So apparently consumers love microtransactions. You know, that act of skipping over the “grind” -- the bread and butter of most games -- to reach the end faster, unlock something sooner, or just get past something you don’t really have energy (or teh skillz) to complete.
They’re cool to have, I guess: the option to unlock something not particularly necessary for the experience but still cool nonetheless can potentially work in enhancing an experience.
But it’s where the feature is forced, or at least hinted at in such a way as to be so in-your-face that you can’t help but make a purchase, that gamers are up in arms about.
Dead Space 3, for example, has an intricately-designed system that allows you to skip the grind of weapon unlocks to make the whole weapon workshop feature feel less tedious.
Because that’s what it is: tedious. The ability to build your weapon up and create a gun out of nothing is great, but it felt complicated for the sake of being complicated, to make the microtransaction feel like a fantastic option.
And it really was. At times I felt like I could just unlock everything with one purchase to make things easier for myself. I didn’t, but I acknowledge that it was good to have the option there, even if I did feel that the developer had implemented the gameplay feature in such a way as to continuously push me towards the credit card option.
I can see the benefit of the business model and how it can help the industry get back on its feet. It can work in the mobile space. I get that. But it’s still a controversial topic splitting gamers, many of whom are unsure if they’re open to their idea of “skipping the grind”. Some embrace it, but some hate.
“The grind is the fun part,” said Dylan Harman, a Perth gamer clearly unfazed by the appeal of microtransactions.
The business model is interestingly being implemented into a genre that thrives on being known for its long and at-times tedious grind: the illustrious RPG.
“If I buy an RPG and do that, that defeats the purpose of playing said game,” said Chris Austin, a student at the Qantm design school for budding game designers.
According to Austin, microtransactions are thriving in the mobile space because people spend less time playing those sorts of games, as compared to, say, a Nintendo 3DS game.
“Microtransaction are mainly in mobile games as people don’t invest the same amount of time that they would into a console RPG game, or a Pokemon game. These games require ‘grinding’ and a lot of it to play competitively with other people,” he said.
He makes a fair point: if you have an ultra-competitive game so reliant on skill, then using something to skip over the very thing that helps define and build the skill could potentially hurt a player’s standing in multiplayer experiences.
Aside from the competitive edge many gamers have, some look at it as being more about personal achievement and reputation, two things easily diluted when you’re using real cash to achieve something without having actually engaged with the experience.
Leon Musca, a factory worker from Perth, says playing a game “legitimately” is way more fun.
“I’d rather pass the game legitimately and earn the upgrades and items, and then as a reward play the game again with the things I’ve achieved.”
Yet, despite so many gamers being seemingly against the idea of skipping over a game’s own grind, microtransactions work well in some games according to Jonathon Powderly from Richmond.
“League of Legends is a good system,” he begins, “because you can buy skins with money. It doesn’t ruin the game or the power-ups. You can buy things like increased XP and in-game currency only with in-game cash.”
When I suggested that a game like Call of Duty could potentially charge a fee for people to unlock 10th prestige tokens, some people hit out at me. Understandably so: such an implementation would defeat the purpose of playing the game through all of the prestige levels, if you feel so inclined to do so.
“I don’t buy cheats or upgrades for games,” said Noah Flether from New South Wales. “It’s actually much easier that way. For example, in Call of Duty, if you buy prestige, you then look like a fool because you can’t actually play. Cheats are useful, but only if you can’t get any better with them.”
The wide-held view seems to be that as long as microtransactions don’t influence standings or player ability in a competitive environment, they’re OK. There are also concerns when it’s implemented in a way where the game makes the microtransaction seem like the better option. A “grind” and a complicated feature are two different things, because a game feature can be simple but take a while to finish, whereas as a complicated feature might be just that for the sake of frustrating you into making a purchase.
By Gaetano Prestia
What are your thoughts on microtransactions? Do you have any experiences where you think the business model has worked well?