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Talking Point: What's the Big Deal with Microtransactions?

Posted by Sammy Barker

Spend a penny

Dead Space 3 will allow you to enhance your arsenal in a more efficient manner by spending real money. As reported earlier today, if you lack the sufficient salvage for a specific upgrade, the game will direct you to the PlayStation Store where you’ll be able to purchase more for an undisclosed fee. Apparently, there will be a range of different packs to choose from, presumably spanning impulse price points to more sizeable costs. However, publisher EA Games promises that you’ll never need to engage in the lucrative side market – it’s merely an option for players who don’t want to manually go in search of the required items to power-up their firearms. But does that make the practice any more palatable?

Generally, it’s a harmless practice, but there’s a fine line between implementing the scheme ethically and ripping people off

Microtransactions have existed in various guises for many years now, but previously they were restricted to freemium titles such as MMOs and online browser-based games. More recently, they’ve re-emerged in the smartphone market in a big way, providing developers with a second stream of revenue for their already underpriced games. PlayStation Home has taken advantage of the business model too, allowing players to further their progress in free-to-play spaces such as Home Tycoon by investing a little bit of cash into the PlayStation Store. Generally, it’s a harmless practice, but there’s a fine line between implementing the scheme ethically and ripping people off.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that there’s a distinct difference between traditional downloadable content and microtransactions. While there’s been some furore over DLC being included on retail discs, the practice ordinarily implies an additive purchase in which new content is integrated into an existing piece of software for a fee. Microtransactions, on the other hand, usually entail goods that can be unlocked through normal play. The free-to-play PlayStation Vita puzzler Treasures of Montezuma allows you to buy gems with real money in order to rent better gameplay perks, which in turn allows you to improve your score. You can either opt to play without the enhancements, or wait a period of 24 hours to be issued with some more. Both methods are inconveniences which encourage you to consider the payment option in order to keep playing properly.

Of course, the model is altogether more acceptable in Treasures of Montezuma because the core game is a free download to begin with. You can either choose to stop playing, or, if you’re enjoying yourself, spend a small amount of real money to keep going. Seeing as value is subjective, we quite like the idea of being able to invest the amount that we what we think a game deserves. However, the model becomes more questionable when it’s implemented into full priced games such as Dead Space 3.

The extraterrestrial shooter is not the first retail title to implement the controversial practice, of course. For years racing games have allowed you to pay to unlock high performance vehicles early on, while RPGs have provided the option to level up in exchange for a nominal fee. But does the inclusion of voluntary microtransactions really matter if it doesn’t affect the core experience?

If a player wishes to accelerate their progression through a title, then that’s their prerogative, but shouldn’t the game itself be making the process more fun?

Strictly speaking, the answer is no, but the issue is much more complex than that. If a player wishes to accelerate their progression through a title, then that’s their prerogative, but shouldn’t the game itself be making the process more fun? We understand that everyone has varying amounts of spare time to invest into games, but if skipping through a portion of the campaign seems like a tantalising option, what does it say about the design of the experience itself?

Our chief concern is that as development budgets continue to rise, publishers will begin to lean on microtransactions more and more, adapting the balance of their games in order to inflate new revenue streams. Dead Space 3 may allow you to unlock all of its weapons through standard gameplay, but how big will that time investment be? Clearly it’s large enough to make the inclusion of microtransactions a worthwhile option, but at what point does that start to detract from the main game? And are we heading towards a future where you’ll either need to pay up or shut up to get the most out of your favourite titles? It’s an interesting debate, and one that’s still in its infancy. It’s hard to make any firm assumptions until the model becomes more prevalent, but we certainly appear to be following a trajectory where that looks increasingly likely to be the case. The question is: will the market accept the change?

What is your opinion on microtransactions in games? Have you ever spent money to accelerate your progress through a particular title’s campaign? Let us know in the comments section below.

User Comments (14)



hamispink said:

I don't think that there is any place for micro transactions in non-free games. It's both a way for publishers to milk more money out of consumers as well as feed my own personal gripe about games not being completed until 6 months after launch for 30 more dollars.



Budsanchez said:

I'm personally very strongly against micro-transactions. This is the single most annoying feature to appear in our beloved market for the last years (just see the mess Square-Enix is doing on smartphones with Theathrythm ou Final Fantasy : ATB). In my opinion, this model is ok when it's for supporting small-time developers that can't sell their games 2 or 3 euros because not enough people would buy them in the first place.

