It seems like entertainment has gotten on the cheap side during the last couple of years. For example, movies are cheaper than ever to watch with services such as Netflix and when it comes to music… Well, the prime of that industry is long gone and we now pretty much only put some money in MP3s if we feel generous towards a particular artist. But we’re not becoming richer. Our entertainment budget stays relatively the same: we’re just putting it somewhere else, and that somewhere else is microtransactions.
Microtransactions are great when it comes to making money because they are extremely hard to quantify and measure for a customer – Am I getting my money’s worth by downloading this specific DLC or virtual item within a game? What’s even worse about microtransactions is that they rarely get you anything that has real value or that you can resell afterwards. Most online content is regulated by terms that make it illegal to place items and accounts for sale on Ebay, making it almost impossible to truly make any microtransaction count as an “investment” of some kind. Plenty of services and platforms consider your purchases to actually be “rentals” and state that you don’t own any of the content, even it’s right in your account under your own name. We’re far from the days when we bought games and expansions at the store and actually owned a real valued good in our home…
The Playstation 4 will of course be no stranger to microtransactions. In fact, it totally embodies the world of microtransactions – the PS4 will deliver the most instantaneous shopping experience we have never seen on a gaming platform. We won't even have to consider the download time of our DLC in the equation – if we buy, we play immediately, thanks to Gaikai. But that feature is both a blessing and a cure. Will we be forced to buy stuff in order to have a continuous and enjoyable experience in our favorite games? Therefore, I think it's important as players to determine what exactly is unacceptable and acceptable as DLC practices so that we don't lose our entire wallet whenever we turn on our console.
So what would be crossing the line in terms of microtransactions? Well, I personally think that the whole system works as long as the player feels like he’s still playing a game, and not actually browsing through a store. Ever got that feeling that a developer simply dragged and dropped some padlocks in front the game’s menus just to make more money? Well, that’s why any DLC must feel natural, and fair to the player. For example, in Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013, new decks were released in an expansion pack you had to pay for. These are just cards (numbers and images) added to the game, so it might feel kind of lame to have to pay some extra dollars for that, but when you take a look at Wizards Of the Coast’s method of releasing card sets, you know that the new expansion decks are referring to a real-life product (the Return to Ravnica set) that was revealed AFTER the release of the original video game. So THAT makes total sense to use as a purchasable DLC for a game. It feels natural and fair because there’s no way the devs could’ve taken this content out of the original game to make more money later on through DLC. Some might say that Wizard of the Coast’s strategy is already to make people pay all year through new card sets, but nevertheless, they had a reason to not include this DLC in the original game. Conclusion: I don’t feel robbed, and that’s probably the essential of any fair microtransaction.
One of the best (or worst) example to illustrate the opposite feeling is how EA Sports set up their latest editions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour that literally put gates in front of players asking them to pay more for no apparent reason. Games like that literally interrupt the experience and ask you to pay to keep going or to stay competitive. What a shame! Is it worth it to make our voices heard? Yes! In fact, EA announced this year that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 would retreat on its aggressive DLC strategy of the past versions. Thank god… Finally, my last aspect on which I think we should judge microtransactions and DLC is what we consider to be a good price compared to the coding work the developers had to put into the game to make that DLC possible. Again, coming back to my Magic the Gathering DotP13 example, for 15$, I consider that I’m getting my money’s worth for the time it took them to code every new Return to Ravnica card mechanic and particularity into the game. I didn’t feel the same way for the extra holes in Tiger Woods PGA Tour though. It simply felt like those paying gates were added to the original game to interrupt my experience and get more money out of me.
So, what game have you taken on that you consider to be crossing the line when it comes to microtransactions and DLC? What made you feel robbed?
Article by - Marc-André Messier
Insert Date: 04/05/2013