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.