In-game spending a trap

by | Oct 14, 2017 | Arts & Life, Uncategorized

I get that making content costs money. Especially in the world of AAA video games when you have to pay programmers, testers, PR and a dozen other positions. It’s a business first but in a time where a new game can cost the consumer anywhere from $60-$80 for just the base game, I find it absurd that microtransactions exist.

Microtransactions are small payments made in-game to buy content. A lot of you might know these from games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds; free-to-play games that cost you only the data to download, but offer you the ability to purchase upgrades that cancel out timers, give extra lives or give you a special item. This format seems harmless enough, since you get to decide how much you want to pay for your content.

The other side of free-to-play content is that not all publishers give their customers that benefit. It has been known in the world of video games that some freeto-play games follow a structure and they even have their own titles for consumers.

Minnows: Players who purchase maybe once a month.

Dolphins: Players who purchase a couple of times a month.

Whales: Players who purchase multiple times a month.

Some publishers have fallen hard into this format as they want to catch the biggest thing in the sea. When whales spend a bunch of money, whales will get a bunch of stuff. This has created a bizarre format for video games – the Pay to Win format, where one can literally just buy their way to the top of a leaderboard.

Now this format has grabbed hold of AAA video games. Games you have already paid money for are asking for more money for the most arbitrary things. Recently, NBA 2K18 was released to much ire of fans. The initial price is $60 for the base game or $150 for the gold edition that comes with physical collectables. For the additional low price of $5 you could purchase 15,000 “Virtual Currency,” known as VC, in-game. The VC then would go towards upgrading your custom character. The $5 would buy you up to 10 items ingame, anything from clothing, hairstyles and skill points. For an extra $100, you can get 450,000 VC and effectively pay to win. They have since lowered the price of ingame items, after fans complained.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War is a new game that follows a similar marketing strategy. Both games give out an in-game currency that is accumulated by playing or you can spend real money to purchase coins. In Shadow of War, instead of paying to win, money can be spent on loot boxes. These boxes unlock random items that are used in-game to better your character and armies. The price of the game, with its season pass, which guarantees additional content, is $100. So on top of that, you can purchase more in-game currency and purchase loot chests, war chests and XP boosts, effectively giving you a chance to win. It feels similar to gambling.

We, the consumer, have spent enough for a game and if we decide that it should get more money, we should buy their merchandise. The practice of paying to win, or paying to spin to win is a terrible practice that milks hard earned money from us. It can work in free-to-play games where the publisher respects the consumer but in large games with large budgets, it feels like a larger cash grab on top of the money we have already spent. This format either needs to change or get dropped entirely.

– Steven Smith

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