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zombie's Argument Against Microtransactions

Disclaimer - The following is a statement of opinion, my opinion of course. My opinion is not your opinion and vice-versa. Though at times they may resemble, do not confuse the two for one another. If you plan on commenting all I ask is to be sure to read my blog in it's entirety to avoid misunderstanding; I appreciate the feedback. Thank you and I hope you enjoy.

zombie's Argument Against Microtransactions

I am sure you've heard of microtransactions before, they are an alternative business model that has become increasingly more prevalent in the video game industry. The primary purpose of microtransactions is to grant access to content within the game, that would otherwise require time and effort, in exchange for a small sum. It is ideal for the casual who doesn't want to play extensively to unlock the coolest features or the hardened gamer who simply doesn't have enough time to invest in the particular title. In that regard it could be considered a boon to both developer and consumer alike. However, like most things, there are downsides and in my honest opinion, the bad can easily outweigh the good.

 

When the Transactions Aren't So Micro

According to Google, the word micro means "extremely small" and transaction means "an instance of buying or selling something". When combined to create the term microtransactions, the new definition is as follows: "an extremely small purchase". Personally I am a fan of Semantics when used properly, so I will attempt to apply it here as a potential strike against the buisness model. In the recently released Forza 5 for the Xbox One, there were microtransactions implemented so that you could purchase in-game cars. Normally this would be overlooked however there were some instances where cars potentially cost $100+ a pop in real-world currency. It would seem the developer later rectified this issue through a patch, however it doesn't dimiss the fact that it happened in the first place. By definition, what Forza 5 marketed was not "microtransactions"; you were not paying a small sum for something in return. Now you might argue that the content itself was small in the grand scheme of things, but I must disagree. They wouldn't have attached a large price to the item or made it hard to obtain, if they didn't want to make ownership of it a big deal. These "macrotransactions" are arguably no better, no worse off than microtransactions, yet they ought not to be listed as something they are obviously not. Transparency is the difference between me purchasing your next game and avoiding your business entirely.

 

Two Times the Price of Admission

Two years ago, shortly after Bohemia Interactive announced the standalone version of DayZ, WarZ was announced in hopes of cashing in on the popularity of the ARMA II mod. It was DayZ in everything but name and funnily enough, their single unique factor was taken away by Paramount Pictures because it too closely resembled their upcoming release World War Z. There were loads of other controversy regarding "Infestation Survivor Stories", as it was later renamed, but I will skip over them to get straight to the point. In doing so, I will refer to Infestation Survivor Stories by its former name in order to properly represent what it was at its core, a blatant cash-grab.

On top of the $60 price point, WarZ also incorporated microtransactions in which you were able to purchase in-game items. Not only did this go against the survival image it was attempting to create, the items you purchased dissapeared for eternity alongside your character when he/she died. The developers claimed that this was implemented to add another wrinkle of tension/immersion and who am I to say otherwise? I can claim, however, that those who were truly invested in this title, could find themselves paying an additional $60 and have nothing to show of it. Now I don't know about you, but when I purchase something, I don't like it when it's taken away from me, it feels like I am being punished, when really it should feel like I am being rewarded. WarZ is a very punishing game, not like Dark Souls or The Binding of Issac where the gameplay is meant to push your skills to the limit, but more like a wrongful prison sentence for trying to play life's game, according to the rules it imposes onto us.

 

Leverage is the Name of the Game

While we are still on the topic of WarZ, there is another facet to the type of microtransaction it provided. Suppose that by sheer luck, someone who had purchased an insane amount of gear does not die. They find themselves in a poisition of power over those who did not. A certain masked hero once said "with great power, comes great responsibility" but this does not apply to games, because that's what they are, just games. In real life if someone lacking good moral character finds themselves in an advantageous position they will most likely abuse it, just as long as there are no outstanding concequences. In a video game, however, there are no concequences. Surely they could lose their gear which they paid a fortune for, but what are the odds that they'd lose it to their underequipped peers? Most likely if they have made it this far, they won't be losing their stash anytime soon. Aditionally, if they had enough money to load up on gear, chances are they have enough money to do so a second or third time. Now this is purely theoretical, WarZ is built so that death is a frequent visitor, but this type of dilemma is ever present in games with microtransactions, gamers often refer to it as "pay-to-win".

