Microtransactions. Love them or hate them (although who out there can really love them?), they are a part of gaming. Although they typically permeate online-focused games or mobile games, they manage to sneak themselves into fully priced single-player games as well, which most can agree is a very displeasing annoyance, especially when they affect the very balance or pace of a game. Whether they take the form of purely cosmetic items or loot boxes, no one can argue that microtransactions are a hot button issue right now and spark a lot of controversy. Some of us here at Gaming Respawn felt the need to express our own insights into the microtransaction fiasco that is driving gamers wild now, so join us in part 1 of “Gaming Respawn Weighs In on Microtransactions”. Kicking us off is the one who instigated this topic and who clearly has A LOT to say on the matter, our very own Lee Pilling.
Microtransactions: Should They Exist?
Before you start reading this article, I am first going to say that the following is my opinion and not of the Gaming Respawn collective as a whole. Now that that is over and done with…
What Are Microtransactions?
Microtransactions are a form of monetisation by the publishers/developers of video games to further the experience of said games. Their sole job is to perpetuate a constant stream of revenue to a game or form of media by enticing the consumer to purchase additional items.
So, to answer the question, I need to first talk about the pros and the cons.
Why Microtransactions Are Good for the Gaming Community
Once you buy and complete a game, you can get a sense of loss, a sense of incompletion, a sense that there should be more. So, when new content is added to a game, it can get a new lease on life, fresh players, and new ideas and so on.
It can also give a player the choice to modify a character if they want to, like buying that outfit that would look amazing in the battlefield, that axe that is neither useful nor an ornament but is just fun to wield. It gives the consumer more freedom to do what they please.
I also think it is good for the small time developers as they can work on chapters that come out one by one, and the money can go towards creating the next chapter as they might not be able to afford to make a huge game in one go.
Now, if you are going to charge for these extra things, don’t charge over the odds. You can buy, for example, World of Warcraft, for £35 initially, which isn’t a small amount, and then pay £10 per month after. For what? For the privilege of playing the game online (please don’t get me wrong, if you want to do that, then I’m not going to say otherwise). But this is one example.
The most egregious example I can think of is Resident Evil 5 (I love Resident Evil, but this annoyed me). Fresh off the heels of Resident Evil 4’s success, the next instalment was to be a more cooperative affair. Play with a friend. A better Mercenaries Mode. But, to unlock the Mercenaries Mode, you had to pay a set fee. Upon looking at the size of the download, it was a mere few kilobytes at most. This meant that it was already on the disc/download file but was intentionally held back for the sole purpose of getting more money out of consumers.
Deal or No Deal…
Games have been adding more ways of mining money from their customers. One of the worst ways is loot boxes. They are a form of gambling, in my eyes, no matter how you try to dress them up. You either get something great or nothing at all. From the free-to-play games right into the AAA industry in titles such as Star Wars: Battlefront II (remember how that went down?). But my point is they are everywhere!!
The Real vs the Virtual
It’s really easy these days for a child to gain access to an in-game marketplace and pay for a whole array of microtransactions without ever realising the real world consequences. The counter to this would be to simply add the parental control locks. And yes, I agree, if the options are there to be used, then use them. But, when do we, the consumers, tell the big corporations that enough is enough?
Let’s Get Real
Video games are not cheap at the best of times. You’re talking in excess of £30-£50, maybe more for your game of choice. I don’t know about you, but that’s a stretch of money, even for me these days, when you take the cost of everyday living into account. So, to pay for extras on top of that cost for maybe the chance of getting your favourite character in the latest FIFA game or to have that shiny new weapon in your favourite FPS shooter, it doesn’t feel worth it in my eyes.
So, to answer the initial question, “Should microtransactions exist?” My answer is, “No, they shouldn’t.” When you buy a game, you buy a game. All for one and one for all. I don’t expect to have to keep going back to pay for more. It’s not like when you go mining in a space game and keep going back to the same location because it’s respawned loot. When I have paid for something upfront, I want it. I bought my cake, I want to eat it in one go and not have to pay for each slice in installments….and then find out the frosting and sprinkles are added extras. I want my cake with all the layers included.
A game isn’t a mortgage. It is something I am meant to find enjoyable. It’s certainly something I shouldn’t have to worry about when an in-game item I really want is locked behind a pay-to-win wall.
My rant is over, so let us know your views. I will enjoy reading them all while I go find my cake and eat it.
Microtransactions can be extremely addictive and, at times, pointless. In absolutely huge online games like Destiny, Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls Online and many, many more, I don’t understand why there are microtransactions even available. In really big games like that, you don’t need microtransactions because you can get to the same level and stage as everybody else without using any microtransactions.
I think a lot of game developers have become obsessed with making more money than they even need from games. Microtransactions are a prime example of this. At some point in time, creating games stopped being about making them for the love of making them for players. It became purely about making money. Remember the days where you could just buy a game, play it, and get from start to finish in one purchase? Those days feel like they are pretty much over now. You can still buy a game, but you also have to buy something else on top to even play it to its full extent, or you will need to buy another chapter of the game after a while. Admittedly, games like this are normally sold at a lower price than full-length games that are released, but even the full-length games want you to buy more, be they through in-game add-ons or better gear and weapons through DLC that is later released.
The biggest culprit for microtransactions are, of course, mobile games. You will need to buy extra items to move on in mobile games, or you will need to wait a certain number of hours to continue playing if you don’t spend the money. These games are just picking on your addictions. If you become easily addicted to games, it is probably best if you just don’t play games on your mobile. If you do, you will soon find yourself out of pocket money. I will admit, I have done it myself. You think to yourself, “It’s just 99p, and then I could get this item,” and from there, it spirals.
Another way that microtransactions are currently being incorporated into games is by “surprise mechanics” or “loot boxes”. You will pay around £50 for a game, and then they want more money from you for an item that you may or may not get. Loot boxes are like random items that you can pay for that normally don’t even improve your character’s statistics. It will normally consist of items that are only cosmetic in value. So, most of the time in games like Destiny or The Elder Scrolls Online, when you pay for a loot box, you are just buying something that doesn’t even help you. You are buying something that just looks slightly different and that doesn’t end up being too different because other people have bought it and ended up with the same thing you have.
Because of these reasons and many more, I believe that microtransactions are unnecessary. It makes a game all about making extra money and taking away appealing gameplay aspects. If you do need to make extra purchases to proceed in a game, this is penalising people that can’t afford to pay for them. Some people may have just enough money to buy the game itself but can’t afford to continue paying in order to keep playing it.
Join us later for Part 2 of “Gaming Respawn Weighs In on Microtransactions” to see what some of our other esteemed Gaming Respawners think of the inclusion of microtransactions in our games today.