The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 11
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
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
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
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.