However, when I think about it touching full-fledged AAA games on the last generation of consoles, I can't help but feeling that we're on the verge of losing the whole idea of "owning a game". What's going to happen now? Is the next Zelda going to look like Farmville because we're supposed to shell out 0,99 cents to buy more bombs? 60 or 70 euros is already a steep price for a game, in my humble opinion, but it's ok if the game is great and I can replay it whenever I feel like it. What now? If I'm getting my PS3 out of it drawer in ten years from now, I won't be able to play the Dead Space trilogy again because the PSN was discontinued and I can't buy more ammo for my gun? This is just ridiculous.



Squiggle55 said:

Hate it. The mere existence of microtransactions in a game like this is very detrimental to immersion.



Zombie_Barioth said:

To me its fine in F2P games but it takes away part of the experience otherwise. Remember how part of the challenge of older games like Dragon Quest was that everything was a potential threat? Well not anymore if you can just buy your way out of a sticky situation.

People already complain about trophy pop-ups so how about a game of Fallout where you keep seeing things pop-ups asking if you want to buy something with real money?



Scrible said:

Its all about making money, don't believe these crooks, if it want about money they would give this stuff free on the 65 dollar game you bought



Wesbert said:

First you pay money to play the game, then you're supposed to pay more to skip portions of it.
Of course, with on-disc DLC it gets even more surreal: First you pay money to own the game, then more to access all of it, and then some more to skip parts of it.
This seems to suggest someone doesn't quite grasp what games are for, either the gamer in question, the game developer in question, or both.



Magi said:

As long as it's not "pay to win" in multiplayer and the game could be completed normally without the additional microtransactions, then I'm fine with it.

Vote with your wallet people. Lots of people fuss about the microtransactions but lots of people continue to pay for them. If it wasn't a viable business model (i.e. profitable), then they wouldn't do it.



Advancedcaveman said:

Micro transactions and "free to play" (which isn't free at all, a better term would be pyramid scheme ware) are basically the end of video games. Its the point where games are no longer about the actual gameplay mechanics, systems, structure, ect; they're about getting you to spend money. Not to add anything to the game or actually buy anything, just to burn money

If you really think about, in most "freemium games" it you're basically paying to skip the gameplay. So you've got a game, which is presumably something you want to engage in the gameplay of, but you pay money to skip the actual act of playing it. So this is the end of games; I was interested in video games because of the gameplay, characters, ect, not because I got to spend money in them. I don't find the act of paying my bills or paying for parking or whatever fun or interesting.



charlesnarles said:

I've honestly never experienced a microtransaction in a game, so I'm surprised to hear they're so popular. Why not have trophies for sale and just skip the game entirely? Why even spend your time on it if you're invested more financially than emotionally? No thanks, full-scale/priced games with buyable content outside of missions/levels/weapon packs. I bought the supplementary guns pack for Sniper Elite v2 and I'm happy with it, but it was $2 and ammo is still free, and most importantly, there's no in-game way to unlock them!!!!!! Gamers are dying out. If you wanna repair ED-E, you gotta find the scrap metal and spare electronics yourself, man...



Stuffgamer1 said:

Free-to-play CAN be handled well, IMO...Treasures of Montezuma and Jetpack Joyride being two good examples...but it can also be no-fun BS, like almost anything from Zynga. Microtransactions are fine when used right, such as in the two aforementioned games...but I'm not so sure it's a good idea in full-price games. I mean, I guess it doesn't HURT anything if it's not too intrusive and the game design isn't changed to make you want to buy your way out...but I wouldn't go assuming they won't make those mistakes at some point.

Uncharted 3 has a whole mess of microtransactions available for the multiplayer...but most of them are cosmetic, and even the special guns aren't really game-breaking. No major complaints there, at least.



Jaz007 said:

For games like Dead Space 3 microtransaction are just paid versions of what used to be cheat codes back in the day.



Paranoimia said:

It all depends on how it's implemented. If it's a one-off, entirely optional purchase as it was in the first game, I have no problem with it. If it's buying ammo to make getting past sections of the game easier, then no thanks.

This is not something I expect or want in full-price retail games. If you're going to implement this, and it is in effect an essential part of the game (e.g. you don't have a hope in hell of beating the final boss without spending more money), then the initial RRP of the game needs to be lowered accordingly/considerably.



Dazza said:

I think Ben Kuchera summed up my feelings on this in his PA Report column.

...the existence of microtransactions being sold within the game is by far the worst example of breaking immersion. Not only does a terminal in the game display information to the player instead of Isaac, it breaks the fourth wall. It’s an item inside the game reminding you that you’re not inside the game. It ignores the character and begins to speak with the person holding the controller.

I really enjoyed both Dead Space 1 and 2, but I don't think I will bother buying Dead Space 3 now. Not only does messing about customising weapons sound like a hassle, but being prompted to pay for upgrades is taking the mickey.

Fair enough for a freemium game, but for a full-priced retail game this is just outright cheek. Sorry EA, but you just lost yourself a customer!

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