Microtransactions: Where does it end?

October 26, 2006 at 1:28 pm (Gaming)

The hot-button topic currently making the rounds of all the usual suspects in the gaming blog world is “microtransactions”.  Of course, more specifically, “consumables”.  The internets are in a tizzy from EA’s announcement that they will provide downloadable in-game money (for a fee) for the Xbox 360 version of The Godfather.

The general consensus is currently swinging between “Boycott EA!” and “Boycott Microsoft!”, however I’d like to step back a second and look at this as objectively as possible.

First, one of the most sensitive recent issues is one of pricing for optional or add-on content.  And it is especially prevalent on the Xbox 360 as MS has provided publishers with a marketplace to provide (and, at their discretion, charge for) this type of content to console gamers.  But, I find that there is a clear miscommunication between Microsoft, publishers, and consumers.  Here is what I mean:

Upon introducing the evolution of Xbox Live on the 360, Microsoft touted their system of “microtransactions”.  The key component here was that (through the purchase of MS points) you could buy things with you credit card 10 cents  at a time (as an example) with no problems.  This was a win for consumers (more content is a good thing, right?) but mainly a huge win for publishers as they could now avoid paying credit card fees that prevented these small transactions in the past.  But with the good comes the bad.  Enter, consumables.

Consumables have been bandied about by developers, publishers, and internet pundits galore.  The idea here is to charge someone a fee each time they need something in the game. 

Anti-Consumables:

The doomsayers go straight to the bottom with their talk of “paying for gas” in racing games or “paying for guns and ammo” in a shooter.  Obviously that’s a possibility but not the most likely scenario. 

 Pro-Consumables:

Those in favor of consumables usually point at people that have more money and less time.  Those people that want to play with a maxed out character and enjoy that but don’t have the time to earn the experience necessary.  And that seems a fair argument even if my “gamer ethics” sense starts to tingle.  The publishers and developers are merely offering this niche audience a way to enjoy their games without turning into “a job”. 

Obviously, consumers need to be clear that paying for ammo or gas is an insane proposition.  One of the reasons we play games is to escape mundane everyday struggles (e.g. gas prices).  However, microtransactions (and premium transactions) are not all bad. 

The main problem *I* see is the lack of information which is amplified by a passionate and vocal internet community.  Microsoft (and Sony in the future) needs to do better at both sides; they need to assist developers in maximizing their avenues of revenue while mantainig consumer trust and also assist customers in making informed decisions about what they are getting for their money.

Which leads me to my final point: Microtransactions and Premium Downloadable Content are not one and the same.  I make a clear distinction in my mind between arcade games, expansions, add-on packs, map packs, additional modes, etc. (i.e. Premium Downloadable Content) and items like a gamerpic, or theme, or a single weapon in Chromehounds (i.e. microtransactions). 

This is another failure of communication because I think people have become needlessly upset because implicit in the word “micro” is low cost.  And $15 for G.R.A.W.’s Chapter Two was anything *but* “micro”.  But that is my point: if consumers were educated to seperate microtransactions from Premium DLC there would be less backlash.  Each person would understand that a particular item may have required more time, work, and money from the developer and justifiably has a higher price.  At that point they can decide if it is worth it for them or not without needing to spout like this:

WTF???  What ever happened to MICROtransactions?!?!?  Thanks alot M$!!

But ultimately, as consumers we should educate ourselves, but let’s hope these companies we’re worshipping supporting will give us a hand.

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