I initially had this topic more geared towards being just a light-hearted rant in the vein of a Christmas-themed carol or children’s story for the December contests, but perhaps it’s for the better that I dive into this on a more serious note the first time I’m presenting it. Even though I’ve seen this new nickel-and-dime scheme in recent console titles, I wasn’t really hot and bothered by it as much I should have been at the time. After seeing the panoply of premium-priced titles adopting this freemium model for the last/next generation and the insultingly dismissive attitudes of certain corporate figureheads regarding this, enough boxes were eventually ticked for me to become frustrated and ultimately reserved about even bothering with one this-gen console for the time being. Micro-transactions are altogether changing the way all types of games are being made, ranging from those in which it’s been logical to be implemented and simply unscrupulous within others.
For those few who may still be unaware of the purpose of micro-transactions and the free-to-play/freemium model, it’s based on a pricing principle in which a game is offered free of charge but in-game items or advances in functionality cost money. Theoretically, that model can be very beneficial to a growing industry since there’s now a group of titles with no barrier for any gamer to play a ‘gimped’ version of the game and can decide whether or not it’s worth investing actual money in the long term. As a means to cushion the costs, more and more MMO developers have also inched towards this sort of model in recent years to act as their supplement after the initial sixty-dollar game purchase (or less) was made to keep up with constantly maintaining servers and delivering more free monthly/bi-weekly content; though, it has oftentimes been mishandled by some to the point of those MMO’s being considered a “pay-to-win” model depending on the purchasable content. So, it can be a good idea which…naturally the AAA industry decided to adopt and contort the very purpose of it in order to just keep everything afloat instead of gleaning some of old beans’ advice regarding the current unsustainable business model of the go-big-or-go-home attitudes ranging from insane levels of marketing to unnecessary bloat on the artistic side...but I digress.
So, without any sort of reasoning like MMO’s ditching the subscription option for it, many sixty-dollar titles are putting this model into the game’s ecosystem under the flimsy excuse of it being “optional.” Aside from seeing that crop up from a few posters online now and again, the one time this caught my attention in particular was the appeasement Microsoft producer Justin Robey tried to make for Ryse: Son of Rome’s micro-transactions ( http://www.eurogamer.net/ar... ). Similar to Mass Effect 3 and FIFA Ultimate Team’s options, packs can be purchased with either gold (in-game currency) collected or real-world money with the only catch being these packs are unlocked at certain tiers, thus avoiding the notion of this being a pay-to-win model. For whatever small victory that can be counted as, this still doesn’t defeat the truth that having this implemented in the first place is as “sinister” as MS’ Robey is trying to convince you it’s not.
Granted, looking at this example or other transaction models in premium-priced games like Ryse is still technically a purchase you do opt into on the surface level of examining this. “No one’s putting a gun to your head to make that purchase,” as some would say. Okay…sure, despite no such threats made against you, the fact of it being there has been shown to actually have some effect on you psychologically. If you’ve ever considered simple tests similar to this subject like a group of children being promised two pieces of candy if they wait ten to fifteen minutes and not settle for the one piece in front of them, it all conceptually funnels back to one fundamental: testing your self-control. And whether it may be children or adults, self-control is a replenishable ability but not one that never runs out of gas, so to speak. There’s a plethora of other places on the web that’ll extol a greater amount of detail regarding similar examinations on this matter than a silly chap on a blog can deliver—with research ranging from psychology to neuroscience that discusses the psychological manipulation behind the practice, but in laymen’s terms it translates to you, the player, being greeted with the option to buy your way past some sort of obstacle which makes the internal message in your brain saying “Boy howdy! That’s a nifty widget but I shouldn’t do the silly thing and buy X” to diminish over time. By their inherent nature, the freemium model is a battle of self-control: cooldown timers for acquiring resources can be just sped up for the small payment of ninety-nine cents, a new closet full of digital clothes may cost just the same as a premium iTunes song, etc. By so many AAA, non-MMO games now implementing this model, you’re still casually informed about the option to spend even more real-world money and are now in an internal battle that you shouldn’t be involved in to begin with. Regardless of how strong your will is or how “structured” some random tiers may be, the point remains your patience is being tested.
This isn’t to suggest that the freemium model should be avoided entirely. For all of its insidiousness, it’s fair to understand going into free games to have that sort of expectation. Having played Runescape for months without ever paying a dime, I recognized that getting excellent stuff came at the price of more of my time. And hopefully when I get the opportunity to hook up and play on my PS3, Dust 514 can be worth the time and possibly some extra dough in order to indulge in the promised richer experience behind that paywall. Even for something that requires an initial payment and has the freemium model like Guild Wars 2 doesn’t seem that underhanded. If I’m able to play an MMO like that one and continually receive free content updates for the risk of having that sweet temptation of extra transactions for unnecessary baubles, I’ll definitely treat myself to that experience too. But to have standard sixty-dollar titles with no rhyme or reason acting as peddlers promising a grander experience after several more micro-payments and feeling psychologically constricted in the process strikes me as one of the most disgusting maneuvers these publishers have made yet.
In fact, aside from annoyances like no backwards compatibility or simply very few exciting titles to me that I currently can’t get on 360, the thing that’s miffed me about Xbox One the most is how Microsoft almost has this expectancy of me to now purchase the shell of a game and repurchase content inside of it. To their credit, news like Turn 10 readjusting prices after angry feedback show some sign of MS possibly rethinking this rising tide in these transactional payments; despite that, it still reveals the worst side of this business that constantly finds new ways to fleece the same customers and never acknowledging that it’s possible to manage money properly. For a big-budgeted industry that cries about rising costs and smaller profits, it’s insulting to see this wanton avarice of companies thinking marketing costs greater than developing said game being marketed is fine so long as the life-force from those returning customers gets milked dry.
With big-budgeted titles naturally getting more and more expensive due to the hardware, it’s understandable to expect publishers will actively seek out more avenues than the profits from a new game release. As much as they try to drag in some level of rationale behind this new avenue in micro-payments, the fact that they have already sought other avenues before ranging from in-game advertisements, ‘normal’ DLC, and/or online passes shows me that the lack of options doesn’t seem to be the problem. This drowning of the consumer behind digital content that can sometimes cost over a hundred ruddy dollars displays a reckless behavior that’s starting to mirror the ’83 crash more and more. To give a quick history lesson: that crash was so devastating, sales on video games plummeted over ninety percent in just ONE year due to the rushed state of so many copied products. The comparison isn't in the overall quality of the products themselves I'm referring to but instead the prevailing mindset of these companies to reap the greatest rewards in the easiest and quickest way possible. Because of only focusing on the short term goal like before, the end result of consumer backlash will once again feel like the rug's been pulled out from under them.
Despite focusing my frustration against the ‘AAA Empires’ on a different problem before, it’s both humorous and sad to see this also funnel right back to criticizing the long-standing character of these companies without principle in dire straits. It’s just another case of big companies trying to come after your wallet in a new way while crying about its unobtrusiveness to your enjoyment. Regardless as to how “noninvasive” the freemium structure within one of these games may actually be, the very idea of it being in a premium-priced, non-MMO title will always make it unwarranted. Regardless as to anyone’s say-so, this new ecosystem will continue to become more and more pervasive in gaming culture and, despite what any spokesperson may tell you, there’s nothing optional and everything sinister about it.