Microtransactions in video games put a pause on the fun

Graphic by Alan Li

 

One of the most popular and recent monetization models in gaming, from mobile apps to multi-million dollar company titles, has been microtransactions and loot boxes. The immense success of these small-scale, virtual and in-game purchases has skyrocketed with the paralleled marketability of so called “free-to-play” games  most commonly seen in mobile app games.

Many of these games, which have become associated with the negative expression “pay-to-win,” or “freemium,” are in the precarious position of offering a noteworthy improvement to the quality of a game with the associated purchase of additional elements outside of the traditional gaming format.

In November 2017, following the launch of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II, the main flaw in the microtransaction business model became more widely transparent and criticized.

The deceptive implementation of gambling mechanics as seen in loot boxes, which give a pseudo-to-completely-random payout of virtual items has gained national recognition. The unethicality of subjecting consumers to gambling mechanics in casual gaming has gained significant scrutiny.

The glaring problem with the game is simple. The players of the game who invested a significant number of hours Many reports claim that it required up to 40 hours of playing to unlock a single virtual character to play were on the same level as those who bypassed this system by paying up to hundreds of dollars in virtual loot boxes.

What is most controversial about this is the fact that additional purchases, on top of the $60-80 being paid for the product for what is supposed to be a AAA title and “full game” allow players to detour the intentionally fabricated cycle of endless and monotonous grinding, in what is supposed to be a “fun” gaming experience.

Games like Battlefront II, which allow players to essentially pay exorbitant amounts for a better gaming experience, set a very dangerous precedent which will undoubtedly be mirrored in the future.

I understand that, with the growing crowd of casual and mobile gamers, there are simply times when you may not have the same amount of time to invest into a particular experience as others, but you still feel entitled to the same level of satisfaction in playing a game that they do.

The reason why EA as a company is dealing with so much resentment, is because of their official response to the system, in which they claimed that “the intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” This blatant fabrication has been deconstructed and evaluated extensively in the past months and has been revealed to be a thinly-veiled excuse.

I believe that microtransactions and loot boxes are more than just a black and white problem. I don’t think that they are inherently evil, or good. I do, however, think that they must be very carefully curated for their respective gaming audiences. I think that gamers especially those in the growing casual player base are particularly vulnerable to these manipulative practices.

There are many other games which utilize loot boxes and microtransactions both well and poorly. I have never had any particular issue with those that focus on aesthetic or cosmetic purchases, such as games like Overwatch, which allow character customization.

I feel that what bridges the boundary of what can be considered acceptable in gaming, however, is when in-game purchases are used to obtain something that makes the game easier to be played.

I understand that, with the growing crowd of casual and mobile gamers, there are simply times when you may not have the same amount of time to invest into a particular experience as others, but you still feel entitled to the same level of satisfaction in playing a game that they do.

That being said, the design of these games I’m looking at you, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, NBA 2K18, and Evolve has been intentionally woven to encourage gamers to sidestep the annoying aspects of playing parts of the game — or making it outright impossible  in favour of simply purchasing them.

I feel that if they’re going to keep this monetization model ethical moving forward, developers need to either label their games in the same manner that the ethical gambling committees do, or keep the unlock method behind either a paywall or a grind wall, but not both.

I’m all for a solidly designed game providing a cosmetic improvement to the experience at the cost of a couple extra dollars. The premium, in my opinion, is paid when the game is purchased and as such the entire game should be included in that. If the “extras” and “goodies” are conditional, it should be equal for everyone, not just those who cannot afford to bypass it.

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