Well, isn’t that a witty title!
If you haven’t guessed, I’m going to talk about in-game transactions, also known as micro-transactions, or in-app content. Following the announcement by EA’s CFO, Blake Jorgensen, that all their games will feature micro-transactions, I feel we’re coming to a monumental shift in how companies treat those who support them.
“We are building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way; to get to a higher level…”
To my eye, this is the worst thing to face high budget video games since the last one. I’m fully aware that there are many advantages to micro transactions, financially. From a primary monetary standpoint, enabling users to hand over money is the greatest invention ever. The more we allow users to give us money, the better they feel (for unlocking that new armour, weapon, item, level), and the richer we become. The only downside is to create content people want so badly they will pay for it, which isn’t a big task.
There have been many different approaches to tackling this issue; on low-budget games, and most mobile games, we see a bi-currency system in place. Coins and gems is a common system, where gems are rare, and coins can easily be obtained in-game. Certain items can only be bought with Gems, and this makes them more valuable. You then put a price of, say, ten dollars/pounds/euro/real-money on these items and BAM there’s another income stream.
“…consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of business…”
This is all well and good for a game that you’re giving the user for free, a game that costs the user nothing to play, and a game that a user can win completely by just playing more of it. I’m in favour of this implementation. The issues arise when microtransactions become a major part of gameplay. In a twitter conversation I found other developers were sharing my concerns.
“If I buy a game, I expect to be able to play it, not access it’s item store”
It’s not a case of “I want ALL THE GAMES for free”. It’s the more fundamental case of respect for the people who are buying your game. If I’m paying 40-60 euro on a game, I want to play it. I don’t want to check out the in-game store, or be harassed to give payment in specie for additional content. In my mind’s eye, I’ve already paid for that functionality or item. Sure, If the game was free, remarkably inexpensive, then it’s understandable.
I think EA (and any other producer of big label games, or games marketed towards a non-casual audience) need to seriously consider that we won’t want to play a game that can be labelled “pay to win”, whether I can buy all the nice items at the start, middle or end of the game isn’t relevant . The reason PTW games don’t succeed is because nobody wants to play against the rich guy who can buy all the cool gear and whomp on everyone else. I want to slave away for a million hours searching the entire gamescape for that magic hat, or that secret sword, and when I find it I’m going to be the envy of everyone else who hasn’t found it yet. It’s about game exploration, game replay-ability, and about not taking shortcuts. I don’t want the sword of doom available in the store. I don’t want a store at all, unless its primary function is to sell things that will not improve your chances of winning the game. I want to go out and find other ways to get that sword, not use my wallet.
We’re gamers… We’re not known for being the least lazy of people. If you take away the challenge, then it just becomes a battle of who has the biggest wallet. I don’t want to bring the real-world into it. My real life bank balance shouldn’t be a factor in how well I’m going to rank on the leaderboards in Call of Duty, or have an effect on how far I can get in Bark Souls. It shouldn’t have a part to play in how much damage I can do to that goblin. It shouldn’t affect my game choices, at all.
Talking to CVG in January, John Calhoun (Dead Space Developer) said “There’s a lot of players out there, especially players coming from mobile games, who are accustomed to micro-transactions. They’re like “I need this now, I want this now”. They need instant gratification.” That’s all well and good, in a casual gameplay environment such as a mobile game. Serious games, such as any game with a price tag of over 10 bucks, should not be treated with that type of gamer in mind.
“There’s also the hardcore Dead Space players, who are reluctant to spend money outside the purchase of the game. Honestly, most of the dev team are that way, we’re kind of old school, a little bit older. So not only are the micro-transactions completely optional, but all packs are available to purchase using in-game resources that you find.”
He claims “the micro-transactions completely optional”,however the problem is that it’s not optional. If it’s in the game, it can’t be optional. I don’t want to pay to win, and I don’t want others to be able to pay to win. It defeats the purpose of trying to beat a game, if you or somebody else can just spend some cash and have an easier time at completing it. It’s no fun. I mean, if you’re doing that, why not just start people off with a random amount of the game completed? It amounts to the same thing, equality. There is no room for equality, or fairness, in this model.
If this continues, gone are the days of saving up for that popular video game, because it’s not fair. Some gamers turn to games for an escape of the unfairness of this world, if you turn your back on them, they will not want to play your game. If you can’t make money on games with a 60 million euro budget, perhaps you should re-think you’re game development and marketing process, not rethink how you can squeeze money from the innocent gamer.
Game developers and publishers need to remember that a game needs to be fun. Sure, it can be annoying as hell to get past that boss, or that difficult puzzle, but we want to do it on our own. If you take away the sense of accomplishment with getting to a certain stage in a game, you might as well remove the game. I won’t be playing it.