I honestly love Forza Motorsport 7. Microsoft sent a code last week and I put over two dozen hours into it before finalizing my review. But while I was being swept away by the game, other users were getting very hot and bothered over the VIP Membership bonuses being reduced to limited uses and primed for microtransactions. The backlash was wild, so much so that Turn 10 has admitted to its fault and is currently in the process of trying to fix the mess. I respect the team for its positive reaction to the outrage, but it still goes to show that this industry is getting very greedy.
At this point, it should be a surprise to no one that big corporations care about one thing above all else: increasing their bottom line. They are for-profit companies, after all. It’s only natural that they would look for any which way to grab an extra dime or two from customers whenever they can, even if that means causing an inconvenience. Think of how Apple decided to ditch the headphone jack starting with the iPhone 7. While the excuse was that it’s “aging technology”, the real reason is that the company wanted to sell customers an extra dongle to revive the ‘archaic’ feature. Now, many other phone manufacturers have followed suit in an effort to also make some extra bucks from peripheral sales.
To bring this argument closer to home, I can point the finger at Microsoft for introducing a subscription-based online service: Xbox Live. Don’t get me wrong, XBL did wonders for paving the way for the major online ecosystems we have in the gaming world today, but it also pushed people into the mindset that it’s ‘okay’ to pay in order to access major online components with your console. Nevermind the fact that you’re already paying for a cable/Internet service in the first place, on top of an electricity bill. Sony spent nearly a decade with the PS3 keeping online multiplayer free with PlayStation Network, but suddenly went ahead and began charging once the PS4 came around. Now, even Nintendo is about to step foot down that path sometime next year with Switch Online.
But no doubt, the biggest offender when it comes to game companies nickel-and-diming consumers would definitely be microtransactions. One can argue that DLC is actually the real epidemic, but the microtransaction trend has been festering at an alarming rate lately.
Game companies are looking for all sorts of ways to nickle-and-dime their customers.
We have free-to-play mobile games to thank for this. Developers added microtransaction systems as a very sly way to make a profit. Why do I say ‘sly’? Because it’s essentially very discrete manipulation. Players see items tagged with incredibly small fees and think nothing of it. If they get addicted to the game enough, they’ll happily keep spending, with the justification being that the cost of the items is next to nothing. Little do many realize is that those small charges eventually add up; if you buy a 99 cent item(s) ten times over, that turns into $10. Multiply that by millions of people and the companies then have a nice sea of green flowing into their pockets.
After seeing how well this microtransaction strategy has worked for mobile games, developers have now been pushing it in retail releases. The problem with this is the fact that retail games are just that—full-priced products. Unlike free-to-play or incredibly cheap mobile games, AAA retail titles tend to release at $60. While that full $60 doesn’t immediately turn into a profit for the developers/publishers due to all the costs involved, there’s still money to be made once enough people buy the game. That’s why a lot of gamers are really mad about games like Forza Motorsport 7 and others like the also recently-released NBA 2K18 trying to implement microtransactions into experiences that have already been paid for.
It was definitely a low move for Turn 10 (and Microsoft) to have taken this route in the first place, but as I said earlier I’m actually pleased with the way the developers have responded. As soon as they were found out by the community, the team owned up to their mistake (although they haven’t actually come out and explicitly said that microtransactions were in the process of being added). Even so, what I truly like is the fact that not only did they immediately own up to the issue, they promised to revert the system back to how it was in previous entries (and have also given out free cars and 1 million credits as an apology). Turn 10 could have chose to be like Apple and insist that this is the ‘right move’, but instead they swallowed their pride and are now cleaning up the mess. They seriously could have taken that path of stubbornness, but it seems like they care more about their reputation right now.
It’s admirable that Team 10 actually admitted to making a mistake. Will more studios listen to fans the same way?
I was about to write that other studios should learn from Turn 10’s example, but I think that’s a bit too optimistic in the current atmosphere of the market. Despite the whooping that fans put on this studio, this whole thing probably isn’t going to change the minds of the executives in other companies. There will be more games that will try to implement microtransactions.
Remember, there was (and still is) backlash over content purposefully being cut from a game to be sold off as ‘extra’ in the form of DLC. Despite all the revolting from the community, this is something that obviously hasn’t gone away and only seems to be getting bigger and bigger. With that said, microtransactions in AAA-titles may very well end up the same way. As much as we may kick and scream, these companies will continue to only see us as numbers in their financial figures. That’s reality.
Hopefully this lesson will continue to resonate with Turn 10 and the other Microsoft studios so that they won’t try this again in the future (at least not until it becomes such a big trend that can no longer be ignored). I still think I’m being a bit too optimistic by thinking this way, but I do hope that the team stands by their response to this situation when developing future entries in the series. But, let’s be real, greed is a powerful thing. We’ll have to wait and see how long it takes before the resolve against it crumbles.