Microtransactions have swept through the games industry like a virus. What was once a method for ‘free-to-play’ games to exist has now become an additional revenue stream for publishers. You’ll notice I say publishers there. The reason I phrase it that way is in most cases I don’t think it is something that the developer has had much of a say in. A few days ago, my fellow Enthusiast, Mike Boccher, wrote about the microtransactions that are being included in Middle-earth: Shadow of War. While I can appreciate his point of view, I can’t say I agree. In my opinion microtransactions in full-price games are simply inappropriate.
The reason that more publishers are embracing microtransactions is that we as gamers are letting them. But do the publishers need more money for their products? Video games have been $60 for well over a decade now. In fact, if the recommended retail price (RRP) for games had moved at the same rate as inflation, they would be over $75 nowadays. That’s an extra 25% on what games currently cost. Inflation also affects how much games cost to make. A lot of AAA games now cost around $100 million to develop and market. This makes publishing an AAA game a pretty big gamble nowadays.
The Development costs may have gone up while the price of games has come down in real terms, but that’s not the whole story. You see the thing is that the market for games has grown, A LOT! In the sixth generation of consoles (PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, and Dreamcast) there were around 200 million consoles in peoples’ homes. In the seventh generation of consoles (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii) over 270 million consoles were in peoples’ homes. This eighth generation could easily top 300 million consoles sold. This huge install base is what makes it possible to turn a profit when games are costing $100 million to release. Grand Theft Auto V has sold over 80 million copies. Admittedly Rockstar’s magnum opus had the benefit of selling across two console generations, but even last year the four-year-old game sold more than 10 million copies.
Grand Theft Auto V may have been an enormous success, both critically and financially, but it too has seen the introduction of microtransactions. Grand Theft Auto Online works like a free-to-play game that is included with the main game. There are constant updates and content drops coming to GTA Online, yet they are all completely free. You can buy in-game currency with actual money, and that’s how the new content is funded. While there are no specific items locked behind a pay-wall, having extra money to spend on items does give you an advantage. With Grand Theft Auto V still selling millions of copies a year, it’s not like 2K Games need the extra money that microtransactions give them to create new content for the online portion. Though the game didn’t launch with the online component (it arrived two weeks later), it was announced that GTA V would come with GTA Online. So, when people bought the game, they thought they were buying the whole game. A great solo campaign as well as a online game that would allow players to mess around in the GTA universe. What they actually got was a single player game along with a free-to-play online game. The only way you should succeed in the game is by being skillful and spending time in the game, instead of how much of your own money you can throw at the developers?
Many full-price, big budget games are now including microtransactions. Star Wars Battlefront II, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Mortal Kombat X, and even Halo 5 were all $60 games that featured microtransactions. For Honor, an online only multiplayer game, is a $60 game that includes microtransactions where you can unlock everything in the game for around $700. Obviously, you can still get everything in the game by spending hours playing the game, but if you wanted to be among the first people to play a certain character, you’d have to pony up. If anyone gets an advantage, even just an early one, because they pay more money, it means that the game isn’t a level playing field and that isn’t right or fair.
The only reason publishers are adding microtransactions is greed. I understand that game publishing is a business that has to pay employees and satisfy the shareholders need for profits, but we as gamers have allowed this situation. I would happily pay $75 for a game with no microtransactions rather than $60 for a game that does include them. If publishers want to fund new content for their game, release it as DLC. I don’t mind purely cosmetic items being available for extra money, but any time that it gives a player an advantage it is wrong and should not be accepted. It doesn’t matter if that advantage is just for a matter of days, while other players unlock the same items or a permanent thing like leveling up or gaining access to exclusive weapons, it shouldn’t be allowed.