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Microtransactions Are Getting Out Of Hand

Posted by on September 1, 2011 at 1:09 am

It seems everywhere I turn, these days, someone is trying to put their hands in my pockets. From games on Facebook to games on my Android to games on my Xbox, this is really starting to silly.

The first big microtransaction debacle was the horse armor situation in Oblivion. TRILLIONS of people complained and complained about it yet all but 3 of those people still dropped money to put that stupid armor on that stupid horse.

From there we moved on to EA and their charging customers for X360 content that was already on the disk and included in other versions of the software.

At some point, Zynga and Facebook got involved and started digging through customer’s wallets as well and now, because those…guys…helped set the precedent, now everyone thinks they can get away with it.

Now we have tons developers writing game after game after money-grubbing game that seem to be geared for one specific purpose – to get us interested and then put a stranglehold on us so we feel like we have to spend money to keep playing. These games often work on an “energy” system, wherein you can only perform a limited number of actions and then you either have to wait for more energy to accumulate or you have to throw money at the developer to buy more energy so you can continue playing.

Of course a single action, which takes 5 seconds to complete will cost you at least 1 point of energy, which will generally take at least 5 minutes to gain. What that means is that we’re at a wait to action ration of 60:1. For every second we spend doing something, we have to wait 60 seconds to balance out the expenditure (and some are even worse with up to 20 minutes of wait time between energy points which puts us at a ridiculous 240:1). Pretty much every Zynga game ever made uses this model.

Then we have other games which require you to collect items in order to progress in the game. Unless you collect those items, you can’t move forward and, of course, those items will be offered to you for some form of limited in-game currency. Of course you are technically able to collect those items as random drops but the drop rate is so pathetically low that waiting for those drops will stall your progress indefinitely. A number of games use this model but “My Country” (available on Facebook, PC and Android) is the latest culprit.

The next model, and this one is the worst in my opinion, is the one where they advertise a game as “free to play” and, indeed, it IS free to play but only in a very limited fashion. The vast majority of the content is off limits to free players but the game won’t fill you in on this fact until you’re either right in the middle of a big mission or quest, or you’re ready to move on to a bigger and better stage of the game. At that point, you’ll get a notice that tells you you’re unable to continue until you either pay for the game or chuck them a subscription fee. The biggest offender I can think of here is Dungeons and Dragons Online.

And now here’s where it gets really bad – when companies start mixing models.

I’m going to use Dungeons and Dragons Online as my example, here, because they are so guilty of this it’s maddening. DDO will start out as a “free to play” game. Right in the middle of the beginning story arc, you’re told that you can’t continue until you pay them. Once you DO pay them, you’re allowed to play on but then you realize that a great deal of the game’s resources are so hard to come by that you won’t be able to continue at any faster than a crippled snail’s pace unless you buy in game currency or items to spend on things like potions and gear. These guys get their players coming and going.

The thing that irritates me the most about this whole thing, though, is that people allow it. The companies continue to reach in to the players’ wallets and the players just keep shelling out the bucks and then…get this…THEY COMPLAIN ABOUT IT!

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve paid for some stuff. I bought the horse armor. I paid to play DDO (though I never bought any of the currency or items). I bought the wizard’s tower in Oblivion (and it was sexy). Those were things that I wanted, though and – at least with the case of DDO – I stopped playing (and paying) the second I realized they were trying to screw me. Many people, however, just let it keep happening. The game developers keep charging them and they keep paying. The developers start charging for things that used to be free and they keep paying. The developers raise the prices and they just…keep…paying.

What happened to the days where people understood the concept of voting with their wallets? I understand it. I know other people who understand it. Most of the people in the world grasp the concept that if you get screwed by a company, you don’t use them again. The vast majority of the people I know, however just don’t seem to understand how it translates to games.

If you go to a restaurant and they give you crappy food and service, do you go back to that restaurant? Maybe once to see if it was a fluke. If they screw you again, do you go back? If you do, you’re either a dipshit or related to someone who owns it.

If you buy a computer from a particular manufacturer and it’s a lemon, AND everyone you talk to who was one of those computers says it’s a lemon, do you buy another one? No, you don’t.

If you went to get new tires put on your car and were told that the tired are free but every 10 days, someone’s going to come by in the middle of the night and take your lug nuts and then you would be charged an additional 10 dollars to have them put back on, would you go for it? Suppose they told you that you could keep the lug nuts after the first time you paid to get them back but then they’d take your valve stems and you’d have to pay for those? What if they said you could have the valve stems but they’d take your spark plugs, then your gasoline, then your battery, then your steering wheel, then your seats, your keys, your motor, your doors, your windshield. They’ve just told you that they’re going to hit you with microtransactions…but you’d get the tires for FREE!! What would you say?

You’d tell them to go die in a fire, right?

That’s called “voting with your wallet”. If you get screwed, you stop giving your money to the people who are screwing you. If you keep getting your wallet lightened by game developers, you should stop paying for the microtransactions which are responsible for lightening your wallet.

It is up to you, the players, to make the microtransaction system fail. It is currently viable only because people keep paying. The minute the players stop paying, the system is no longer viable and, at that point, the developers are left with the choice to either only charge us once, up front or to not charge us at all and rely on ad revenue or donations to make it.

If we’re honest with one another, we have no choice but to admit that relying on ad revenue and donations just won’t work. People are going to run ad-blockers or refuse to click-through and the majority damned sure won’t chuck out donations just to support the developers. What this leaves us with is…brace for it…It’s going to come as a shock…

Developers charging players to play their games WHEN THEY BUY THE GAME and relying on that for their revenue.

Now where have I heard of that before? I mean…I’m pretty sure it’s been done in the past. When was that and what the heck were they selling? It’s right on the tip of my tongue…

OH, YEAH…That’s the sales model that’s been used for EVERY PRODUCT EVER SOLD SINCE THE INVENTION OF CURRENCY. Oddly enough, that sales model seemed to work out just fine until recently. The problem now, though, is that most of these games and programs are such bug-filled, featureless crap that a lot of people wouldn’t dream of paying for them…I mean, I wouldn’t pay $60 for Farmville…or Cityville…Or DDO…or My Country. I wouldn’t say that none of these games have their fun-factor but I sure as hell wouldn’t pay market value for them. Not in this life.

What this means is that the developers, in order to make sales dollars, will have to start developing and publishing solid, fun, feature-rich pieces of software or they’ll fail. Maybe, just MAYBE that will mean we get to play some good games.

Maybe.

Vote with your wallets, people. Vote LOUD.

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