The conversation surrounding microtransactions has been stuck at a certain roadblock for a while now. Every time a game comes along that incorporates them in some overreaching way, the conversation inevitably becomes a battle of those who like said game and those who don’t, and the real issue gets lost in the shuffle. In general, the attitude regarding microtransactions is tied far too closely to one’s love or distaste for a given game. For many out there, enjoying a game often means defending its practices tooth and nail no matter what, while disliking another game translates into lambasting it for similar practices. No one can have things both ways—neither gamers nor game makers. Inconsistent attitudes make for a poor discussion, and having a poor discussion about microtransactions doesn’t help anyone.
Discussing microtransactions can no longer hinge upon the games that host them. Egregious microtransactions aren’t limited to bad games after all. A game can be good—even great—and still go too far with its microtransactions. When that happens, said microtransactions must be acknowledged for what they are rather than simply defended on the basis of the game’s quality.
The same goes for games with good microtransaction implementation. If they’re used fairly, it must be acknowledged even if the game isn’t the greatest. Doing so will lead to an improved, more consistent discussion that will be better equipped to exert a positive influence on the industry as a whole.
Pay to Progress
NBA 2K19 received quite a lot of heat at launch thanks to having most of its content tied to “Virtual Currency,” the game’s version of, well, virtual currency. In this game, players are prompted to spend Virtual Currency at just about every turn. Player clothes, Gatorade for performance boosts, and even transportation in the Neighborhood all require the spending of Virtual Currency. That alone might’ve been tolerable, but 2K also decided to tie player stats and growth to the currency as well.
Improving one’s custom character isn’t done simply through playing the game, but through acquiring and spending Virtual Currency. This currency can be earned through gameplay, but only at a rate insufficient for most player’s needs. This leaves directly purchasing Virtual Currency as the most viable option for those who don’t want to spend dozens of hours just getting their guy up to par. This situation has made it fairly easy to talk about the game’s microtransactions without having the debate drift-off into its other aspects, but this is an unusual case. The issue of a game’s microtransactions isn’t usually so clear cut.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s microtransactions aren’t nearly as intrinsic to its experience as NBA 2K19’s are, but there are still issues nonetheless. As a game, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is quite well regarded by many fans, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s an absolutely gorgeous game with a beautiful world to explore, an interesting story, cool gear to collect, and a decent combat system. It also has an extensive cash shop. It’s mostly filled with cosmetic items of course, but that’s not what invited controversy. No, that distinction goes to the contents of the shop’s “Time Saver” section.
For an extra $10, a player can permanently double their experience gains and speed up the pace of the game in the process. Spending another $10 can permanently double all money earnings, and players can spend even more money on resource packs. These are entirely optional of course; the game is certainly playable without them. However, being optional shouldn’t excuse their existence. The presence of these EXP, drachmae, and resource boosters calls the game’s design into question and thus warrants discussion. It’s not about using them to call Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey a bad game, but rather examining their actual impact on the game regardless of whether one is a fan or not.
Sticking to talking about the microtransactions in NBA 2K19 is fairly easy since they’re woven throughout the experience; doing the same with a game like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is a bit harder because it’s difficult not to drag the rest of the game—which again is pretty decent—into the conversation. Yet that’s exactly what needs to be avoided as we continue talking about microtransactions.
Regardless of any given game’s quality, its microtransactions must be evaluated on their own merits. We need to take a really close look at what they add, what they take away, and what kind of impact their presence has upon their host game. It’s imperative that all gamers take the time and initiative to do this, because that’s the only way we can each arrive at our own informed opinions. Just going along with the maxims of “microtransactions ruin games period” and “it’s fine if it’s just cosmetic” isn’t enough to keep the conversation moving forward anymore. Relying on borrowed logic just leads to stagnation; it’s only through many independent and informed opinions that useful conclusions can be reached.
Moving Forward With Video Game Microtransactions
Like it or not, microtransactions are here to stay in some way, shape, or form. One could say they’re still in the testing phase. Game developers and publishers still appear to be trying to figure out the best way to incorporate them. They’ve got plenty of data sources to draw from, but the main ones are probably sales figures and genuine fan reactions seen on sites like this one, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, and others.
If the discussion surrounding microtransactions isn’t consistent—if we never take it beyond knee-jerk reactions and tired platitudes—then game makers won’t be able to factor that feedback into their design decisions and will most likely continue to plan their projects based purely on what sells. The result: more games that probably won’t appeal to the non-casual gaming populace. However, if we can all take a step back and examine microtransactions on their own merits rather than view them through the games they’re attached to, then we’ll be able to drive this conversation forward in a way that will be beneficial for all—game maker and game player alike.