Pulling Out Your Wallet Reveals a Pricey Truth
Let’s face it: microtransactions suck. You can play your favorite game for hours on end, dedicating yourself to get that sweet looking Crimson Angelic Burning Ash set. After hours—days even—of grinding, you finally get enough in-game money to buy that majestic armor! Oh, joyous days! That is until you meet a level one with the same exact Crimson Angelic Burning Ash set as your level fifty, except they also have the Sword of Eternal Embers that one-shots bosses. Why?
Microtransactions used to belong to things like Candy Crush, Temple Run, World of Warcraft or CS:GO. These games were either free to play or mostly cheap, and the items a person could buy using real cash were (for the most part) purely cosmetic. As gamers, we scoffed at the idea of pay-to-win games. In reality, we should have been afraid. Those ideas we once laughed at slowly made their way into AAA titles. Now, we’re lucky if a game doesn’t come with some kind of loot box/crate/whatever system. Unfortunately, microtransactions are here to stay. So, the question is: What can you do?
With the ubiquitous nature of microtransactions, a gamer must now be mindful of exactly what kind of system they are dealing with. Let’s break them down into 3 main categories:
- Cosmetic (Harmless)
- Gameplay-Affecting (Mildly Irritating to Unfair)
- Eternal Agony (EA)
Cosmetic microtransactions are as the name implies:
Microtransactions in which the item bought only affects the looks of another item, and not its performance. An example of a game with this system is Blizzard’s Overwatch. A player earns loot boxes every time they level up, as well as whenever Blizzard Vice President Jeff Kaplan is feeling particularly generous. They can also purchase loot boxes via the store. Within the loot boxes are different kinds of emotes, skins, sprays, etc. None of these items affect a Cultist Zenyata’s ability to snipe you from across the map, and any item obtained from a loot box can be gained using the gold earned just from playing. In the case of Epic’s Fortnite, the skins and other emotes cannot be obtained in-game and must be bought via microtransactions, but like with Overwatch, these items are purely cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay. With this system, it’s entirely up to the gamer on whether they want to look like a normal soldier, or a medieval knight break-dancing onto a battlefield.
Gameplay-affecting microtransactions cover most of where current gaming trends lie. At the lowest end of the scale, we have games like Atlus’ Persona 5. If you wanted 4 different personas from previous games, each with their own unique battle moves, then you had to buy them with real cash. These personas add only slight variation to a player’s possible team, but their strengths do change how one plays the game. It’s a minor, practically unnoticeable effect, but one that still exists.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Warframe. While it is certainly possible to find, grind, and create every resource, Warframe, and pet dog available, the wait times are tremendous. First, a player needs to advance the story—and their level—far enough so as to allow them access to resources that have the Prime parts. After spending untold hours harvesting those parts, they then need to wait upwards to a real-time day for each individual part before said parts are crafted and usable. Did you not want to play a Prime anything? Too bad. A specific story quest requires the crafting of a certain item before you can proceed, each item needing thirty minutes of crafting time. Of course, you can skip all that nonsense by paying platinum to rush development, which you can purchase with, you guessed it, real money. Warframe is a fun game, no doubt, but a person needs to have serious dedication to get exactly what they want without spending a dime.
Lastly, we have the Eternally Agonizing microtransactions. Games with this system are not just pay-to-win. They are not just money and time sinking blackholes. They’re much worse. The reason Warframe managed to stay off this list is because it is free to play, and every update added is free. Not these games. These games require not only the initial sixty dollars to buy, but an extra fifty bucks for the expanded DLC, as well as microtransactions offering better weapons, characters, and experience that you could “earn” through playing normal. Look no further than EA’s Star War Battlefront 2.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is an example of a solid game broken by terrible choices. It has solid gameplay, a great story and good multiplayer. Even our review of it was rather glowing. It’s a massive improvement of the first game. But you know what else it has? The stench of corporate greed. A giant mess was created when people discovered iconic Star Wars characters like Darth Vader and Luke were locked. A player had the option of earning enough tokens to unlock them or buying the tokens with real money. Doesn’t sound too terrible, right? Except, the amount of time needed to unlock the most iconic characters in sci-fi history in their own game was forty hours. Not four. Forty. Straight. Hours. When the outrage predictably followed, EA’s response to the situation became the single most down-voted Reddit post in history. No, really.
Gamers everywhere need to know exactly what microtransactions are doing to the gaming industry. This all started as a result of our own impatience and ignorance. We wanted to be better than the other player. To look cooler. To stand out. Microtransactions and similar business models keep going strong because people keep buying into it. Even now, Activision is patenting a program that will force players who don’t buy and players who do buy from the store together, encouraging the former to give in to microtransactions. In order to curb the trend, stop supporting it. Even EA (temporarily) backed down from their system when enough voices shouted in dissent. So shout! Encourage the development of indie titles! Play amazing single player titles! And most importantly, play to have fun; not to show off.
If you honestly think such things don’t matter, consider this:
Once upon a time, Nintendo swore never to get into mobile gaming. They resisted for years and years until changing times forced them to adapt their beloved characters to the mobile platform, like Super Mario Run. Now you can purchase all six worlds along with some other bonuses for only $13.99! Not even The Legend of Zelda series is safe. Breath of the Wild, a critically acclaimed, Game Award-winning title, features something that many gamers spell doom to their childhood pastime: paid downloadable content.
How long until the master sword is only $2.99 extra?