This article is a continuation of our previous discussion regarding microtransactions.
On some level, everyone can appreciate a game that’s free. If there’s one thing gamers love more than gaming, it’s cash money. If a game costs nothing, that just means little Jonny Pwnzor’s got an extra $60 to spend on Code Red. Are you enough of an asshole to hate on Code Red?
I didn’t think so.
Ipso facto, the free-to-play, optional microtransaction model is, in some ways, perfect. People who have tons of time but little money can grind away to their hearts’ content. Those who actually have a job are more affluent can sneak in an hour or two after work, and buy some slightly better gear to make up for having a life their limited free time. And of course, the person with no time or money is represented by merit that he has nothing to complain about (aside from hunger pangs).
Everybody wins, and most people playing feel the system is fair. The poor/dedicated players earn their progress. The semi-casual busybodies can buy their levels/gear, but aren’t really playing often enough to enrage anyone with their miniscule advantages. And the completely impoverished are spending more time turning tricks for food than playing MMOs. In all respects, it’s a perfect society.
That is, until Maximilian Rockefeller shows up.
Max doesn’t attend school. He doesn’t work. Yet he has somehow ammassed vast real world (and therefore in-game) wealth. Did he steal his father’s credit card? Is he actually 12 different individuals? But you don’t have time to ponder such questions, as Max is currently destroying you with weapons you didn’t even know existed.
You can’t out-grind him because there are only 24 hours in the day and, unless you’re Korean, you probably have to sleep for at least 3 of them. You can’t outspend him because your parents didn’t love you enough to dedicate each of their waking 21-hour days to your guaranteed prosperity. All you can do is avoid him, close your account, or complain. Those aren’t the kind of options that engender fun or brand loyalty.
While microtransaction systems hold the potential for this kind of abuse, it can certainly be curtailed in several ways:
- Purchased items convey only aesthetic superiority over normal items
- Purchased items convey alternative (but not necessarily superior) gameplay options
- Experience/levels can only be purchased X times per Y time period
- 20% of each in-game purchase goes to the Murder Maximilian in His Sleep Charity Foundation
- Automated matchmaking keeps players of similar abilities isolated from grinders/hedge fund owners
It seems inevitable that, going forward, microtransactions will become more and more common,possibly surpassing quicktime events as the most frequently overused gaming cliché. I for one welcome this change, as long as it’s shepherded into the limelight with a cautious eye and dutiful attention to game balance. What gaming group do you fall into… and how will it affect you?