Thursday, November 16, 2006

The BIG G's Guide to Microtransactions

Many people have been making a big fuss about electronic distribution, downloadable content and microtransactions. It seems that it's obligatory that all next gen games must have some other crap that allows game developers to squeeze more money out of consumer's wallets. And why not? If people will pay for it, why shouldn't we the game developers get paid for it? So, let me break it down and show you what microtransactions will allow for the future of game development:
Exchange rates – All the MMOs do it, so why shouldn't single player game developers? Although gold auctioning is against the rules, more and more companies are opening up to this revenue source. SOE is allowing servers with sanctioned auctioning (SOE gets a cut of course). Second Life thrives on changing real to virtual money, and Eve Online lets you pay for your subscription fee with in game credits. EA has already started this trend with The Godfather. You can pay real money to get in game credits! Now, the in game credits are different than credits in an MMO game since they only affect your single player experience, not your interactions with other characters. But, I guess some people are willing to pay to make a game easier. Heck! Some people are even willing to pay to get their Xbox Live Gamerscore boosted. I'm considering that since my gamescore is embarrassingly low. No one will ever respect me when I actually have time to play Gears of War online, so I better shell out the dough, so I won't get laughed off Live by a 12 year old with a gamerscore of 30,000.
Charging for cheats and unlockables – Cheats and unlockables are normally included in a game to add replay. Why give that extra replay for free when you can charge for it? EA is ahead of their time because they've realized that there's no reason to give something for nothing. With Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007, you can buy the unlockables instead of earning them, but it's not long before big head mode costs an extra dollar. If you like concept art, that's going to be $2. If you want the hard difficulty, that will cost you an extra $3.
Toll bridges – Have you ever played a game where getting from point A to point B was really slow and boring? I remember in Final Fantasy X, if you wanted to go back to an earlier town before you were given the airship (which was quite late in the game), you had to walk the entire linear path back to where it was, and you had random encounters of weak enemies all the time, so it was really frustrating. Why don't game developers make it difficult and slow to get around, so gamers won't mind paying a toll? The advantage of this method over unlocking the toll bridge content is that the game developers get the micropayment PER usage.
Charging for keys – Say you want to get into that secret room. Maybe there's something good in it, but you don't know because the door is locked. If you want the key, you can search and search. Maybe the key is really hard to find. Or even better, it could be impossible to find. But if you want the key the easy way, you can pay. The key can be purchased from an in game vendor with real money in order to make the purchase less jarring to the gamer's immersion.
Arcade games – No, I'm not talking about Xbox Live Arcade. I'm talking about “insert coin to continue” arcade games. With the DMCA and all that, we are moving farther from actually owning our media and more towards licensing it from the content creators. No longer do we have the freedom to do what we want with our property because it might ruin some sort of licensing agreement or ridiculous copyright protection scheme. The game industry might take a step back with all this micropayment stuff to create pay to play games like physical arcades. Soon, you'll cringe at hearing “Blue Wizard needs food badly” again! Apparently, blue wizard eats quarters, but I'll be darned if those weren't effective at feeding him!
Pay for the “good” ending – Multiple endings are all the rage in games these days. Maybe it's to give the illusion that the gamer actually had some bearing on the outcome of the game. It's no more bearing than a choose your own adventure book, but I guess some people are fooled. Regardless, multiple endings usually translates into several crappy ones and one good one. There is rarely a game that has multiple endings where they are all desirable. For example, Indigo Prophesy, which was really awesome up until the end, had two bad endings and one slightly better ending. Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie leaves you with the crappy ending of the giant ape dying unless you unlock everything. Then you are treated to the good ending where the misunderstood giant primate lives happily ever after. Does he walk off into the sunset holding hands with Naomi Watts? I hope so, although I imagine the whole ape/woman romance wouldn't fly. Did that confuse anyone else about the 1976 King Kong? They kept saying Kong raped the woman. I don't see how that's physically possible. Anyway monkey business aside - in the future, you will only be able to get the good endings if you pay.
Pay for patches – Now that all games are patchable (I got Gears of War the day it came out and had to download a patch immediately when playing), why is it that game developers are giving those patches out for free? They require extra time and effort to develop, so shouldn't that cost be transferred to the consumer? Soon, if you want all the extra bug fixes and multiplayer balancing, it'll cost you another $1.
Although one might say that “next-gen gaming” is about motion controls and better graphics, that's not really the main thing that we'll see this generation. It's nickle and diming the consumer!

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