Are Micro-Transactions And DLC, Killing Gaming?

There has been a bit of a gaming backlash recently in regards to games being released and then offering things like micro-transactions and DLC. So much so that there has even been a petition started to regulate micro-transactions specifically to have them fall under the same laws as gambling.

Now, there is a difference between micro-transactions and DLC content. But here in this article, I’m going to try to explain why I feel both are a bad thing for gaming and why they need to be stopped. In regards to micro-transactions, there have been two big offenders recently that have hit the gaming headlines for all the wrong reasons. MiddleearthShadow of War and Star Wars: Battlefront II. So much so that when EA tried to defend micro-transactions in Star Wars: Battlefront II recently via Reddit, it became the most despised post EVER with over 680,000 down-votes so far and still counting.

Micro-Transactions

South Park MT

First things, first. Micro-transactions are gambling as you have no idea what you will get in these loot boxes that you have to pay real money for. You could get an amazing 5 star, super rare item/character that is well worth the money you pay… or you could get something much less impressive. If you are paying real world cash for an item that you have no idea what you will receive – that is a gamble, it is gambling. Also, have you noticed how opening a loot box in a game is never a simple affair? They are always accompanied by sound effects, animations, flashing lights, etc – you know the same kind of things slot machines offer to entice people to play? But its not just the fact that these thing are a form of gambling that is the problem – its also the fact that they can give players an item/character that could provide them an edge over other players. Now if someone unlocks new abilities and upgrades through playing the game fairly, through their own skills then fine, I have no problem with that at all. But if you can just spend cash to get ‘better’ at a game giving you and advantage over others – then that’s a problem and by definition that is ‘pay to win’ in a big budget, high priced game.

I am strongly against micro-transactions in fully priced games. I mean, you go out and spend around £50 ($60) for a AAA, big budget game or even more for special editions… and then they try to entice you to buy ‘loot boxes’ within said game to unlock items in the game you have already paid for. AAA, big budget games should never have micro-transactions. These companies already make millions up on millions in profit from the sales – so micro-transactions are insulting to us gamers. Now there is a very different corner of the gaming world that rely on micro-transactions. Those ‘free to play’ games you can download and play without spending a penny. These games need micro-transaction because their games are ‘free’ – I get that. But big budget games? No, not at all. ‘Loot boxes’ within major game releases should never be a part of the game… ever. And its not just a matter of spending real world money to gain items within a game – its also a fact that doing so means missing out on gameplay of the game itself.

Shadow or War MT

In MiddleearthShadow of War  – you can pay to unlock orcs. But capturing orcs is a major point of the gameplay – its also one of the better aspects of the game too. It kind of like buying the new Forza game but then paying to have the races completed for you. Why would you do that? These things are a cancer of gaming and the fact that the recent fallout from Star Wars: Battlefront II is making gaming headlines – I hope this is the turning point, the era where gamers just get so sick of micro-transactions in gaming that future publishers/developers take serious notes and realise we do not want them.

One of the major reasons why Star Wars: Battlefront II is getting the bad press is due to the unlocking of characters. The aforementioned Reddit began with this:

 Seriously? I paid 80$ to have Vader locked?

This is a joke. I’ll be contacting EA support for a refund… I can’t even playing fucking Darth Vader?!?!? Disgusting. This age of “micro-transactions” has gone WAY too far. Leave it to EA though to stretch the boundaries.

Yeah, you can understand the upset right, paying $80 for a game only to have one of the most iconic characters of the franchise locked away?

Vader Battlefront II

Now, the way you unlock characters in the game is via micro-transactions to gain in-game currency to then buy locked characters… or you can grind away playing the game over and over to gain in-game currency without spending any more cash. It sounds ‘fair’ right? Well not if you just handed over $80 for a single game. Plus there is also the fact that it had been worked out that you’d need to grind away playing Star Wars: Battlefront II for 40 hours just to unlock ONE character. You want both Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Battlefront II? That’ll be 80 hours of your life thanks. Some games don’t even have a 40 hour gameplay campaign… so how does having to play for 40 hours for ONE character make any sense?

Now to be fair, EA have recently lowered the amount of in-game currency required to unlock the characters, so no need to play for 40 hours any more right? Well no – because along with reducing the cost of the characters, they have also reduced the amount of in-game cash you earn by 75%. They publicly announced the reduction of the cost of the characters to make themselves look like they have been listening to the negative feedback – but kept the drop in game currency quiet, creating an illusion. They’ve given with one hand and taken away with the other.

I like unlockables in game though, I like getting rewarded for the hard work I put into the game. Getting a new level, character or something else that adds to the gameplay is fantastic. But there is a way to handle them and a way not to. EA’s approach in regards to locking characters in Star Wars: Battlefront II is both a great idea – but also poison to the game itself. Why are they not learning for the past?

