Gaming: Microtransactions

There is a lot of conversation in the video game industry on this topic, and I have somewhat mixed thoughts on it. You have seen them, I can almost promise you this. You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to know what I’m talking about. I use the mobile world first because I think it’s more familiar to more people.

I played some Candy Crush back in the day. I got incredibly frustrated and uninstalled it. I reached a point where I couldn’t play it anymore. There came a time when I needed some special things to make the levels possible to beat. Or such good luck it would be ridiculous. And there wasn’t any good reason to go back and play previous levels. Since I wasn’t willing to pay to “win” the game, I uninstalled and went looking for something better.

So many mobile games follow this pattern. I get so incredibly frustrated by it.

On the other hand, I have a game on my phone called Triple Town (which is basically 2048 – addictive!) This game ALSO has micro transactions and I don’t mind at all. I purchased their one-time unlock for all the maps. I don’t mind at all. Why? Because when I play the game I play through and finish the level I’m on the game starts over. Like Tetris back in the day, I get to start over and the re-playability is high. I start over at level 0 and get to see how far I can go with the randomized seed I get this time. The challenge is to get further and further (or on a different map type).

The same is true for how I mentally approach micro-transactions in bigger titled games. EA is the one I know best (disclaimer: I own EA stock.) They make billions of dollars on “live services” which includes loot boxes. The way way these loot boxes work is I (the player) buy with real money the in-game currency “coins” or “simoleons” or whatever. I can then use this pretend currency to purchase a “box.” This box is full of randomized things. Different looks for my character. Different players for my sportsball team. Different weapons. It depends on the game.

There are two potential problems. The first is the randomized nature. The way EA (and many other publishers) do this is I might get the Gun-of-All-Awesome which is ONLY available in a loot box. The next time I buy a loot box, I get the Gun-of-All-Awesome again. Or worse, I get a skin which makes my gun look cool but doesn’t do anything. This skin is just available forever. What do I do with the second version? Can I do anything? Many times, the answer is “no.” I just got unlucky and got it AGAIN. I get Bob Awesome the player from my least favorite team. In three loot boxes in a row.

On the other hand, I play Guild Wars 2 – which also uses a randomized “loot box” – but I don’t mind it at all. For example, if I buy the loot box related to the Halloween costumes (there are 6, I really, really want one of them) I max out at buying 6. They have programmed it so I will NEVER get duplicated not-useful things. They also are generally good about separating things into specific boxes (ie the 6 Halloween skins are in a special Halloween box and all I can get from that box ARE the Halloween skins).

They also are very good at making the pay-for-things NOT terribly useful to the game. A LOT of skins. I think the closest they get to “pay to win” is the unlimited resource gathering tools. Which is like having a shoe sole insert which will never smell. Yeah it is kind of useful, but it’s also pretty easy to work around if you don’t want to pay for it too.

I drop some real money on the occasional skins. When I complete 100% of the maps (it’s an achievement) I buy unlimited tools for that character. I don’t mind giving AreaNet some cash because I don’t object how they are making money. The game is free. There is no monthly cost for me to play. How do they maintain their servers? How do they pay developers for the annual stories which are FREE (for me the player)?

So whether it’s a mobile game like Match Land or EA’s atrocious actions – when you try to make me pay-to-win I get pissed off. When I think I’m supporting a developer for a fun game like Flow Free (any of their flow titles really) I do NOT mind paying people for their time, talent, and effort. I don’t think ALL micro-transactions are evil. However, I think there is some strongly grey area and there IS a line which many developers are trying to see if they can toe over without getting cracked down on. And I just hope the developers doing it right – don’t get caught up in the net with the bad ones.