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Opinion: Reactions To Cosmetic DLC Versus In-App Transactions Suggest Double Standard

by Mike Futter on Sep 25, 2015 at 05:47 AM

Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered the continuously mounting trend of in-app transactions in full-priced games. Whether it’s the cash-heavy bent of Metal Gear Solid V’s FOB system or something a bit more balanced with earnable currency like Grand Theft Auto Online, the presence of these add-on charges is of interest to our readers.

Most recently, I wrote a news story based on my experience with Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s important to note that I greatly enjoyed my time with the first three hours of the game. However, Microsoft and Crystal Dynamics’ unwillingness to discuss what appears to be a microtransaction system meant we had a duty to alert readers to its likely inclusion. 

The response to it and the Halo 5: Guardians requisition system, which also enables microtransactions, caught me off guard. Especially following the Metal Gear Solid V FOB debacle, I was not prepared for numerous comments defending the inclusion of in-app transactions.

Again, “microtransactions” can be oppressive or they can simply be optional “accelerators” that aren’t necessary in any way. Your tolerance of them is a personal decision, and one I make no judgment about. My job is to report their existence and provide you the information to make an educated choice.

But in the course of reporting on these matters, I was given reason to recall a visceral, potent reaction to a different form off supplementary monetization. Halo 5: Guardians will deliver all of its post-launch maps for free. There’s another game that did that, also: Evolve.

When Evolve was released earlier this year, a number of consumers were in an uproar over the volume of cosmetic DLC available to purchase at launch. This content has no material impact on the game. There are no benefits conferred. The effects are aesthetic only.

The response from some commenters when I wrote an analysis/opinion piece about the financial realities of game development (and how retail prices haven’t increased in a decade) was intense. While these sentiments were not universal, and some people understood my intent, others were less than kind.

“Paid article/10” - Mendia

“Wow Mike, really. This is Idiocracy levels of stupid. And to think I already had little respect left for journalism. Gameinformer was one of the last mainstream sites I could turn to.” - ManiacFeral

“Im sick of hearing this bs argument. If 60 dollars per customer isn't enough anymore, stop making games with bloated budgets. Some of the most successful games of the last generation were made on small budgets. Stop blaming the customers for the failures of the game industry.” - KilledByDeath

“This whole article is bogus. Defending the rampant DLC/microtransaction schemes of modern publishers is ridiculous. It's nothing but the fleecing of gamers! Free2play levels of DLC/microtransactions do not belong in premium priced video games. Publishers are having their cake and eating it too. If Evolve wanted to go down this path then it should have released as a free2play game.” - AsheMan

“How much were you paid for this article?” - jrollins89

“What complete bulls***! It's called greed. OMG, I hate this game even more, and Mike Futter, you should be ashamed you published such an article.” - Stitch Jones

I urge you to read the entire comment thread on the story. Those are some of the angriest responses, and to be clear, some people took the opposing position. You’ll get the whole picture in the original post. The comments above do represent the majority opinion that Evolve’s DLC strategy wasn’t acceptable to consumers, though a number of people were a bit less aggressive in their condemnation. 

My purpose today is to point out the difference in tone between that piece and the stories about Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider microtransactions (the latter of which still hasn’t been denied by Crystal Dynamics or Microsoft despite my direct inquiry at the preview event last week). Here are a couple of comments from those two pieces.

“I wanted to get the jump on this article before the usual types come strolling through when microtransactions are mentioned. Halo 5: Guardians will have free DLC in order to not segregate the playerbase, however, that money has to come from somewhere. The money made from REQ Pack sales goes towards funding that free DLC. But that isn't the only place it goes. That money is also tossed into the Halo Championship Series cash prize. Basically, if you buy REQ Packs, a Halo Pro Team is gonna walk away with not only the gold, but the cash to back up the competitive gaming scene.” - Nick

“Normally I'd be pretty put off, but I'm giving Halo 5 the benefit of the doubt seeing as all substantial multiplayer DLC (maps) is going to be free.” - SummitJay

“I'm fine with this system. Know why? All dlc multiplayer maps are free. Some smart business choices going on here. They must know cd projekt red…” - XAracanumOrderX

“I really don't see what the big deal is and why people have a problem with it. It doesn't change the way the game is going to play. The game will still be the same one we have been sold on and I for one can't wait. Remember, we are still getting a butt load of multiplayer maps for free. If you are worried about 343 charging for req packs then the solution is simple, DON'T BUY THEM. The people that do will have a cool assassination animation or stance in arena, I don't think that constitutes an unfair advantage. Everything is fine guys, stop freaking out.” - Steven Sanchez

“Well, if it is a microtransaction deal and they make money off of it, more power to them. They got every right to put something like that out there, and we've got every right to refuse to use it. Capitalistic economy. Don't like it? Don't buy it. Simple as that.” -jspres86

The cosmetic DLC piece was about a broader topic, and if you aren't interested in Halo 5 or Rise of the Tomb Raider, you might not have been interested in those stories or inspired to comment. The story you are reading right now is an attempt to cast a wider net and broaden the discussion.

Again, it isn’t my job to tell you how to feel about a given business practice. In news stories, I’m presenting facts (and context in the Our Take section at the bottom). In opinion and analysis pieces, I’m giving you my take on situations (and hopefully giving you something new to consider).

Today, I’m pointing out what might be a double standard amongst some members of the community. On one hand, a majority believed back in February that cosmetic DLC as a way to keep retail prices at $60 was nefarious. This week, I saw a number of people (though certainly not all) come to the defense of microtransactions that will have an impact in one of Halo 5’s multiplayer modes for that very same reason.

My intent is to start a dialogue about why these discrepancies exist. I’m eager to hear from you and understand what about these two situations created very different reactions. I’ll hang out in the comments and chat and follow-up on this once we’ve had an opportunity to discuss.