GoldenEye

GoldenEye on the N64 is a perfect example of just how to reward players. Aside for being one of the best and most influential FPS on consoles ever –  it was also one of the most rewarding games ever created in terms of unlockables. From its extensive and hugely fun ‘cheats’ menu that added extra gameplay value with its ‘big head’ and ‘paintball’ modes to the extra hidden levels and characters you got for completing the game on various difficulty settings. Then to top the whole thing off, complete the game on its most hardest setting, and you unlocked a difficulty customisation mode where you could tailor the game in numerous ways. GoldenEye was the game that kept on giving and you didn’t have to pay extra for any of this, you didn’t have to grind away for 40 hours to unlock one character. So why could developers get it right two decades ago in 1997, but miss the point of unlockables today? Yes giving us players things to unlock is awesome – but you need to get the balance right and including micro-transactions along with stupidly long unlocking methods is a dark path that no one wants to venture down.

DLC

Food DLC

Okay, so this one is a little more tricky to handle than micro-transactions because while I can see zero point in micro-transactions for AAA games – I do understand DLC… but I still feel that its not needed in gaming.

Look, I’m an old timey gamer. I go back to the Atari 2600 days and I’ve been a gamer ever since. I’ve seen this industry grow, die, grow again. I’ve been massively impressed with just how games have evolved over the years – from the simplicity of Pong to the complexity of the games we have today. Cinematic stories to be engrossed in, engaging characters, in-depth gameplay. Its been a crazy roller-coaster ride and one I still enjoy. But when I was a young gamer growing up, we didn’t have DLC – you brought a full game and you got a full game, crazy I know. Anyone remember Combat on the Atari 2600? 27 games in one… okay so they were all variations of the same theme, but we did get 27 ‘different’ games back then built into one game. That would be sold as DLC now.

DLC is something I both enjoy and loathe at the same time, that’s because the quality of DLC varies so damn much its hard to paint it all with the same brush. I can give examples of both amazing DLC along side some absolute trash DLC… sometimes within the very same game.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a great pick here. From the awesome DLC that was Shivering Isles which offered an in-depth piece of story expansion which featured an all new main quest along with numerous side-quests to complete. Then the same game offered the now infamous Horse Armor. DLC is and always has been very uneven and sadly for every great piece of DLC – there’s dozens of crap ones. Some companies put little to zero effort into their DLCs just because they know the game will be massively popular regardless. By ways of an example: I got the season pass for Batman: Arkham Knight for free and even though I didn’t pay for it – I still felt I was robbed due to how lacklustre the whole package was. A handful of small gameplay expansions that last around 6-8 minutes each and the cosmetics of different costume skins – I almost forgot the shitty Riddler races that no one liked in the main game anyway. It was a beyond terrible DLC package and the only reason the developers Rocksteady shat it out was because they knew it would sell given the popularity of the Batman: Arkham franchise.

Assassin's Creed II.jpg

There there are other bad examples of DLC where developers purposely withhold content for the sole reason to get players to fork out more cash to play it. I recall when I first played Assassin’s Creed II and loving the hell out of it, enjoying the engrossing story along the way… but then there were two parts of the game where it missed out on the plot. Two chunks of the game and the story just missing. It was later revealed that these missing parts would be relased as DLCs. The first being Battle of Forlì and the second was Bonfire of the Vanities. Two big pieces of the plot just removed that you had to pay for later to find out what happened. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another game guilty of exactly the same thing. The plot is ticking along nicely, then you get to a specific point and there’s a gap in the story… and of course this was released later as a piece of DLC via The Missing Link. They even had the balls to rub it in your face that something was missing with the title of the DLC itself. How about Mortal Kombat X? Made a big deal that you can play as one of the original characters – Goro… but you then find out that to play as Goro, you have to pay extra for the privilege and even more so, it turns out that Goro was already on the disc you’ve paid for but just locked away by the developers to squeeze out more cash from you. Things like this, extra characters, costumes and similar are the bane of the DLC world. Remember playing games and unlocking characters/levels/costumes or having to quickly insert a code via the joy-pad to unlock secrets? Now, you have to pay extra to get stuff like this.

How DLC Started.jpg

Try to imagine if they did this with other forms of media. So you’ve just gone out and brought the latest Blu-ray of a film you’ve been looking forward to watching. You get it home and thrust the disc into your player, sit back in your favourite comfy chair and relax as you watch your film… only about half way through you notice there is a big chunk of the film missing or a character blocked behind a big black box – and then a message pops up on screen asking for for credit card details to ‘unlock’ the missing scenes or characters. We just wouldn’t put up with this shit in films or books, etc… so why do we do so with games?

Now the reason I wrote this article to begin with was due to a conversation I was having on a gaming forum where the subject of DLC was brought up. Without boring you with the details, basically someone said that DLC is (and I quote) “a requirement in gaming” because game companies “don’t make much money from the sale of the games alone”. They also said that “game prices have remained pretty much the same for the last 20 odd years” or so while “game development costs have continued to grow and grow”. Now, that all sounds pretty fair right? If games have remained the same cost for over two decades while development costs have increased – that says a lot about why DLC exists… except its not that black & white is it?

