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Microtransactions: The Devil's Advocate

Tagged as: Games, microtransactions.

Written by darkness on September 9, 2013
Microtransactions. How many a game has had one of these doohickeys implemented. It's almost universal for any phone and tablet game app. Many MMOGs have one of these, especially the free ones.

And they're terrible.

It's peculiar how they're beneficial for both the game developer and the players, yet they are overall bad. The company gets money, often major money, and the players get cosmetics and sometimes even gamechanging goods; what could possibly be bad?

In fact, a lot can go wrong.

But before I go into those (fairly obvious) problems, let me tangent for a second.

A professor of mine once described his hatred of the quarterly report system (business school, et al.). He believed that it undermined America's capitalistic system. These reports, he reasoned, were too short to incentivize long-term R&D projects, as they would cause a dip in the quarterly report and scare off investors (potentially). There's some implication of why the US economy and security stagnates from this effect, but that's for another discussion.

Microtransactions, I feel, are not much different from these quarterlies. For one thing, they don't convey any feedback from the game itself; any information (see: money) received only pertains to the products and services of these microtransactions. Gameplay often becomes irrelevant, especially since people can easily spend thousands on these instant-noodles products. It doesn't take many people, just a few "respectable donors" to greenlight the investment of a microtransaction model.

Worse offenders offer items or services that directly affect the gameplay of said game. This multiplies the aforementioned problems, literally overshadowing a game by making it pay-to-win. The intricacies of any fancy variables--damage, accuracy, power, defense, offense, funny tricks and doodads--melt into oblivion if you can just buy your way to the best gear. And that inevitably happens all too often; drunk on the microtransaction high, the non-feedback from those dollars make for poor balance design, creating generic, bland, gaudy utilities that throws the economy into disarray, throws balance out the window.

But why should they care?

They got the money, you got your trinket. The trade has been made, it's legal as a contract with the devil, and that's final. And when those numbers add up (and given the prevalence of the microtransaction system, the numbers DO add up), those lads and lasses in suits back in the office will be high-fiving themselves and waiting for their next raise.

That's not to say that all microtransaction models are bad. Some of them do persist without interfering with gameplay--namely, cosmetic microtransaction models. However, those are as scarce as water in Death Valley. And many of those games have many temptations to go into the dark side... to take that step that may very well ravage years of game development, all for a few quick bucks.

So this is the current gaming industry... how do we solve it?

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darkness

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September 9, 2013
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Mon Sep 09, 2013 03:14 PM +

Well, when the model becomes pay-to-win (most nexon games, for example), I think that the users should make a choice and either live with it or leave it. If the second happens, then the company is forced to make a change.
However, other microtransaction models are not purely cosmetic yet aren't bad. Let's take a look at league of legends: with the game's purchasable currency (RP), you can buy skins and champions. Skins, of course, are purely cosmetic. Champions on the other hand, are not. You can acquire champions either with RP or IP. IP is a currency you can obtain by playing the game; the purpose of RP in this case is to get it faster. Since every champion is (or will be, at some point) balanced, no one has an advantage.

I believe that the main problem with this microtransactions occurs in MMORPGs. Companies need people to buy things, so they incentive it by making them essential for competitive gameplay.

 
 
Wed Sep 11, 2013 04:39 PM [Edited once ] +

Joaco said: Well, when the model becomes pay-to-win (most nexon games, for example), I think that the users should make a choice and either live with it or leave it. If the second happens, then the company is forced to make a change.
However, other microtransaction models are not purely cosmetic yet aren't bad. Let's take a look at league of legends: with the game's purchasable currency (RP), you can buy skins and champions. Skins, of course, are purely cosmetic. Champions on the other hand, are not. You can acquire champions either with RP or IP. IP is a currency you can obtain by playing the game; the purpose of RP in this case is to get it faster. Since every champion is (or will be, at some point) balanced, no one has an advantage.

I believe that the main problem with this microtransactions occurs in MMORPGs. Companies need people to buy things, so they incentive it by making them essential for competitive gameplay.


Even League of Legends has that potential to go over the edge, although their status as an eSports does mellow out the possibility. But once its golden moment is over, who's to say they wouldn't try for a quick buck? Balance is only as relevant as the game itself; only a few games have ever escaped that, and balance itself is often fleeting.

Look at Runescape. They were solely subscription for the better part of a decade. Now, they have that damned Squeal of Fortune microtransaction magnet on top of their existing subscription model.

This extends beyond MMORPGs. Diablo 3 is a chief example of how prevalent real money enters a game, as evident by their auction house (and no withdraw system; pity). And iOS games... well, you get it.

 
 
Thu Sep 12, 2013 01:04 AM [Edited once ] +

darkness said: But once its golden moment is over,


SHUT UP, YOU HERETIC AND MISCREANT SON OF THE DEVIL

 
 
Thu Sep 12, 2013 01:34 AM +

Joaco said: [quote=darkness[But once its golden moment is over,


SHUT UP, YOU HERETIC AND MISCREANT SON OF THE DEVIL[/quote]

It's what I do, no less. Crush people's gamer dreams.

 

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