Microtransactions – Major Problems
A few days ago, two separate announcements were made detailing the introduction of
microtransactions into two of the biggest game releases of the last year or so – Destiny and Metal Gear Solid V. Bungie announced that players will be able to purchase a range of new emotes for Destiny using a new in-game currency called Silver, which can only be purchased using real world money. Shortly afterwards, Konami released and detailed an insurance policy that players can purchase using MB coins, which are only obtainable by purchasing them with real world money or via MGS V’s daily reward system, which protects their stored FOB (forward operating bases) resources which can be pilfered by other players, even whilst they’re offline.
As generally happens with these things, it has elicited all sorts of responses, most of which have been largely negative. A quick look at the comments section of any of the sites that reported this confirms that. Part of this is because when microtransactions were first introduced at at a core level of a game’s design, like Turn 10’s Forza 5 or Blizzard’s Diablo 3 before they killed the auction house, it was done so in a way that lacked any grace or decorum. It was flagrant in a way that makes many people uncomfortable, and as a result, it did a good job of salting the earth for any developer that dared attempt to follow suit.
I can totally understand why this is the case – I mean, these are full price games we’re talking about. The last thing you want to see after laying down your hard earned cash is some in-your-face attempt at parting you with even more. For Destiny players who have been around from day one, it can seem an even greater blow on the surface, having had to fork out more than once to keep the game up to date, so a headline that reads “Destiny to introduce microtransactions” comes with a fair amount of baggage attached.
The thing is – and this may be one of the few times I ever stick up for Destiny given my vocal dislike of it in the past – we’re only talking about a few emotes here. Emotes, for those who don’t know, are the dance moves that Guardians like to drop after shooting some baddies in the face. They are non-essential, purely cosmetic additions that in no way affect the gameplay. It’s not a pay-to-win scenario, which is the fact that a lot people seem to be skimming over in their eagerness to shout about it on the Internet.
See, I don’t have a problem with microtransactions as a concept at all. It’s a good way to directly fund the developers, which is a good thing, because that ultimately gets more games made. I also don’t have a problem with buying cosmetic items for games. Those assets need to be made by someone who needs to get paid a wage, and that money has to come from somewhere. What I don’t like is when microtransactions start screwing with a game’s economy. So consider my surprise when, in my search for reactions about Konami’s Mother Base insurance scheme, I came up with a considerably smaller group of responses, many of which seem nonchalant about the whole thing.
To me, this is a far more egregious attempt at securing a few extra bucks, and far more worthy of consumer backlash than paying for currency to buy a few emotes. For those who don’t know, MGS V has an infiltration mechanic that allows players to infiltrate another player’s FOB, even whilst that player is offline, and steal their resources for themselves by way of fulton extraction. Normally, if you are successfully infiltrated, then whatever that player steals will be deducted from your total resource count and added to theirs, but with the new Mother Base insurance policy, any resources stolen from you will still be added to the attacking players stocks, but they won’t be removed from yours.
The thing is you won’t ever lose all your resources, as your online resources are only a fraction of your offline resources, so why is this even necessary? Why even make this an option, and remove any impact this passive multiplayer feature has?
On the face of it you can see why it works, and why, depending on your point of view, it’s a such clever/dastardly move. Whilst it’s cool in practice that you can infiltrate another players base and steal their stuff, no one wants to be on the receiving end of that, so of course some people are going to want to spend a little dosh to protect their efforts. For me though, the idea of spending real world money to protect in-game anything encroaches on some shady territory, and despite this being a seemingly innocuous case of money-pandering, it’s opening the door for further permutations of the same idea. Can you imagine if you could pay to insure against player being injured in Football Manager, or having to pay for different power-ups in the next Mario game?
How do you feel about microtransactions? Do they add anything to the experience? Are they just a greedy way to scrape a few extra bucks? Sound off in the comments below.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.