Microtransactions: Cheapening Games $1.99 at a Time.

But I suck without it...

But I suck without it…

For years, microtransactions have allowed the free to play game model to exist, letting small time developers create fun games that are accessible to all with little monetary risk. However, over the past few years, microtransactions have been appearing in games that come with a $60 price tag, or AAA titles. In his article ‘Why EA’s Video Game Microtransactions Do and Don’t Bother Me” (http://techland.time.com/2013/02/28/why-eas-video-game-microtransactions-do-and-dont-bother-me), Matt Peckham believes that microtransactions are a means for players with less time to play to use in order progress faster in the game. In truth, when game developers design a AAA title to include microtransactions, they purposefully leave out content that should have been included in the original price point, thus cheapening the video game experience for both the purchaser of these products and those who choose to not buy into the microtransaction model.
Microtransactions were originally created to allow for a game model that would have little monetary risk. These games were referred to as “free to play” and gained immense popularity in the mobile gaming market thanks to the ever increasing App Store and Android Marketplace. Games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga began to bring in millions of dollars on microtransactions alone. They were so successful because they allowed players to try out a game and purchase the aspects of that game that were important to them, instead of getting burned on a $60 game that, once opened, couldn’t be returned for full price. Mike Snider, writer for USA Today, points out that it is much easier to spend a dollar or two here or there then buying a full PC or console game (Snider, 2010). Seeing the success of this free to play model, many developers of AAA titles began to shoehorn them into their games.
If any AAA developer could be pointed out as the granddaddy of including microtransactions in their AAA titles, it would be the juggernaut Electronic Arts, or EA. As the developer of some of the most beloved titles such as Madden, Battlefield, and nearly any other sport game you can think of, EA has started sneaking microtransactions into their grand-slam titles. What results from planning on including microtransactions from the start is a situation where developers purposefully leave out content or make progressing so difficult that you turn to a quick fix out of frustration. Nick Statt, a writer for CNET, sums up the logic behind creating a overly difficult progression system, “Furthermore, the prices for that content were so high — and the game’s progression system for earning credits without paying so slow — as to slyly entice people to rely on real money instead…” (Statt, 2013). The amount of content that $60 bought you three years ago is not the same as you buy today. Whether inflation is considered or not, when microtransactions are included in AAA titles, the amount of quality gaming that the AAA title delivers does not live up to its original price point. It’s as if you had to pay to get into Disney World, and then had to pay to ride Space Mountain. This change in development has not only caused a rift between players and developers, it also has separated the gamers themselves.
Since their initial creation, video games, like any competitive event, have tested the skill of players and proclaimed victors. Be it through scoreboards or tournament brackets, a player would always end up on top due to his skill. Microtransactions have changed and leveled the playing field, giving players with the cash access to items and abilities that, in the past, would have to be worked for and earned. This created a rift between the players who believe they should be able to be the best with that which the original price point provided, and the players who don’t mind paying for an advantage. Brett Molina, a writer for USA Today, lists some of the additional things you can purchase trough microtransactions in EA’s Madden, “Players can purchase individual perks for scouting different positions, the opportunity to keep superstars out of retirement or to maximize a player’s growth for one season. You can also buy the entire package of upgrades for $10.” (Molina, Swartz, & Graham, 2009). Imagine if you had spent the past two months building up your team, only to get beaten by someone who bought the game yesterday and purchased the $10 super pack? These upgrades, while seeming like innocent time-savers, actually cheapen the game experience of other players.
Video games are an ever-evolving form of media that is slowly being acknowledged and enjoyed by more people everyday. However, it is up to us, those who are passionate about gaming and the experiences we get from them, to guide that evolution; we must halt it when we see it going in an undesirable direction. Microtransactions have no place in AAA titles. These tiny purchases certainly increase a developers bottom line, but in the long run they will only serve to cheapen the experiences that brought us to this wonderful medium in the first place.

References
Molina, B., Swartz, J., & Graham, J. (2009, August 11). It’s in the game: The rise of EA Sports microtransactions. USA Today, p. 06b.

Peckham, M. (2013, February 28). Why EA’s video game microtransactions do and don’t bother me. Retrieved from http://techland.time.com/2013/02/28/why-eas-video-game-microtransactions-do-and-dont-bother-me/

Snider, M. (2010, January 19). ‘Microtransactions’ add up for online games. USA Today, p. 05d.

Statt, N. (2013, December 19). Micropayments, mega angst, and the future of console games. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57614840-93/micropayments-mega-angst-and-the-future-of-console-games/

 

What are your feelings on microtransactions? Do you think they have a place in fully priced titles? Or are they lessening the experience for gamers as a whole? Let me know in the comments below.