Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Microtransaction Week Day 2: The Dark Side of Nickel and Dime Payment Plans

There’s no doubt that we all like to be optimistic about the content that we get from our games. We all like to believe that the greatest amount of effort has been taken to flesh them out and make sure that the money we put down on the latest shooter or RPG is well spent. And most of the time we do get what we pay for.

But recently some games have been released, only to have add-ons through microtransactions later. Normally this wouldn't be a huge problem, except that in these cases the content is either overpriced, or even worse, something that was in the game to begin with, but rendered inaccessible and used for less than scrupulous ends. But more on that second one later.

It’s one thing when, like COD:MW2, you release new content and charge for it. Certainly people might not like it, and for good reason: the map pack meant that the online - and thus most popular aspect - gameplay was drastically altered overnight, and anyone who wanted in needed to shell out the money or be SOL. The fact that the sum was a fairly hearty $15 meant that if you wanted to enjoy new content you were paying about a quarter of the price again. And for people who are trying to play the game at a competitive level, they have no choice but to shell out or get left behind.

This of course raises other concerns: for example what happens if one of the newly released maps becomes wildly popular? So much so that now a great deal of the gameplay within the online community takes place on that map? Imagine trying to hop online and seeing only 5 out of 50 servers that actually have a map that you can play without paying extra for; it’d be a little stymieing. As unlikely as it is to happen, such things are still a concern. Sure, later a price drop can mitigate some of the frustration, but only at the expense of those that now feel jilted for having paid full price (although of course there’s a counterargument that since they’ve been playing on the maps so much longer that the clear tactical advantage will be with them for a good long while). For this same reason things that were offered at cost will likely never be made free, because of fear of alienating the people that already paid for the product.

While charging a high price for newly created content does sting a fair bit to the people that believed they were paying for a completed game it doesn’t even hold a candle to what might perhaps be the largest dick move in terms of microtransactions: making people pay for content they should already have.

That’s right, I’m looking at you, Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

When MvsC3 first came out, it was quickly revealed that there would be future DLC that would add fan favourites to the game the first of which would be Jill Valentine of Resident Evil fame and Shuma Gorath a staple of the series. Fans were enthusiastic about getting the chance to get to play as these two for only a few dollars, until some people dug around in the code and discovered that at the very least Jill was already on the disc, just seemingly sans voice. Speculation that Shuma Gorath was also present but unaccounted for, along with two characters that might be part of a future DLC release: Frank West and Doctor Octopus. You can read more about it here.

Now, Capcom might have their reasons, but I am part of the large section of the gaming community that believes that if something is on the disc that we bought or part of the code of the game we downloaded, that we should be able to access it without having to shill out extra money for the privilege of doing so. Can you imagine if Capcom would have done something like create a poll asking the fans which characters they’d like to see? It would have turned out that if the fans wouldn’t have picked any of the characters that they already had pre-installed then would the poll results have been manipulated to make sure that the characters that were already prepackaged and ready to go would have been “selected by the fans” for release.

It shouldn’t take people hacking into the code and digging around to make sure that companies are honest about giving people the entire game that they paid for, rather than ransoming it off to them in chunks that they’re duping people into believing are actual add-ons, not just something that a toggle has to be made within the game code for.

Granted, it could be something more than simply changing one line of code from no to yes. But still, it’s the settling of the less than stellar precedent that if met with any degree of success will seem to indicate to game companies that players don’t mind paying extra to get things that they should have gotten in the first place, as long as they aren’t charged too much for each new map, character, or weapon.

These are growing concerns within the North American market, but even these seem like minor quibbles compared to some of what has been going on with some MMO’s overseas. But that is a topic for another day.

In closing this article, all I can really say is that while gamers can complain about this state of affairs as much as they want, it is ultimately the bottom line that shows just how much abuse or misuse the community is willing to take. While you've no doubt heard it before, the fact is that it needs to be repeated so that everyone can understand it. So if you think that a microtransaction is a rip-off just don’t pay for it. If enough people follow suit, then maybe things like $15 map packs and DLC for characters already on disc can be nipped in the bud, before it blooms into a larger, more rooted problem.

1 comment:

  1. The fact that these little schemes seem to be cropping up nowadays speaks more about the increased cost of production that the industry consistently faces (in terms of labor costs and currency inflation) then their overall avarice.

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