An Alternative Opinion: Micro-Transactions?

An Alternative Opinion is a weekly feature where Alt:Mag writers are given a question or topic, and submit their thoughts and opinions. Today's topic of discussion is micro-transactions: are they killing the game industry, or are they the future for gaming? Should they be welcomed into the mainstream game market, or confined to mobile gaming?

Aaron: Aah, micro-transactions. The publisher's best friend, and for the most part, the worst enemy to the wallet of the addicted consumer. It's not that micro-transactions as a concept and even as a practice are a necessarily bad idea, it's that games these days seem not to use them as an additional feature, but as a way to distort the gameplay so that the player either feels they need to pay in order to be good enough to progress in the game, or is so frustrated and worn out that they simply give in and pay up. I'm sick of seeing games that exist purely to paywall the player, and practically extort them, with no interest in actually making a good game. Go and look up Super Monster Bros by Adventure Time Pocket Free Games (and yes, that's the real title). Not only is it a cheap and scummy Pokémon rip-off, but in a video from IGN of them playing the game, within seconds they nearly accidentally spent $99.99 because they tried to change character, and after 25 seconds of gameplay that revolved around basic platforming and shooting weird fake Caterpies, he was told he had no more ammo, but could pay for more. And it's not even only small unknown brands indulging in this seedy process: even Square Enix tried their hand at it with Final Fantasy: All The Bravest, a mobile game that focused on getting the players to pay $0.99 to unlock their favourite characters from the legendary series (characters that were selected at random, so you could end up shelling out up to $35 to get the one you actually wanted) and shamelessly exploited ridiculous difficulty spikes to coerce the player into buying a new hero, and making it so that when you die, characters revive one-by-one every 3 minutes in an attempt to tire the player in to submission.
I myself have even fallen prey to the addictive nature of micro-transactions: I'm an avid Fifa player, and their Ultimate Team mode (in which you collect a team of players, who can be bought with in-game coins earned through auctions and playing matches, but can also be earned through packs that can either be bought in-game or with your own money). While Ultimate Team is fun, it's set up so that those who are willing to spend tons of money on the packs will, inevitably, have the better teams, and I admit that over the 4 games Ultimate Team has been a feature, I've spent a fortune trying to get better players. And for what? A sheer maximum time of a year's use before the next game comes out, and the team becomes irrelevant again. Lately, though, I've seen sense and stopped being so easily budged, but I certainly hold no judgments for those of you who have been snared by these schemes. They're becoming more and more prevalent in the big-budget mainstream games, and I can't say I like it. Not one bit.


Lewis: As someone who generally tends to play games released before 2005, I have clearly stated my distaste for micro-transactions. I even went all the way with my distaste and made an April Fool's day joke on the Alt:Mag facebook page poking fun at EA Games.


What makes gaming great is the ability to work hard for what you achieve. If I want to unlock the Call Of Duty Soldier on Tony Hawk's Underground 2, I am willing to play through the game's story mode on Sick difficulty just to get that character. There is a sense of achievement that a player gets when they work hard for something in a game and that goes for everything else in life too. People can tell you that 'money buys you anything in life' but there is nothing better than working hard to get it yourself. If you turn that sense of achievement in gaming into nothing more than who has the most money to spend, then you have lost a very important reason as to why gaming has become such a great pastime for everyone worldwide. Also, when it comes to playing online, is it fair that despite being a more skilled player, someone can beat you because they had more money to spend on a particular weapon? Perhaps you could compare this whole micro-transactions to the classic 'insert coin to continue' when you lose all your lives in an arcade game, except that is classic and micro-transactions just suck. Like me, a lot of older gamers are too wise to be suckered into this, but who says that the younger, naïve generation aren't going to fall for it? It very much makes me fear the future of gaming.

Elliott: So micro transactions and DLCs; what’s really the difference? A long time ago, in the land before faster Internet speeds, there existed these arcane concepts known as "expansions". Most of the time, these included all the things that you would think of as a means to expand the game further. But now we have these in smaller packages, for less than the price of retail games; these are called DLCs. And in the last couple of years there has been a new species of these, called micro-transactions.
Remember a time when it was a lot simpler to get more content for the games that you’d already bought? Now, having these micro-transactions, companies can keep pushing you for your money without a care in the world. One of the main problems with micro-transactions is when a company creates a full retail game, and then starts putting out contents such as skins and cosmetic “attachments”. They made a full retail game and didn’t include this content originally. This is how they make so much money (especially from young kids with their mum and dad’s credit card information). The one good thing about micro-transactions however, is that they are better for free to play games or MMO’s, because this is how the company can make money to develop more content and better updates for the game. One example is the League of Legends micro-transactions, which are only cosmetic changes, but it's played by millions of people around the world daily, meaning people would want to look different and that’s why they stand by it.
It’s weird how micro-transactions have taken over some of the big games that you see in the market today. Companies will make small changes such as texture packs and charge £1.79 for each texture. For the smaller companies, perhaps this is their way of making their money, as they give their game away for free. Most of these micro-transactions exist on the mobile devices that everybody carries around every day of their life. It is always in their pocket, it is always on, and you’ve always got time for it. You’ll look down at it and you’ll see “only 59p for 20 new levels!” That’s how they get you, and this is what I think the future holds for gaming.

Do you think micro-transactions are a valuable addition to gaming, or an exploitative money-making scheme? Let us know in the comments section below or by our Facebook or Twitter page.

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