Mark Pacini Asks Daily Reaction: Have You Ever Been Offended by Microtransactions?

During PAX Prime 2013, PSLS got to go behind closed doors to check out the latest build from Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate on the Vita, and while there Mark Pacini took a moment to see what Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan thought about microtransactions.

Mark Pacini – Game Director for Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate at Armature Studio:

Does Plants vs. Zombies 2 offend you? That is, have you ever been offended by a game that had microtransactions that seemed like they weren’t designed for you,  a game where it is obvious that the model isn’t adding value to the product? Or is it simply great to have options, as you don’t have to pay for it?

Dan: Well Mark, thank you for taking the time to bring some attention to the way in which the microtransaction model is used. Personally, I am not a big fan of the model, as I think it has become too much of a ‘me too’ market that continues to be abused to allow developers to shoehorn in ways of monetizing things that used to add value to a product.

The model does have some benefit, as developers can release a game that is cheaper or free, using microtransactions. But, this is usually at the sacrifice of the game’s experience, as you are constantly reminded that you need to pay real money in a virtual world, destroying any form of immersion as you approve yet another credit charge.

Playing through a game that becomes a hungry meter just waiting for its next payment is also a big issue, as the need for a game to use cool-downs is either a game mechanic, or it is a tool to force people to keep paying – either way, it is a terrible thing to have with microtransactions. This is mainly because either the cool-downs are needed to keep people from getting out of pace with the game, meaning paying is a way to break that system, or the game was designed to slow you down so that you have to pay to keep playing – meaning it wasn’t designed with the consumer’s experience in mind.

This is really the heart of the issue – as we see games move to the F2P model, future generations are growing up with a new type of experience that is inherently disjointed. I do not terribly care for the F2P model, as I don’t like to have to continually figure out if I’d rather have a virtual hat or buy a can of soda in the real world. But, the new market does not want to pay upfront for content, they are only looking to pay for enhancing free experiences, which is causing the market to downgrade game design and content to adjust.

Looking at the mobile market, it is difficult to stand out and have people play your game as the ability to advertise is almost non-existent for most developer’s budgets. But, by producing an F2P game, you are able to compete in any market and, if the game is good enough, make tons of revenue off microtransactions.

Now, the only issue is that games like Plants vs. Zombies 2 do not need to be F2P, as their install base is already the majority of the market and gamers will pay for the game. But, publishers like EA know that they will still stand to make more money if they release a freemium model and slowly drain money out the market instead of taking an initial lump.

This is an issue, as consumer dollars and time are very limited things, and publishers of bigger titles know that they can milk their fanbase for years to come.

Seb: Microtransactions certainly have a very dark and sordid past, from stupid horse armors to games that profit solely from ripping little children off. So the question has an easy answer – yes, there have been plenty of times that I have been offended by microtransactions, with their lack of true purpose often so transparent that it depresses me how successful they are.

Like Dan said, microtransactions are most commonly found in F2P games on mobile, and that’s where the worst cases are. Whole genres like City Building are consumed by time-delaying ‘pay to skip’ titles that are apparently free, but are no fun at all unless you pay.

These blatantly deceitful F2P games are mainly aimed at younger gamers who are less experienced, and easily enticed by the idea of free. For older gamers, microtransactions are often woven in a lot more subtly, for example, by offering an optional multiplayer perk that people have to pick up to even the playing field.

And then there’s the EA approach of adding the ability to advance in singleplayer games, or at least get a helping hand, by paying for it. On the surface, this sounds fine, simply giving terrible gamers a way to play a game. But, if you think back to the PS2 era… that all used to be free with cheat codes. And what happened to them? They ended up monetized.

With EA planning to add microtransactions to all their games, and get $20-30 extra out of consumers through those microtransactions, one has to wonder how far publishers will go to remove non-essential features and charge for them.

I’ve always been someone who prefered the old fashioned approach of simply buying a game and owning it, but I’d be remiss if I allowed this whole Daily Reaction to just be about bashing microtransactions.

Thankfully, we are beginning to see some F2P models that aren’t completely awful, as gamers are becoming increasingly aware of titles that try to rip you off. PlanetSide 2, for example, doesn’t offer the ability to pay to upgrade, but does allow you to, in their words, ‘side upgrade’ to get different, but equally powerful weapons. There are also a lot of multiplayer titles that just offer essentially meaningless cosmetic upgrades at a fee, with the actual core gameplay left for free.

It’s interesting you bring up PvZ 2, Mark, as I’d actually class that as a game that has done microtransactions right. Sure, I’d rather it was just pay once, like with the first game, but I don’t overly mind the microtransactions in the game as they don’t impact the game too much. If PvZ 2’s business model was used in most F2P games, people would view the model in a much better light.

Microtransactions will always be abused, and they will often offend me and other gamers, but at least there’s a chance that they can sometimes be implemented well. Free to Play and microtransactions will hopefully never become the only future of the gaming industry – as titles have to be developed around the model – but when done right, they do have a place in gaming.

What are your thoughts on the microtransaction model? Has the freemium model ever taken away from your experience? Should console games start seeing more F2P or Pay-to-play content? Let us know in the comments below, email us at [email protected] or pay to tweet us at Seb and Dan.