Much like every other time I write about video games, I feel like I should offer a disclaimer that I’m about to put on my gaming nerd hat, and if you don’t play video games or couldn’t care less, I won’t be too offended if you skip this one.
As someone who’s pretty plugged into the gaming world, the main talking point I’ve seen for the last couple months is the rise of microtransactions. In-game purchases that expedite the improvement of a character, give the player a competitive advantage, or just give the player some cool new gear. In games with an emphasis on online play and competitive matches, it can seem almost necessary to buy all the perks you can lest you get left behind by all the other people who did. The complaints are pretty simple- if I already paid for the full game, why should I be forced to pay even more after? Why does every game need them? In the case of DLC expansion missions, why not just release the entire game at once? Personally, I had never really gotten overly worked up about it. I usually avoid shooters (I’m very bad at them), and I thought the biggest culprits for microtransactions were phone games and shooters, particularly ones like Overwatch, whose loot box system is pretty much just another form of gambling. Then NBA 2K18 came out, whipping up a storm of controversy with the pretty clear encouragement to spend a lot of actual money in the game. And, again, I wasn’t all that upset. NBA 2K has been an important thing in my life for about a decade now, and there’s been microtransactions for at least six years. I figured the people who were upset had just never really played before. Then once I started playing, I found the presence of microtransactions to be pretty overwhelming. Within an hour of playtime, my MyPlayer was already way behind everyone else. Then I realized that part of the reason I was unfazed by the reports of microtransactions in one of my games was that I had grown accustomed to them without even realizing it. Madden and Fifa have made buying points a necessity for completing in their various Ultimate Team modes for years. Star Wars Battlefront was one of the most heinous examples of sapping consumers dry of all time, and it doesn’t look like Battlefront 2 will be any different. Pretty much every game I buy has a special edition for $20 more that comes with special perks that you just have to have if you want the full experience. Even Shadow of War has them, and once the cold arm of capitalism comes for Middle Earth, I’m invested. But beyond just being kind of annoyed, I can’t really get too mad about it. For one, they kind of prop up the gaming industry as a whole. When companies have more money, they can hire better people and make more, better games. That’s no the worst thing. Secondly, I’m kind of just really lazy and have no willpower, so I’m usually inclined to take the easy way out.
Final Fantasy XV is a prime example for me. There are still a lot of things I haven’t accomplished, including the hardest dungeon, the secret post-game dungeon, and the secret hard mode of every dungeon. That’s an awful lot left for a game I loved playing and invested a lot of time into. So why the cold feet? Because even after a meticulous play through of the main story and like 95% of the side quests I’m still extremely underleveled. And I realized I’m just too old to level grind. I just can’t do it anymore. Unless it’s a transcendent game I literally can’t stop playing (any Pokemon, Witcher 3, Persona 5, the Arkham games, etc.), I can’t sit there and fight the same enemies for days on end. There’s just too many other things I could be doing. What’s the payoff? Sure there’s bragging rights. But these days, you can find any part of any game ever on YouTube. It’s already how I solve any puzzle that befuddles me, anyway (if I’m stuck on a puzzle for more than 45 minutes, I’m looking up the answer). At the moment where I knew I was probably out, if the game gave me the option of paying however much to get a bunch of high level weapons and training boosts and all that, I probably would have paid (actually, I think there was the option to purchase various exp boosters, so score one for me for resisting!). As a Millennial, I’m used to being cast as the pantomime villain for the various problems with today’s society (yes, a lot of people my age are terrible people. A lot of old people are terrible people, too), but one thing I won’t really fight is the idea that we all have tiny attention spans and need to be doing a million things at once. Now, I have no problem devoting a long time to doing, watching, or playing one thing, but it takes something special to keep me from using two or three screens at once. And the more repetitive and monotonous the thing is, the more my attention is wont to wane. So if a game tells me if you want this sweet looking outfit you can either pay $5 or play for hours and hours and hours, I’ll start off trying to earn it organically, but I usually have a good sense of whether a game is good enough to keep playing forever, and, if it isn’t, I’m going to start justifying spending the money real fast. It’s just a fact. I don’t like it and I wish there wasn’t the option to spend even more money than I already do on video games, but it’s a fact.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can get as upset as we want over microtransactions, but they’re not going anywhere. There’s just too much money involved, and, using myself as representation for the entirety of the gaming population, people are always going to wind up completing a microtransaction at least once. Maybe it’s only $1, but if a game sells 10 million copies and everyone spends $1 extra, now there’s $10 million more in profit than there would have been without the in game purchases. You can complain about it online to your heart’s content, but I highly doubt all these companies are suddenly going to develop a conscience overnight. The only thing that will stop microtransactions is a lack of profit, which won’t happen. Believe me, I’ve tried to hold off. I got one of the special editions of NBA 2K18 (Best Buy Gamers Club 20% off all games, boiiiiiiiii) and told myself that was enough. By my second week of play, I had no choice but to spend more money if I wanted to compete online, which is one of the reasons I get the games in the first place. It’s annoying and depressing and unfair, but it’s just the way games are these days. Every game will have their own marketplace soon if they don’t already. Every game will have some kind of loot system that you can pay to get around. Every game will EXCLUSIVE dlc that you can ONLY get by preordering the Gold Edition from Gamestop. It’s easy to say just don’t buy anything in-game, but it gets hard when the people you’re playing with or against are miles ahead of you because they took the shortcut. It’s pretty much become pay to win or don’t play at all. That’s a bummer for a lot of people, and the only real solution is for companies to eliminate microtransactions, and, barring some unexpected government interference, I doubt that’ll ever happen. So maybe go back and play some old games, maybe just wait until they release the edition that has the dlc built in (I got the Witcher 3 edition that included both major dlc expansions for $30, biggest steal of all time), maybe resist the transactions and embrace the grind again. Build up your character the old fashioned way and feel like you accomplished something. Fight the man with elbow grease, just like your grandpa did! And if you don’t feel like doing any of that, you’d better get ready to pony up.