Thursday, October 26, 2006

Editorial: Microtansactions, The Wave of The Future? Dear God I hope not...

Developers have found a new way to eke a few more bucks out of you even after you’ve purchased a copy of their game. To expand the shelf life of their game, some developers release little packs of content, such as a few new multiplayer maps, weapons, or cars. These “microtransactions” as referred to within the industry are a growing trend, and I can’t say I’m pleased. Most content packs I’ve seen are pretty overpriced for what they offer.

I’m not going to condemn all developers who utilize the microtransaction system, because many developers don’t overcharge for very little content. While anyone who’s ever played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion likely remembers the horse armor fiasco, Bethesda has made up for it by releasing the rest of their far more worthwhile content for a much cheaper and more reasonable price.

I wouldn’t say microtransactions are a really bad thing (even though I do not really support them) because the content they offer does cost money to produce, and I understand development costs are rising but I draw the line when developers begin abusing them. Recent examples of a developer (or in this case, a publisher) milking the system include EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 content. The only way to unlock the “Sunday Tiger” is to buy him off of the Xbox Live Marketplace, and, while you’re there, why don’t you pick up a cheat code or two. Yes, you read that right. EA is selling cheats.

Making the case for overpriced content is the Chapter 2 expansion for GRAW. For 1200 Microsoft points, you get eight “re-lit” maps, four new co op missions, a few new weapons and some other stuff, as outlined in the link I included above. You may be thinking, wow, that’s a lot of stuff and it is, but not for that price, especially since the new maps aren’t so new. They’re just “re-lit” meaning at different times of day. So wait, let me get this straight, I’m paying 15 bucks for five (WOW!) new weapons and a few reworked maps where all you’ve done is change the lighting? You have got to be kidding me. For die hard fans, this might be worth it, but then again, to those die hard fans, the developers could’ve charged more than just $15 and they would eat it up. A guy like me, who is only casually interested in the game, will say “nuts to that”.

For about two months now, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Xbox Live Arcade game Lumines Live. The full game retails for 1200 Microsoft points, or about $15. Actually, I don’t think I should’ve used the word “full” when referring to the game, because what you get for that price is not the “full” version of the game. For that price, you get the “base” game. Key features, such as the majority of the VS CPU mode and single player skins have to be purchased separately. The “Advance Challenge Pack” has to be purchased on Xbox Live for 600 Microsoft points. Very disappointing.

Therein lies a potentially huge problem. What if these microtransactions take off and developers decide to omit content from the final version of the game and sell it to you later for an additional five dollars or so? It seems EA is already doing that With the aforementioned "Sunday Tiger" content, but another developer seems to be abusing the system even more grossly. Polyphony Digital is doing the same thing in the upcoming Gran Turismo HD for the PS3. According to recent reports and rumors, in the final game, there will be only 30 cars and two tracks, none of which can be played online. To play the game online, you must buy additional cars and tracks separately.

So what’s next? I’ll tell you. If gamers support these microtransactions, developers will take bigger risks, to see what they can get away with. If they succeed again, what’s next? Paying for gas in a racing game? Paying for ammunition in a first person shooter? You may immediately think, “oh hell no!” but that’s capitalism at its finest folks. These little microtransactions now potentially pave the way for that, and little by little, this is becoming a reality.

No comments: