Micro-transactions have been a part of modern gaming for quite sometime now, giving players small titbits of additional content for relatively low prices, often coming in the form of story-lengthening DLC, exclusive gear for in-game use or additional content such as map packs and game modes to prolong the life of multiplayer experiences.
But this way of doing business is certainly not without controversy: the first major outcry in my memory being aimed at the Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Bethesda choosing to omit the option for horse armour from the final game, instead offering it as a purchasable extra, disgruntling fans with what appeared to be an attempt at squeezing a tiny bit more profit from them.
Recently, EA have polarized opinions by announcing the inclusion of micro-transactions within the upcoming Dead Space 3, allowing players to earn upgrade resources for weapons by paying a small real-world fee as opposed to collecting said resources in game, a more time consuming, but still valid, option. With this announcement, arguments for and against micro-transactions in full priced games have once again cropped up, so I’d like to present both sides and give my thoughts on the issue.
To begin with, the idea of spending extra on a product that you’ve already purchased in order to get more from it is always going to be something which raises eyebrows. When I first signed onto the multiplayer servers for Mass Effect 3 and saw the option to spend in game credits or real money to unlock the higher level equipment and skills packs, I distinctly remember sighing in a vague sense of disgust – not annoyed per se, but disappointed, the idea of including this option smacked slightly of milking it.
And it’s the same case with additional story DLC, in particular, those that elaborate on a game’s ending such as the epilogue DLC for Prince of Persia, or the Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham City. The games by themselves already have endings, but fans of them would almost certainly be interested in seeing more, thus paying extra for something which arguably could have been in the finished game to begin with.
This type of DLC has been a staple of the industry for several years now however, and I don’t think it causes much concern for many of us anymore – it offers us additional content if we’re interested, which often elaborates and expands on a story in a satisfying way, but adds nothing essential to the core game itself. As well as this, with the advent of the XBLA and PSN, these pieces of extra content are available at our leisure and are often subject to sales.
One of the key reasons given by publishers such as EA for including micro-transactions is that of accessibility. In relation to Dead Space 3 particularly, EA have stated that the inclusion of micro-transactions is a direct result of the popularity of mobile gaming, the growing audience for which is used to paying small chunks of change here and there to unlock additional content.
There is a certain amount of sense to this argument – in theory, micro-transactions used in this way could be very useful to a casual gamer, someone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to unlock everything the game has to offer, but for a bit extra, can have access to the harder to obtain content.
There is a flipside to this however, especially when the micro-transactions relate to unlocking higher level content – developers could well be tempted and/or encouraged to up the challenge of a game to ridiculous levels, practically forcing the purchasing of higher level content to combat the early stages of a game. This issue of balance is a real concern, and if the current trend for micro-transactions continues, it’s an argument I think will be coming up again and again.
The final facet I’d like to discuss is the ongoing dispute between game developers/publishers and high street stores selling pre-owned games. The resale of games see’s only a profit for the retailer, cutting the producers themselves out of the loop, something which game companies have been trying to combat for some time now. Most notably (and still a point of high contention) is the requirement of passes to access online content for various games – a code comes with a brand new purchase which of course wont be included with a pre-owned title, requiring an additional purchase of the online pass from the XBLA or PSN, allowing the producers to recoup something from the pre-owned sales.
In game micro-transactions are another way for them to do this, though, as stated, they can carry the same stigma as the required online passes, meaning that although a company maybe able to claw some additional profit back, they are potentially harming the relationship with their audience.
Personally, I’m not too concerned about the inclusion of in game micro-transactions. They are there as an option, but are no need a requirement, as long as balance is never skewed in their favour by the developers. Hopefully the arguments that they increase the medium’s accessibility will prove true, allowing more people to enjoy the games that I do.
By Jack Edwards.