If you’ve played any game that’s been made within the last two years or so, you’ve probably already ran into the microtransaction dilemma.
Do you know that small icon telling you to buy more gems or the whacking great alert which tells you to buy the latest DLC pack to get a minor advantage? Well, more and more games seem to be bolting microtransactions as an excuse for selling what should be in the full game as ‘additional content’.
It used to be reserved solely for free to play games or social games but the grubby, money-sucking claw of microtransactions is now starting to affect retail games; see the ridiculous prices for cars in Angry Birds Go! or Forza 5.
Nevertheless, there is certainly a right way to do microtransactions. I will now outline the innocent and the guilty of microtransaction wrongdoings:
League of Legends
LoL provides a good example of how the ‘free-to-play’ mechanic should work by giving the player both options to earn ‘champions’; you can either play well through the game, or put your cash down.
Unlike other free-to-play games, just because you can buy champions with real cash, doesn’t mean that you will necessarily be better. On the contrary—the majority of the most expensive champions are the hardest to use and Riot even gives you some Riot Points, which act as the premium currency to buy some starting heroes to get you going.
Also, the main thing microtransactions are used for in LoL is to buy skins, which give you no buff to your characters at all, besides a new taunt or dance.
LoL avoids the ‘pay to win’ trap of most free-to-play games and does not do something as bad as putting up a paywall in order for you to play for longer.
Final verdict: INNOCENT!
Dungeon Keeper and Final Fantasy: All The Bravest
Both of these mobile games act as a constant reminder of how microtransactions can utterly ruin games. Both games are nothing more than money vacuums with some fancy animations on top.
In the case of Dungeon Keeper, the game constantly tells you that you can buy gems to speed up the process of building rooms, which now takes hours; in the original PC game, it would take you seconds. The fun of the original game has been completely stripped away, and replaced with loads of obstacles that require you to wait for hours to clear. All sense of ‘gameplay’ is done away with.
The same situation is present in All the Bravest. The game not only amounts to tapping on the screen ad nauseum (to the point of nausea), but also has the nerve to let you buy characters in such a randomised way, that it even allows you to exchange a few quid for a character that you may already have.
These two are the lowest of the low in terms of microtransactions. Avoid at all costs.
Final verdict: GUILTY!
This is a new free-to-play shooter that carefully avoids the ‘pay-to-win’ aspect that other free-to-play shooters have been including. Loadout provides you with weapon modifications — which is what the game is based around — only available through playing rather than by simply purchasing them.
The ‘tech trees’, which are used to unlock new weapons and modifications, are accessed by gaining XP and, while money can be put down to buy double XP boosts or costumes — which are bloody overpriced, I might add — only play-through can unlock features that make them powerful. On my first go, I thought this game was going to fall into the ‘pay-to-win’ trap, but luckily it does not. It turns out to be a super fun shooter—when the server decides to work.
Final verdict: INNOCENT!
Angry Birds Go!
Not only does the Angry Birds series have the gall to charge full price for console versions of their game when the mobile versions are only a couple of quid, but when they charge up to £34.99 for a single car, they are taking the proverbial.
What makes it even worse, is that some cars were initially priced at £69.99 in a game targeted at children, causing the possibility of more cases of kids unwittingly spending hundreds of pounds to unlock cars in a worthless Mario Kart copy. Again, this provides yet another example of how microtransactions threaten not only basic game design — as they are structured solely around draining as much money out of you as possible — but seek to screw over the consumer and see them only as conduits for more cash.
Final verdict: GUILTY!
So, my message to game developers everywhere is to be smart about how you use microtransactions. Use them for cosmetic items only and never structure your game solely around them. Treat your consumers with some respect and make some good games, rather than just lining your pockets.
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