Microtransactions, Accomplishment, and the Future of Gaming - comradekoch Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Microtransactions, Accomplishment, and the Future of Gaming

Microtransactions aren't evil.

At least, not most of the time, and at least not in and of themselves. There are exceptions of course. "Pay to win" microtransactions are (almost) universally despised, and with good reason. They allow a player to get an advantage over their opponents by purchasing better equipment, weapons, or stats with real money that other players don't have access to or refuse to pay for.

In single player games, many view microtransactions as a legitimate way to play. It gives the player more options - it's there if you want it, isn't if you don't. For many the ability to progress faster or gain a powerful weapon otherwise not available by shelling out additional cash is appealing. After all, if you can afford it, why not?

But not for me. It all comes down to one of the core reasons I play games - a sense of accomplishment.

To be sure, I play games for a whole variety of reasons. Sometimes I want to play games with friends, other times to enjoy a great story and be entertained by interesting characters. I play to be delivered to worlds that aren't my own, to experience lives that aren't mine.

But no matter what game I'm playing or who I'm playing with, I play games to achieve. The idea of accomplishment permeates my gaming experience. When I talk to friends about a certain game, I don't ask "Have you finished Gears of War yet?" I ask, "Have you beaten Gears of War yet?" Games are at their core, to me at least, a challenge. It's us versus them. I take no joy in playing a game on its easiest difficulty just to "enjoy the story." Instead, I take pride in finishing a game on the hardest difficulty. I can't help but smile when I discover a clever trick to outsmart the system or overcome a challenging obstacle. It's for this reason I will never purchase gameplay modifying microtransactions, because in my eyes, it is no different from cheating.

Just the other day I completed XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  A turn based strategy title, XCOM is known for its bone crushing difficulty. Enemies are relentless and intelligent. When one of your soldiers is killed in action, there is no respawning - unlike most games, they are gone for good. The game even features a setting that prohibits past saves from being loaded in an effort to save a slain comrade from their fate.

I struggled through much of the game, but I pushed on. I learned from my mistakes and slowly began to understand what needed to be done in order to save the world from the alien menace. When I reached the final mission of the game, seven council members had left the XCOM project, pulling their funding and support. You fail the game if eight members leave. I barely skimmed by, but in the final confrontation, when the alien overlord exploded in a shower of shrapnel, all my past failures and the stress of every intense firefight was well worth it.

Now imagine if XCOM had gameplay modifying microtransactions - additional technology and upgrades that could be purchased with real currency to help give me a boost. When the chips were down, returning from a mission in which over half my squad was killed and defeat looked imminent as council after council member left, the ability to buy my way to victory might have looked mighty appealing. But if I had purchased my way to victory, even in a single player game, when I had the alien leader in my sights on that final mission with the overpowered gun I purchased for 300 Microsoft points, my victory would have been hollow. I wouldn't have earned it.

Now I know not everybody feels this way. Many gamers have time restraints and want to get through a game as quickly as possible. Others may simply have weaker wills than I and cave in when the going gets tough. That's just reality. If it makes money, as many free to play titles have shown, than you can bet publishers are going to adopt the model, as megapublisher EA has shown. The video game industry is an industry after all, a business. I can't really blame them.

No, microtransactions aren't evil. They don't really affect the way I play games.  I won't be buying new guns or upgrades - I spend enough money on games as it is. What does concern me is the potential of microtransactions to change the mindset of gaming culture.

Games almost since their existence have been about challenge. Gamers of the past flocked to arcades to fight the computer for high scores, gamers today fight against other gamers to climb to the top of competitive multiplayer leaderboards. Speed runs, pacifist playthroughs and countless other gaming staples all have one trait in common - challenge. When the ability to just buy that extra inventory slot, that new gun, XP boost or any other in game bonus, even we personally choose not to, what happens to an entertainment culture that has historically thrived on the ability of gamers to fail, learn, and improve?

Facebook games are already notorious for this. The games are developed intentionally to encourage the purchasing of in game items with real money to speed up progress or to acquire rare loot. What happens if this mindset of developing games with microtransactions in mind, due to the wild success of the business model, begins to seep into mainstream console titles?

I understand this likely sounds paranoid. It's not hard to see that the game industry has been moving away from difficulty and challenge for a long time. Games are nowhere as difficult as they once were and for many this might seem just a simple progression of the trend. In order to appeal to wider audiences developers throw in excessive amounts of handholding and tutorials to accommodate new gamers. These are good things, and inevitable as the gaming industry grows and matures. Thankfully, there will always be games designed with challenge in mind, even if they do become few and far between.

It really just all comes down to that feeling of accomplishment.  Whether its receiving a sense of pride upon arriving at the mission success screen or beating a difficult boss battle after the tenth try in a row, gaming, at least to me, is all about overcoming, a feeling cheapened by the ability to buy my way out of a hard situation. Perhaps more than anything, I feel sorry for gamers today and the gamers of tomorrow who will never have share that feeling of primal joy after "beating" a game. I fear for a generation of gamers who are so used to playing games how they want, when they want, where they want, and as easily as they want that when faced with a real challenge they simply give up.

I'm of the philosophy that games actually are beneficial to one's health. Games teach problem solving, persistence, empathy and a whole other host of important life skills that are essential in the world we live in. When players can buy their way out of any situation in a virtual environment, what are our games teaching us about the real world we live in then?

Microtransactions aren't evil by themselves, but the possible effects they could have on the gaming industry and culture could reach further than you might think.

Think I'm a raging psychopath? A crazy nutcase? An intellectual, thought provoking genius? Let me hear it in the comments below, I can take it.

 

 

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