Hello everyone! I’d ask for a show of hands in response to this question but that would be ridiculous (just blink twice if yes, once if no.) Have you ever bought an in-game item for real life money in any game you’ve ever played? I think most of us are guilty of this, myself included. IF you gave into the Pokémon GO craze, it was Pokécoins. If you play World of Warcraft, you can buy mounts, pets and even some character services and instant leveling boosts. While mobile games are by and large the guiltiest of microtransaction options, we’re seeing this phenomenon transfer over to consoles in games like Halo 5 and Call of Duty too.
Are microtransactions bad? That’s the tough question we must ask ourselves here. In a game like Halo 5 or Call of Duty where there is a skill based system and reliance on guns, which can be bought through special packs for real money, I’d say so. If you go to Wal-Mart, GameStop or even your preferred consoles default store, an average retail game costs $60.00.
Imagine this scenario: You just bought Halo 5, you’re stoked and have been waiting years for this game. You download it, install it and now you’re ready to jump into Multiplayer and teabag some poor souls. You get in there with the default guns and what you’ve unlocked through regular progress and you’re getting absolutely destroyed. You have two options. You can keep trying your best to earn these ‘loot crates’ to get better guns through playing the game. Or you can just pay ten or twenty bucks and be able to hold your own. What do you do?
It used to be common place where once you purchased a game, all the content on that disc or download was yours to enjoy, no additional payments needed. It used to be that companies like EA, Activision and Ubisoft would just ship out the game and reap the profits. No longer is the gaming community seen as gamers or people, these large corporations simply see us as dollars and cents. Even indie developers are relying on micro transactions to help fund both their current and future ventures.
The sad fact of the matter is that business is taking over the video game industry. That’s a funny phrase, isn’t it? Naturally businesses need to make money, they used to this by taking care of their consumer base. Now the trick is to hype up a game, get loads of copies sold, then hit the consumers with microtransactions to speed up people’s progressions. It makes sense, everyone wants to be the best at something, but it’s dividing the community and the industry.
We are no longer a community of gamers due to the wide-spread epidemic that microtransactions have become. We’ve become the Haves and the Have nots. Those who pay for additional bonuses and those who won’t either out of principal or out of financial means. While it feels good to be ahead of the pack, even if it costs an extra few bucks, it feels wrong to be forced into doing that so you can remain on par to enjoy a game. The common argument in favor of microtransactions is “You don’t have to if you don’t want to”. The reason that’s wrong is because you must if you want to remain competitive or have the best gear or guns in a bunch of popular games, be they mobile, console or PC games.
Is a middle ground possible? Some companies have tried to find the sweet spot for additional profits and equality among players. Most of the time we see this happen with cosmetic items like we saw in Destiny, where all the microtransaction items were simply dances or skins which later became available as loot drops once they left the store. Other games offer the ability to purchase the same items with in-game currency, though most times it’s an egregious amount of in-game currency that takes far too long to obtain for it to be worth most microtransactional items. While the option is there, it just isn’t worth it to a majority of the player base.
Where do we draw the line? When do we stop accepting, for lack of a better word, abuse, of our game loyalty? What happened to the days where we got all the content that was shipped with the game, not worrying that our friends had some unfair advantage. Relationships are a two-way street, it’s give and it’s take. But if you look closely, you’ll see that developers and publishers are only taking, no longer giving. It’s hard to tackle an issue like microtransactions in just one article, but I think the main points here are clear enough. Next up, in these series of industry commentaries, we’ll be talking about Hype and its marketing power. Stay classy everyone.