Microtransactions: What’s The Real Cost To Gamers?
Imagine, if you will, that it is 1986. Christmas to be exact; you get a wonderful new toy called a Nintendo Entertainment System with something called Super Mario Bros. You plug it in, fire it up, and the game loads. Your excitement climbs.
There are all sorts of wonderful bright colours, fun music, but then you notice something in the corner … “Buy 100 fire flowers for £10!” or “Use warp zones to reach further levels, only £2 each!”
Of course, this never happened. Being the luddites that we were back then, we didn’t have home internet to freely make such purchases via our games consoles, via our mobile phones, and via computers as we can today.
Blizzard have recently confirmed that they will be the latest to add a cash shop filled with microtransactions ready to help boost players, and naturally to “enhance” the gaming experience. This, of course, is the latest in an ever-growing line of companies adding such things into their games.
I still remember the outcry over The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion horse armour scandal (Adding horse armour in to the game as a DLC, for a price, of course) and how people complained at having to pay to get the black dye in Fable III. But now, they seem to be becoming the status quo. Is this really a good thing?
Let me continue by saying that I am absolutely not against large DLC and expansion packs. I feel that, yes, they can be a bit of a cheap way of sending out a game unfinished only to complete it later via said expansions and DLC, but I hold my hands up and admit that I love proper expansion packs.
“Dragonborn” for Skyrim, as an example, was a wonderful addition to the game. It provided many more hours of play, armour sets, loads of new quests, and, of course, the island of Solstheim. Being a huge Elder Scrolls fan, this was pretty much a first day buy guaranteed for me.
Take, as an example, “The Simpsons: Tapped Out”; A fun little game for iPhones and, more recently, Android platforms. You rebuild Springfield as you wish after Homer blows up the power plant. They have an in-game currency of Doughnuts. You can freely purchase said doughnuts at a cost, to buy “Premium” items and characters. Now, these premium buildings and characters are of course wholly unnecessary. But, a lot of people will buy them to have a “complete” Springfield.
And that’s where these companies have a captive audience.
Back in March, it was announced that Call of Duty: Black Ops II was to introduce microtransactions for “either personal customizations or nice little luxuries”, which won’t “affect gameplay” but rather offer “small, specific ways to enhance your online experience”. But, of course, they again have their captive audience. Those people who will quite naturally want better gear than people that they play with or against.
And so the disturbing trend continues.
Along with countless other things like the real money auction house in Diablo III, Guild Wars II, Microsoft announcing that the new Killer Instinct game for Xbox One would be free to play with microtransactions to unlock new characters.
When did simply buying the game become not enough?
I would, of course, never presume to tell anybody how to spend their hard earned money. That is entirely up to them and them alone. If they wish to spend £10 on a new pet for their Tauren Shaman in World of Warcraft, all power to them.
But consider this – what is really stopping games companies in the future making the majority of video games free to play but with transactions to enhance the game, or indeed, going that one step further and having games as free to play, with need to pay to progress in the game completely? How about paying for the later levels?
I am in no way saying this will happen, but we do have to consider this as a possibility of the future of gaming if this trend continues.
Is that what we really want for the future of gaming?
I have heard the phrase “Vote with your wallet” bandied about a lot lately. And in this matter, I feel it wholly appropriate to vote with your wallets. If you wish to continue paying for something well after you have supposedly brought the game, then I shall not quarrel with anyone who wishes to do that.
It is, of course a tricky matter, when we get into the territory of monthly game subscriptions etcetera, but that is another matter for another time.
But if you, like me, are wholly against paying for something over and over for vanity items and such to win a game, vote with your wallets.
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