Microtransactions: The Good, The Bad and the downright extortionate

Microtransactions; loved by some, victimised by many. But are they really as bad as we think they are? This week I investigate.

So before I begin to defend the use of microtransactions in games, I shall first bring up the 2 primary reasons why games boycott their appearance. One is the effects that they have, if unbalanced are very negative on those who do not wish to pay as those who do choose to fork out cash gain items that give them a huge advantage against others who do not possess these and often such items cannot be unlocked by an increased amount of time spent playing, rendering those who haven’t bought anything almost useless and forcing them to buy the items if they want to continue playing the game. The second is just as debilitating to a gamer; the sheer volume of money that you have to pay to get the most out of the game. You could buy a full retail game and maybe more once you have bought what you feel you need to make the game complete in many instances, which is nothing short of unacceptable.

So why do we allow this money grabbing business strategy to continue? Because it isn’t, as gaming media portrays, all bad. They are quick to jump on Facebook games that want to make a quick buck but as soon as it comes around to discussing titles such as Team Fortress 2 and Tribes: Ascend they’re all smiles and waves whilst shouting the merits of these games from the rooftops, yet ignoring that these are games that heavily incorporate the micro transaction system.

Another word for their defence is that you really do get what you pay for so some disappointment is inevitable when we deal with games that are free. Does their lack of cost justify charging heavily for in-game items?  That’s a debate that only you could decide but these companies have to make a profit and are maximising the possible amount of money that can be spent and drawing in players who may not have payed £40 for it, but end up spending that in items purely because they didn’t have to pay to start with. A peculiar strategy it may seem at first but it has been proven time and time again, and though it may be high-risk and slightly unethical there is no doubting it’s effectiveness. Even if the game isn’t all you hoped it was you can’t complain because it was, after all, free.


Now for the counter argument.


Zynga almost singlehandedly created the microtransaction model for developers around the world. They created a series of carrot-and-stick games that drew players into a constant drive of clicking and clicking. That drive turned into addiction, and that’s when Zynga showed their true colours and offered us energy. Energy is in-game currency. To perform an action, you have to spend energy. Now, energy is earned over time, so if you play your game for 10 minutes a day, you’ll never need to buy more. Alas, playing for extended periods requires gamers to dish out. Can you start to see the problem here?

Before microtransactions, before DLC and before patching, whatever was meant to be in a game either shipped with it at launch or never made it into the pile. The weapons available from retail day one were the same that you’d find over the next three years.

However, that meant that anything special and unique that developers wanted in games had to make it in under this wire as well. All the bonus costumes, hidden levels, easter eggs and unique characters were built into the game. Their price? Figuring out how to find them.

The sad thing is that many game devs are supporting this. EA have confirmed microtransactions in not one but all of their games in the near future. This decision was backed up by famous game developer Cliff Blezinski who stated that we, the consumers “pay with our dollars”. This is nothing more than somebody repeating a phrase used over and over again that simply isn’t true. Paying for something doesn’t suddenly justify its abuse of a system, pelting us over and over with advertisements for this weapon or that cosmetic item. Call of Duty is considered by many to “rarely change”, they say it “need a breath of fresh air”. Most buy the next iteration, regardless of whether it changes or not because of wishful thinking and deceitful dreams that lead them to believe that this year it may be better, almost like a Liverpool supporter on a loop. Much like people buy small in game items, cosmetic or otherwise, that make them believe that the game may be better with these, they just need to experience more of it.

So I say away with the ludicrous £1000 purchases you can make in-game. Begone with the pay to win style of some microtransactions. Zynga and EA can take back their energy and their Facebook; they should accept that there is a time and place for microtransactions but that time is not now and that place is not here. For we are gamers. £40 is all we need to pay. £40 pounds, and we shall enjoy that game for many months. You can do it properly like TF2 or Tribes, or you can just not bother with these silly schemes.

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