This term doesn't beat around the bush, it directly states that by paying you can win, which is awfully close to how things are in modern society. The thing about pay-to-win, is that the can of worms it creates is much larger than the ones brought up thus far. First of all, as much as the industry seeks to create "realism", we ought not to include the bad aspects into a means of entertainment, it defeats the purpose forthright. Secondly, it is unfair to expect people to invest money into a game they already spent money on to purchase. You might argue that no one is forcing people to pay more money, but in the case of competitive games, it would be highly impractical not to give into microtransactions if everyone else is, less you keep on losing. The truth of the matter is, you all paid $60 and as such should be on an equal playing field. Period. THE END. You should not be given the opportunity to tip the scales in favor of those whose wallets are lined with gold. It would be like allowing the Chicago Bears to win against the Green Bay Packers because they decided to invest a couple million into the organization. This does not happen, at least to the extent of my knowledge, and there is a perfectly logical reason – the competitive spirit. When two or more competitors face off, it should be their merits alone which provide the determining factor.

Lastly, suggesting that you remove the benefits that people receive when they use microtransactions is just as wrong. I said it before, I'll say it again: "when I purchase something, I don't like it when it's taken away from me". If I purchase a in-game gun with real world currency (which obviously I won't), I want said gun to give me an edge. This is presents a Catch-22 in every sense of the word; you can't appease the consumer or else you make the playing field uneven and you can't appease everyone else because it would be denying the consumer the rights to his purchase. The only one benefiting from all this is the developer and/or publisher who is happily taking your money... and who can blame them? The dreaded truth we feel inclined to forget is that they are a buisness before they are a supplier. They must look out for themselves, constantly walking the proverbial tightrope between wealth and bankruptcy. If subscribing to a set of questionable ethics guarentees that they can prevent a plunge into the latter, I can't imagine that anyone would find reason not to, and on the off-chance that they do, they can easily justify it.

 

More Money, More Problems

I focused on Mutliplayer settings because typically that is where they appear, but now I will address concerns relating to Singleplayer. Currently, the microtransactions you find are unintrusive, they are there to help you make progress at a quicker pace. This, however, is not the case with mobile and social games. A great deal are built as a both a time and cash sink, providing very little in the ways of gameplay and restricting access to later sections behind a pay wall. Some people take this as a challenge, an opportunity to complete the game without paying a single cent. Others give into the pressure the game creates, with it's constant reminders that you can indeed pay money to make quicker progress.While I am not a fan of these types of experiences, I recognize that if someone goes into them well informed of what they are purchasing and what the act of purchasing means, their existence poses no problem.

I do however fear the possibility that their success might one day influence standard video games and we will see similar issues crop up all over the place. Imagine a scenario where microtransactions became a convention and the only way to complete a game in a timely manner was to opt-into them? What if the costs of the microtransactions or the amount required increased? More importantly what if the payoff you recieve for using microtransactions decreased? The possibility of this happening isn't high but at the same time it isn't zero and that alone is reason enough to mention it. Fortunately we won't have to worry about this for quite sometime, but it is important to note that presently whenever you use microtransactions, you are showing support for the model and its continued use, which may or may not lead to a less desireble future.

 

Conclusion

The current state of microtransactions is faulty at best but given that they are still new to the industry, it is to be expected. Although they are like this now, they won't be forever, whether they change for the best or for the worst is still up in the air. It is our job as consumers to voice our opinions, much like how I currently am, to assure that they will be implemented properly in the future. One method is to address in what ways they are being abused (pricing, leverage, frequency, etc.) and in what ways they are being well used. I've done the former but what of the latter you might ask? Are there any redeemiable traits to microtransactions, ones that we can speak fondly of? Well, how does an "anti-perspective" sound to you..?

 


 

Afterword: One month, two blogs. I've doubled my self-imposed quota, how's that for productivity~!? While I don't want to promise anything just yet, I think I've discovered how I want to tackle blogs from here on out. It's only a matter of putting my method to the test and, barring any unforseen incidents, I will keep you guys updated on the results. Until then you can expect another entry from me next month, where I touch on...

 

 

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