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UnPopular?: Microtransactions Don’t Have to be Bad
Microtransactions. It’s a filthy word to many gamers. They would rather you call their best friend’s mother a whore than find that a game contains them. Nevermind the fact that they have probably called their best friend’s mother a whore already, they are (rightfully some might say) wary about paying more for a game they paid full price for. I’m here to be the voice of dissent that is lacking; I’ll be the white knight for the institution that pretty much everyone wants to die in a hole somewhere far, far away. I’ve given it some thought and threw together three examples of microtransactions at their most benevolent. The defense would like to present its case.
Skipping content in single player games
The gaming market is, like banks of the Amazon, perennially flooded. What used to be seasonal showers of new video games around the holidays has become a continual torrent of games all throughout the year. Developers spring up in the blink of an eye and even minor hobbyist can throw together a small project with the plethora of programming tools strewn about the internet. And, while every game is not Game of the Year material, there are enough good quality games that the premium is no longer finding a good game to play, it is finding the time to play them all. Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Fire Emblem, Bioshock, DmC; the list goes on and on and on. And that list would only contain the triple-A titles from consoles. Imagine a list of all the decent to great PC, indie games that came out this year. Actually, don’t. I’d imagine you don’t have a year to spend writing that up.
Thus, allowing a consumer to grease some palms and gain access to late-game items early should be a great way of showing that developers value your very limited time. In a single-player game, if the player wants to break the game then that is their choice. Everyone wants to have fun and, if the fun stuff takes some time achieve, then being able to wave some money around and make the problem disappear should be a viable option. It works in the real world. Most of the time.
What went wrong:
Some developers thought that the microtransactions shouldn’t be merely an option. While still a core problem with certain development mentalities, the problem here is that the desire to make sure more microtransactions are pushed through corrupts the game design. Instead of allowing cheats to accelerate the fun, they have created deliberately grind-y, clunky, and un-fun gameplay that necessitates buying. Beyond the discussion of whether it is reasonable to sell what used to be a cool secret that players had to discover, unscrupulous developers have tainted what could have been entirely innocent.
Buying the specific content that you want
This option has placed its buttocks firmly on the opposite side of the spectrum to gamers with more money than time. For the more frugal consumer, it doesn’t make sense to buy sixty dollars worth of video game when you are only going to play ten dollars of it. Where before you were simply shafted, in this age of digital distribution, you can specifically download the game that you want. This idea is being shown to amazing effect by the rebooted Killer Instinct for the Xbox One. Players can play the game (all game modes and tutorials) entirely for free and you can use one free character that is cycled through the roster. Or players can buy any of a number of tiers that unlock a number of characters and costumes (psst, that ties into example number three!) beyond that. In the world of conformity, the man with choices is king. At least, I think the saying went something like that before I butchered it.
What went wrong:
It’s not difficult to imagine. Look at that amazing, flaming battle suit of justice. It’s actually a microtransaction that tops out at six dollars and twenty-four cents. Why the twenty-four cents: because fark you. While it is reasonable to make a special effort for the optional material, some reason that consumers would want it over what you’ve already given them, it is often taken too far. The disparity in quality is such that the bought content might as well be put into any entirely different game. It’s not okay and yet it’s become much too common.
Buying cosmetics in multiplayer games
It’s so beautiful, isn’t it; that sparkly moon dress that leaves a trail of diamonds and unicorns as you prance hither and thither? It’s much better than the twinkly moon dress that only leaves a trail of cubic zirconium and white painted donkeys from the base game. Cosmetic micro-transactions are some of the most common and most accepted forms of micro-transactions alive today. They were probably started in the wake of free-to-play MMOs after those crafty devs realized that the idea of buying power really wasn’t tickling the funny bones of everyone who didn’t. And this is the only example of microtransactions I can think of that has remained relatively balanced since its inception. Sure, there are some rather startling differences in the packaged and post content but, as a cosmetic, it shouldn’t impede playing the game. It is rather difficult to ruin a purely visual addition, right? Right?!
I’ve just jinxed myself, haven’t I?
Microtransactions: What Went Wrong? It is simple. People got greedy. I’m just here to say that people shouldn’t blanch and try to get rid of something just because a number of people used it incorrectly. It’s up to the community to moderate the behavior of developers and push these various gameplay devices in ways that we agree with.