If you’re not relatively new to gaming then you’ll know that micro-transactions and loot boxes are anything but new. Way back in the early 00s ‘Free To Play’ MMORPG games such as Silkroad Online were making a killing using this model.
While at the time, as a player it could often times be frustrating you basically fundamentally understood it. The game was huge at the time, it could hardly afford to support itself.
Over time the development of the game continued thanks to the micro-transactions, eventually they implemented loot boxes and this helped support the game longer as well. While it certainly gave you an advantage if you paid for these extras, it wasn’t required to be the best in the game.
To this day the game still has a small but loyal following over 12 years since it was released. Outlasting dozens of other MMORPG games that were released with bigger development budgets, more marketing and due to that – more press.
Over the last 7 years more and more triple-A games have started to implement the same model on top of paying for the base game. Drawing widespread criticism for doing so. In some cases we think this is understandable and even justifiable. However in other cases it feels like too many games and developers are being tarred with the same brush.
Multiplayer vs Singleplayer
First of all we think there is a big difference between games that utilize micro-transactions and lootboxes for singleplayer games and multiplayer games.
If you are paying for the full game and it’s singleplayer, you should have access to everything out-of-the-box. We already accept that we will most likely pay for DLC content or even expansions. We don’t want to be paying for extras for the base game. It’s not really fair or justifiable from the developers.
One game we played recently was Injustice 2. We found much to our disappointment that we couldn’t play all of the characters in the game without purchasing some of the ‘extras’. While we think this is also so you can unlock them for multiplayer, we didn’t want to play the game in multiplayer. You can’t tell us it would be hard to code that feature in.
In the case of multi-player games we think that it depends on the game. While it makes sense for MMORPG games to have micro-transactions to help cover the costs of servers and future development, even in the case of games like World of Warcraft, it doesn’t make sense in a lot of FPS games.
FPS games are namely supposed to be about skill and tactical superiority. Providing players with better equipment detracts from this.
However not all games are so outrageously unbalanced, as we said a lot of developers are getting tarred with the same brush. Lootboxes in Overwatch for example may be annoying, but they don’t actually affect the base game. Giving you an option to purchase these mainly for taste based preferences such as skins. Additionally over time you can earn everything a lootbox has to offer by unlocking more when you level up.
The Evidence For Paid Content
While it’s certainly unfair how some games get tarnished with the same bad rep. Yet there is still some evidence to support the micro-transaction model as being possibly not a bad thing overall.
When you look at the stats for GTA V Online you can clearly see that the amount of players has increased for the last two years. The microtransactions in the game supporting many of the free DLCs such as Smuggler’s Run and Gunrunning.
This has kept the active community interested, and with more players than ever it keeps things interesting for new and old players alike.
Not all games tell the same story, if you look at Call Of Duty you’ll see that Black Ops 3 has taken a big dive in the last year. Hardly surprising with their rapid development schedule.
What have we learned from our own experience as well as the stats?
Games with longer development schedules or less frequent releases, triple-A or not, benefit in terms of longevity from micro-transactions.
Why Paid Content Isn’t Going Anywhere
Simply put paid content isn’t going anywhere. It makes the developers and publishers far too much money, and your average gamer isn’t going to miss out on their favorite games just because there’s micro-transactions or lootboxes in-game.
Unfortunately it’s only going to become more common, and one game including paid content precipitates another. This is how developers and publishers stay competitive. If one company is making way more revenue, they’ll eventually get pushed out of the market.
No matter what we think, the game industry benefits from staying competitive. No matter how much that sucks sometimes.
The real issue we’re all facing as a wider community is making sure that we criticize the right games. The games where loot boxes and micro-transactions provide a massively unfair advantage. Battlefield One anybody?
I think we should also all reserve a special hateful place in our heart for single player games that implement this model as there’s no real justifiable excuse for it. We just hope that this doesn’t become as common as it now has in multiplayer games.