GoldenEye cart

You see 20 odd years ago we were (mainly) playing games on cartridges as digital media was still in its infancy. Just going back to GoldenEye for a second, it would have set you back around $60-$70 back in 1997. A new game now will damage your wallet for around the same today… but it’ll most probably be on a Blu-ray disc and not a cartridge because cartridge games are more expensive to manufacture and that expense had to be passed onto the consumer. Notice how Nintendo Switch games are more expensive than the same game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? Because the SD cards Nintendo use are more expensive to produce.

So that is one reason why game prices have not increased much (or at all) over the last 20 years… because they are cheaper to make now… unless you own a Switch. And if you don’t like that reasoning, then the games industry as a whole has exploded in the last 20 years too. Where once selling a couple of million units was considered a success – today, that would be seen on as a flop as more people now buy games than ever before and this too has helped keep the cost of games down because more are being sold. Then just to finish this point, my retort to companies don’t make much money from games – I’ll just go back to Star Wars: Battlefront II‘s publisher EA for a second. Their net worth as of 2017 is 1.210 billion dollars with 7.718 billion in total assets and an operating income of 1.224 billion dollars… yeah I can see they are struggling to make money. I bet their CEO struggles to put food on he table right?

I also used another line of defence to demonstrate my opinion that DLC is not needed in gaming via the use of a certain gaming company. One that is both guilty of offering micro-transactions and DLC but also made a hugely successful game with zero paid for DLC at all. A company that is both a prime example of why we don’t need DLC in gaming but also gave us some of the best DLC ever.

Rockstar logo

Rockstar are one of my all time favourite game developers/publishers. It has been recently announced that the eagerly awaited Red Dead Redemption II will feature micro-transactions. Bad Rockstar… except this was not their decision as it came from higher up with their parent company Take-Two. The mighty Grand Theft Auto V also featured micro-transactions via their Shark Cards for the multiplayer aspect of the game… again a decision from Take-Two not Rockstar themselves. I’ve already said my bit on micro-transactions and I hope they die a fast and painful death soon and with all the bad press they are getting right now – maybe Take-Two will reverse their micro-transactions decision with RDR II?

To get back to the point of DLC, Rockstar have given us three pieces of simply awesome DLC from their games. Grand Theft Auto IV‘s The Lost and DamnedThe Ballad of Gay Tony DLCs were fantastic. Giving fans a continuation of the main story along with new gameplay features and mechanics. They were pretty big too adding dozens of hours of gameplay value. Then there was Red Dead Redemption‘s Undead Nightmare – which similarly to the GTA IV DLCs gave players a whole new story with new gameplay features and mechanics along with hours and hours of gameplay. These DLC were well worth the money.

Now let’s take a look the biggest game Rockstar has developed so far and the biggest selling game of all time – Grand Theft Auto V.

GTA V.jpg

More than 800 million dollars in worldwide revenue, equating to approximately 11.21 million units sold in less than 24 hours of being released. Sales totalling $2,079,480,000 by March 2015 and around 52 million copies sold since its release in 2013… again these figures were accurate as of March 2015. The game is still selling now (hence why it still holds a decent price) and how much paid for DLC does GTA V have? None, yet it’s online portion has continually been updated with FREE content for several years now… FREE content. Some of that FREE content even carries over to the single player game… for FREE.

Yeah you can bring up Shark Cards if you wish and I’ll rebuttal with this…
They are not a necessity, anyone can play GTA: Online without spending anything and still get all the FREE DLC in both multi and single player. Also, GTA: Online didn’t exist when GTA V was first released and making 800 million dollars in the first 24 hours alone. So you can’t blame Shark Cards for that – it made its money on the game it was at the time. GTA V has been the  most profitable game made so far and not a single piece of paid for DLC either… but loads of FREE DLCs and updates adding more content.

So please get out of here with all that ‘games are too expensive to produce and they don’t make profit’ when GTA V broke sales records in 24 hours, made more profit than any other game so far, gets continually updated with FREE content and features no paid for DLC. So if the most expensive game so far to be produced can bring in that kind of money in 24 hours alone with no paid for DLC or micro-transactions… then why can’t other games? Some people are still screaming for some story based DLC for GTA V – but here is the main point… it doesn’t ‘need’ it. Its a game that is 100% complete upon release (not including the online aspect), just how games used to be. Buy a game and get a full game.

No More DLC

DLC is most definitely not a requirement of gaming and if developers put all of the games out there from the get go like GTA V being 100% complete from day one, maybe they could see better sales minus the micro-transactions, DLC and other withheld content. You know, just what gaming used to be like. What a great future of gaming that could be… just like the past.

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