Rabid Lion Games

(Don’t) show me the money

March 2nd, 2013

Micro-transactions. They’ve been in the news a lot in the last few days. First EA CFO  Blake Jorgensen claimed that “Consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business.” Then, after the inevitable community backlash, Cliff Bleszinski jumped into the fray, defending games developers’ right to make money from their products, and calling out the community for demonising EA but holding Valve (who have embraced micro-transactions in games such as Team Fortress 2) up a shining example of a model game developer.

I can’t offer a counter argument as a game developer, since I’ve never (yet) actually released a game. However I can offer my opinion as a gamer, and so that’s what I’ll do.

So here’s the thing. I wouldn’t buy a game that includes micro-transactions. Before I explain that statement, I should point out that I’m not the typical ‘core’ gamer that publishers like EA are targeting. For one, I don’t play multiplayer games. I’m a strictly single player only person, occasionally playing a co-op game like Portal 2 with my better half. I like immersive, usually story driven games where it’s just me and the pocket universe that the game developer has created.

Because of this, the Team Fortress 2 model of micro-transactions is immediately out. Paying real money for cosmetic changes to a character becomes far less appealing if you’re the only one that will ever see them. It’s kind of like spending lots of money looking good when you’re a hermit, it just doesn’t make sense. Instead we’re left with the other two popular models of micro-transactions which I shall call Pay-to-play and Pay-to-win.

The first of these is the kind of game where you pay to get more content in the game. This could be paying for extra levels, or for more turns in a given time period in a turn based game. The problem with this is that, when you purchase the game in the first place, you’re not *actually* purchasing the game. It’s more like putting a deposit down on a car. Yes, you can enjoy it to a certain extent, but eventually if you want more, you need to pay more. And depending on how the micro-transactions are set up, it could be impossible to know exactly how much the game is going to cost you when you buy it. To some people, that’s not a problem, but to me it puts me off getting the game in the first place.

Why? Because if I’m deeply immersed in a game, and then get told that to continue the illusion I need to pay more money I’m dragged out of that fantasy world and made to consider that most ugly feature of reality – do I have enough money to pay for something. Personally, I play games to escape from reality, so I’m not going to buy a game where an integral part of it requires considering something as grounded in reality as my bank balance on a regular basis.

The other category was Pay-to-win. These usually involve offering in-game items that actually make the game easier to play, in exchange for real money. A recent example is Dead Space 3. In some cases you can also get these items by progressing through the game, in others you can only purchase them with real money.

If you can only purchase these items with real money, then they either fall into the ‘I haven’t bought the whole game’ problem with Pay-to-play, or the ‘there’s no point in vanity in a single player game’ problem, depending on whether or not the item substantially changes the way that the game plays. If you can get the item anyway by, say, grinding up levels in an rpg-esque way, then what I’m essentially being told by the developer is ‘you can pay some money and skip this boring bit of the game’. But this bit of the game is boring, and you’ve acknowledged that by allowing me to skip it by paying money, then why is it still in the game anyway? If the answer is ‘to encourage players to spend money’ then all you’re going to do is leave me feeling like I’m being scammed. And I don’t play games to feel like I’m being shaken down for cash.

So there you have it, one gamers view on why, for me, micro-transactions in a game mean that if  your game has micro-transactions in it, I won’t be buying it. Perhaps if you hide them away, make it easy to ignore them, and they don’t alter the game at all, then I might overlook the fact that your game has them. But if that’s the case, then surely the defeats the purpose of having them in the first place?

Either way, if micro-transactions are the future of AAA, then I want no part of it.

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