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Friday, November 29, 2013

Micro Transactions And Our Approval Of Inadequacy

I've been a gamer for most of my life. As a matter of fact I have a picture of myself in diapers playing Duck Hunt on the NES, so I could possibly even say my whole life. As I have aged, I have seen the gaming industry go through a number of transitions, not just with platforms, visual styles, or mechanically, but also with monetization techniques.

When I first started playing video games, what you paid for was what you got. You would go out to a retail outlet, grab a cartridge or a disc, pay up front, and you got (in most cases), a complete experience. At this point in time it was extremely difficult to update games, and it was extremely difficult to to add additional content. These are the NES, PlayStation 1 days, where you couldn't update console games at all, and when everyone and their grandmas were on AOL dial up internet, where PC patches could be a few megabytes at most in size( I almost miss the sound dial up internet used to make, but then I hear dub-step and I am instantly reminded of the horrors). Now don't get me wrong, there were plenty of games up to this point that lacked overall quality and polish (E.T. I'm looking at you), but at the time, nostalgia glasses or not, the games we considered great, were in fact, great games. You paid for an experience and you received a complete one, and I miss that.

As I got older I got into PC gaming, and started noticing that expansion packs were becoming more and more common. For me this was great in the beginning. I could get additional content for a game I loved for a small price. The great thing about these expansions is that they added entire campaigns or characters onto what we originally considered complete, and we went out and bought them because we wanted even more. As I started moving away from PC gaming though, I started to notice that expansions were becoming more of a cash grab than an addition to the game. I think we all know a few games that tried to cash in on expansions *cough* The Sims *cough*.

Moving back into console gaming, the first time we saw DLC was with the Sega Dreamcast (GameLine and Sega Channel offered downloadable games before, but these were complete titles not additions). Even though slow internet and memory limits kept it from catching on, the concept was still a huge advancement in the industry. The Xbox then brought DLC back into the spotlight when titles like Halo 2 or Splinter Cell offered additional content. This DLC was usually free, which I've gotta say, wasn't too shabby at all.

When the next generation of consoles were released, we saw that DLC was going to become a much more prominent focus for developers. Free DLC became much less common, and what was free turned into small things such as a skin for a character, or a mediocre weapon in a game.

Now I am just going to say this right now, I do not have a problem with paid DLC. It has it's purpose, just like the expansion packs did for PC games. It costs money to develop these things, and game development is a business, so you have to make a profit to be successful. The problem I started to have with DLC wasn't the DLC itself or its price tag, it was a pattern I was starting to see with developers. Eventually we started to see something known as "Day One" DLC, or content that you could purchase as soon as you got home. A lot of people hated this. They assumed that if a story arch or content was available for download it meant that they cut it out on purpose, and they were scamming the people purchasing the game. Now in some cases, this could have been true, but most consumers don't understand the timelines of development, or the fact that post-production can take up the 3 months for AAA games. This chart I found actually sums up everything nicely.

Now I personally didn't have an issue with the concept of day one DLC. What my main problem was when you just paid $60 dollars at a retail outlet for a game, this day one DLC was already on the disc, and you were required to pay extra for a downloadable key that would unlock it. At this point it no longer felt like we were getting a complete game. We were now paying for part of a game, and were getting nickel and dimed for a few small portions of what was already there. While this was happening, we also started seeing DLC that would drastically improve your characters in things like sports games. You could pay to take out some of the grind and level up your characters stats on your NHL or NFL teams. These gave you a completely different feeling. You knew that the developers intended on making the game into a grind fest, and were wanting to grab extra cash for you to enjoy yourself.

Now we start to get into the time frame where I personally started developing games. The mobile market was taking off, Facebook games were extremely popular, it seemed like a good time to get into it.

Here was the issue:

Games had changed.

The entire structure of Facebook games was completely different than what we had before, and it was starting to become prevalent in the mobile industry as well. Free-To-Play? Micro transactions? These games were now about giving the user 5-10 minutes of playing time at once, and asking for money to progress. The only thought going into these games was how to make the most money, and hide it behind what was basically an excuse for what we used to consider a game. And do you know what the worst part about it is? It works. Developers shifted their focus to a casual audience with a short attention span and plenty of breathing room on their credit cards. With the free-to-play model, there is no pay-wall. Anyone can download it, get hooked, and toss 10 bucks into a game that they will play for an hour, and they don't even think about it.

As time progressed, more and more free-to-play games were released, and they became more frank with how they approached making people pay. Pay-to-win was becoming the norm, and the only real creativity gamers were seeing were the new ways they would attract people to buy into things. The only thing that I can say that I was fine with was the introductory price. These games are free, so of course, there has to be some sort of way to make money within the game.

Micro transactions are becoming a thing, and not just for free to play games. Dead Space 3 had micro transactions, Black Ops 2 for the Xbox 360 started with basic micro transactions, and judging by E3 this year, you are going to be seeing them a lot more. It is no longer going to be free to play, pay to win for some of the games being released, we are going to be paying 60 dollars at retail, and we will be bombarded with micro transactions. Ryse, Crimson Dragon, and Grand Turismo 6 are just a few of the games that are going to be featuring micro transactions in the future. We are no longer paying for additional content. The only thing that we are going to be getting is the opportunity to tinker with things like in game currency and experience earning rates, and unlock content that is already there.

Now some people may enjoy micro transactions, and for them, that is great, but this is becoming a black hole that is sucking up the experience that we used to have with games. The only thing buying into these micro transactions does is show the developers that we are perfectly fine with inadequacy. If you are like me, and you want this to stop, we need to stop paying into it. The only thing buying games that support this type of economic model does is show the developers that this is what we want, and they will continue to do so.

Also before you guys give me a list of the games you think are super sweet and go against what I have just said, yes there are games that don't follow this model, and still give us all hope for the industry. Skyrim, Borderlands etc. I know. I am just pointing out a pattern that I am seeing, and it is becoming more and more common as time passed by.

Anyways that's my rant. Hopefully it was enjoyable, or at least made you guys think a little bit about it.