In the beginning there were microtransactions…
There has been a lot of talk lately in the media about microtransactions and their impact on AAA video games and in video gaming in general. If you do a quick Google search on the topic, you’ll be inundated with articles from various sides of the argument. However, you’ll find it’s making news for either having or not having microtransactions. As someone who keeps an active eye on the gaming media I can’t help but find myself deeply curious about the portrayals.
Don’t misunderstand what I mean by that, the diversity of opinion is good. Dave Smith from Business Insider UK penned an article simply titled “I miss the days when I only had to pay once for a video game.” It is a simple lament to the days in which you paid for a game, and that was it, coupled with the understanding that microtransactions work – that’s why they’re still here. Yet, it encourages the hope that people will vote with their wallets. Jim Sterling from the Jimquisition shares a similar view in his video for Enjoy The Silence, Feel The Noise Jim’s opinions on microtransactions in video gaming. How they don’t have a place in AAA games, and how he feels that the topic is dead – that people don’t want to discuss it. I certainly don’t agree with the last bit, it seems to be a topic that is well and truly discussed in media. If anything, the lack of engagement maybe due in part to the over saturation of opinions.
Here’s a quick list of AAA games that have had microtranactions in them (at time of writing and is not a definitive list)
For balance, here’s a list of games that will not have microtransactions (at time of writing and is not a definitive list)
For every hype there is created for a game that has microtransactions, there are games who get the same for doing the opposite. I personally find curious as there are terms and a lot of jargon lobbed together and on occasion come under the umbrella term of DLC. It’s a term I’m not particularly comfortable with, because in many cases that content isn’t what its described as.
Confusing the Issue
In some of the articles you’ll begin to notice the word DLC attached in these articles, and then on occasion it can mention season passes and other forms of DLC. These DLC is a deliberate attempt on the publishers of these games to cut out chunks of these games and repackage them as additional content. I’m aware that I may be showing my age by saying the next sentence, but this is not a new phenomenon. The only thing that has changed is what we have called it; and back in my day we called this type of content expansion packs. (See these links for the expansion packs for the Sims series & Age of Empires Series if you doubt my opinion.)
It makes me wonder if we’re confusing the issue. I feel microtransactions are a different discussion to DLC, and it’s something I intend to cover in greater dept in another article. There seems to be precious little understanding as to the function of microtransactions, and how they can be used effectively.
That seems to be the key to this whole argument – value.
Free to Play Vs. The Rest of the World
There is an old saying that says “If you’re going to do something, do it well.” I think this saying applies perfectly to the attitude around microtransactions. There are games that do the microtransaction business model well, and that is League of Legends.
I play a lot of League personally, and I have skin sets for my preferred champions. It’s not something that I spend a huge amount of money on though, if anything – it’s pre-allocated funds. As someone who has a pay as you go phone, my plan means that my monthly credit often goes unused, so it goes towards paying for things on League. That is a very customer focused, and well executed business model. Riot have developed a variety of ways of paying for additional content should you want it EU West Payment Options. Here’s the trick to that system though, it has no bearing on getting ahead in the game. It gives you no additional power, or opportunity to progress.
This is an example of a microtransaction model that works, which includes a free entry to play and succeed and therefore doesn’t seem to gain the same reputation as AAA video games for implementing some of the same techniques.
There is a great article that I would encourage everyone who’s interested in microtransactions to read, it’s by GameSparks and its on “Micro-transactions: 3 common mis-conceptions.” It goes through the value of microtransactions if implemented correctly and with purpose, not just for the sake of it.
The monetization of properties is always going to be the key in any business, but its doing that in ways that are beneficial to the community and industry that is instrumental in maintaining its integrity.
A Question of Ethics
Is all of this noise in fact just a question of ethics? Should full paying games be disallowed to include a microtransaction model? The answer is complex for me, as I don’t believe they should have them in their present iterations. AAA developers have yet to find a way to make the microtransations a seamless integration into their games, they often come across as obtuse and annoying. An example of this is in Assassin’s Creed Unity; where you had to pay money; or log into UPlay to open chests. That stuff is just annoying. Period. Until the AAA market understands that this model can be utilized successfully without making it obtuse and undesirable.
You could easily put this down to inexperience, the microtransation industry is relatively new and people are still testing the waters to see how far they can push the boundaries. Which brings us to the argument of will people speak with their wallets?
Speaking with your Wallet
“Speaking with your wallet” is a phrase that is thrown around a lot in these debates, a lot of people encouraging others to vote with their wallets. But what does that really mean?
If the words of Ethan Levy are to be believed, “Why Microtransactions aren’t going away anytime soon,” shows through research that 11/100 people are purchasing some form of DLC. Now, for fair clarity, I don’t necessarily agree in some of the statics sighted, as its not clear to me when he says “DLC expansion pack” if he means narrative driven content. Which for me changes the value of the statistics. However, while that may seem like a throw away comment it’s important to note – people buy different kinds of “DLC” and not all of these should be considered to be microtransactions. What is very clear, though, is that people are certainly speaking with their wallets and paying for the content that they want even if they are extra payments.
Does this mean that people are mindlessly following the culture and not questioning the status quo?
No, not even a little bit.
A recent example of this would be in the failure of “Deus Ex: Mankind Augment your Preorder.” This was a scheme in which;
To recap, the campaign, which I called literally the worst structured pre-order of all time back when it was announced, had different “tiers” of unlockables that forced you to choose between two extra items (an art book or a soundtrack sampler, etc), and the higher tiers were unlocked only if enough people pre-ordered, so you know, recruit your friends!
Instances like this will continue to repeat itself if people don’t speak up about it. There was a lot of controversy about this particular pre-order scheme, people weren’t happy about it and evidently so given its failure.