By Joe Strange
Here’s the Thing: Micro-transactions
So here’s the thing, the news this week has been littered with gamers talking about micro-transactions, whether it be about the possibility that Just Cause 3 could require you to pay out for vehicles (which turned out to be false) or the potential $99.99/£63.96 (give or take) you could spend in Assassin’s Creed Unity for fake money, it’s been a bit of a buzz, but it’s by no means is it a new issue.
James has written about paid DLC before (You can find his review of Mario Kart’s new batch of DLC here), but today I won’t be talking much about DLC, instead focussing on micro-transactions
In all honesty this came to me this morning with the release of Rooster Teeth’s (Red Vs Blue, Rwby, Acheivement Hunter) mobile game Rooster Teeth Vs Zombiens, which is an action strategy game available on Android and IOS for £2.49/$3.99. That sounds like I’m advertising it but I’m not, for once the pricing is important.
There are plenty of similar games out there in both of the stores that won’t cost you a penny up front, some of them might even be better; the criticisms about Zombiens either focusses on its slower game play or its price. Honestly I think only one of those criticisms is fair, and the reason’s simple.
Zombiens has a lot of content, the weapons and enemy waves are procedurally generated so the levels are different each time you play and there’s plenty of unlockable characters (who, if you’re a fan of the company will be very familiar). How do you unlock these characters? The old fashioned way; playing the game.
There are no in-app purchases, no way to fast track to opening doors or getting weapons, the game you buy is the game you get, there’s no buying packs of emeralds to unlock half the game’s content or levels, and that alone is worth the (let’s face it) tiny price of purchase.
So far I’ve only talked about mobile purchases, but the trend of micro-transactions in retail games is just as concerning. Let’s, like so many people at the minute, look to Assassin’s Creed Unity; a game that had an embargo placed on reviews until 12 hours after its release, a game that’s had criticisms of horrible frame rate issues and promises that weren’t lived up to. Among all that there’s also Micro-transactions.
In the game you can choose to spend your real money on ‘helix credits’ which can be used, instead of in game money, to purchase and upgrade your weapons and armour. It’s an alternative to using the money you could earn through playing the game itself. Now Micro-transactions like this don’t bother me all that much, as long as I know I can get exactly what the fast trackers can just by playing the game then I’m not fussed, so initially micro-transactions turning up in the series didn’t ruffle my feathers. They’d been in AC: Black Flag as well, you could buy cosmetic upgrades for your ship, but there were just as many that you could buy with in-game cash.
Then I saw an image which showed a map available to purchase that will show you the locations of the game’s collectables but here’s the catch; the only tendor you can use? Helix Credits. In previous instalments you could buy these maps from vendors in the game, they weren’t cheap but you could use them to get that precious 100%, or fancy armour if you wanted. In some cases the locations would be shown to you after you collected a couple on your own, never before had you been required to pay more money to do it.
Console games aren’t cheap, everyone knows that our hobby is an expensive one, especially if you feel the need to play games as they come out (to avoid spoilers or to keep surfing that hype wave) and it’s just incredibly cheeky for studios to start charging us more for stuff they’d previously given to us for free. Especially when they were utilising interesting game mechanics to encourage us to explore the game world (the previously mentioned collect X feathers and show that area’s remaining feathers).
Micro-transactions in our retail games aren’t just bad for our bank accounts, but they’re bad for our enjoyment of the game itself. If, instead of working towards a goal, you’re given the chance to have it there by using a transaction process that, let’s be honest, makes it feel like we’re not paying anything at all, you don’t appreciate it half as much. You’re paying the game, not playing it.
Normally I’m a fairly balanced guy, and this is the part where I’d normally say ‘oh micro-transactions work in some games’ but considering the reports of kids spending hundreds of their parents’ money on games like Tapped Out and Farmville, the games that this model is more suited for, there needs to be a way around this. Developers need to take a good look at the abusive and exploitive nature of this model. It’s giving a bad name to our craft, and that’s not cool at all.
In the current state that gaming is in; Server issues, multiplayer modes not working on launch, still no heists, it’s not really a surprise that gamers are looking for more of the good ol’ days, where you could just insert a disc and play, but even that is harder with in app purchases, it’s another layer of fuss and stigma getting in the way of something that the majority of us still do for fun.