is about public image. If gamers feel cheated and swindled then they aren’t going to purchase games, and if developers and publishers are really committed to increasing sales then they need to ensure that they are satisfying their customers. You can’t put microtransactions in a game that is paid for upfront, it looks bad and that ultimately it’s going to translate into lower sales down the road. It works now, but for how long? How long until gamers just get fed up because every game they purchase is coming with more absurd charges?

Still the big publishers aren’t looking toward the future, it’s working now and they are going to stick with it. EA is the worst, and have taken a further step in the wrong direction by announcing that it will be adding microtransactions into all of its future titles.

The big companies need to stop seeing how far they can take things before it all falls apart and blows up in their faces. They create problem after problem and offer no solutions. Day 1 patches are bad enough, DLC is even worse, and put them both together with microtransactions and you have one hell of a strong case for an industry that needs a lesson in public relations. Right now it looks like it’s all going downhill, but there is still plenty of time to turn things around and make some well needed changes.




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