As I mentioned in my previous column, I hate spending more than I have to on videogames. Last time I talked about shortening titles in order to force the player to buy DLC to extend the game. I am now going to bring up the other side of the coin, which is microtransactions. IntelligentEconomist.com created a really solid piece on the business model of microtransactions. While they refuse to get into the ethics of these transactions, I will be happy to dive into it.
Microtransactions were, for a while at least, exclusive to mobile games that you would download for free. This way, if you downloaded a game you ended up loving such as Candy Crush or Angry Birds, you could choose to spend a dollar here for boosts and five dollars there for some limited-edition items. There have been a few mobile games where I have felt the temptation to spend a few extra bucks since I could at least pay the developers something for playing their game. There is nothing wrong with that, and it supports good developers.
However, this form of revenue earning has entered AAA games that charge full price and then add microtransactions on top of that already hefty price tag. And that is where most people start to have a problem with microtransactions.
Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) may be one of the most egregious examples as people reported having to pay $80 to unlock Darth Vader. Character unlocks, character skins, and superficial things such as dances are obviously optional for people to buy. The issue comes in when these prices are tagged to items to help you in gameplay. This includes better weapons or equipment. Battle Royale games such as PUBG and Fortnite are notorious for so called loot boxes and attaching serial payments to upgrades.
This essentially sets up two tiers of players in the competitive community. Those who can spend tens of hundreds of dollars to have all of the advantages, and those who can’t and have to work with what they have.
This hits home for me as a Magic: The Gathering player who has seen the game take similar steps. When the good cards of each set are few, the price skyrockets on them in the secondary market. As much as I love winning, I can’t rationalize spending $20 or more on a trading card.
The same is now happening to AAA videogames, except in most cases there is a $60 entry fee before you even get into the need for microtransactions. Quite frankly, I think this is exploitation at its finest. This is a shameless money grab and shows how much the game industry treats its fans with nothing more than absolute contempt.
Now we are going to bring the ethics topic from earlier back. Not only does this exploit those who don’t have large amounts of disposable income, it also affects those who have problems spending when they shouldn’t. This includes children, people with gambling problems and those with addiction issues. Forbes brought up an interesting point about how people tend to spend more with credit cards than they do with cash. By spending money digitally, it prevents people from seeing their available money and plays to their instant gratification of getting new and improved equipment.
With a growing amount of people developing full-fledged videogame addictions, microtransactions exploit them for every penny they have. There are cases of people starving in real life while their in-game characters are walking around with the best gear and weapons. While publishers who tend to embrace microtransactions could argue that they can’t control people’s actions or addictions, and can’t be held liable for their spending, I would argue that if this cash cow wasn’t present in the pasture, then people wouldn’t tip it. While I understand allowing different outfits for sale or cosmetic items for those who can afford it, I can’t justify the pay-to-win economy of many competitive games.
Overall, I am entirely against microtransactions. If I pay $60 for a game, I want to be able to unlock everything in the game through hard work and earned skill. That’s how it should work. I still have a love/hate relationship with DLCs, but would take that over this shady back room deal of a gaming economy. At least with DLCs for single-player games, you are getting more content to play, which is fine if you really like a game’s world and want to spend more time with it.
I believe that some game publishers are trying to trick us into thinking about microtransactions as the new norm so they can maintain constant revenue generation despite how much their players hate it. The only way to get this to go away, other than sending very strongly worded emails, is to stop buying stuff using microtransactions. Eventually, if the stream dries up enough, they will theoretically stop or reduce those transactions. Personally, I hope microtransactions burn in hell somewhere between Mussolini and people who tailgate you with blue halogen lights set to floodlight.
Playing Now: Glass Masquerade 2: Illusions
Waiting For: Hero Must Die…Again