Microtransactions: A Necessary Evil or Tool for Destruction?

Georgina Howlett and Gerry Hart face off over one gaming’s most controversial features.

Georgina Howlett
30th October 2017
Image: Pokémon Go

For: Georgina Howlett

With nearly every major game of the moment seeming to have some kind of microtransaction element, it isn’t hard to find criticism regarding their inclusion – no matter what type of game they are found in both online or in the media. “They’re making every game pay-to-win!”, you hear people cry. “They’re removing the need to make an effort in games and the rewards for doing so!”

Well, while this may be true for a lot of games, there is a difference between ‘true’ microtransactions and pay-to-win shenanigans. Microtransactions as a rule are a brilliant concept: they allow developers to continually update their games and introduce new content, whilst also making a slim profit from the (usually reasonable) amount of money that consumers pay for it. They give players the choice of investing money into a game which they enjoy in exchange for what should be non-game breaking perks.

[pullquote]Microtransactions can be a fun way to add to your game experience without being ripped off.[/pullquote]

Overwatch is a brilliant example of this, with its new in-game content (such as new characters and maps) being added for free and its loot box system only giving players cosmetic items and bonus content and not anything which gives its players an advantage over others or makes the game unfair (I’m looking at you, Injustice 2, Call of Duty and, most relevant to the present moment, Shadow of War).

In-game content, overpowered gear and horrendously strong weaponry, amongst other game-changing content, should absolutely not be locked behind a paywall – but that is the fault of the developers, not the microtransaction model itself. Done properly, microtransactions – like all DLC or paid-for bonus content – can be a fun way to add to your game experience without being ripped off.

Against: Gerry Hart

They say that money can’t buy you happiness. This much Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome found out as the Persians were pouring molten gold down his throat. Tell you what it can buy though; randomised Orcboys with the all new Shadow of War lootboxes! Now you can personalise your Shadow of War experience without the hassle of playing the game! So what if the purchase is ephemeral and pointless! So is life!

I speak here of microtransactions, or the purchasing of certain in-game items with real money. And whilst microtransactions are nothing new (indeed they’ve become sickeningly ubiquitous over the past five years), it seems a number of companies have decided to test how far they can push their luck this year with lootboxes, which randomise your purchase in a manner likened to gambling by some.

[pullquote]Microtransactions in paid games represent gaming’s capitalistic excesses at their worst.[/pullquote]

Defenders of microtransactions argue that they’re usually confined to cosmetic items, or that the items can be obtained through grinding. However these arguments tend to ignore the fact that by adding microtransactions, the game has mechanically been altered to be monetised from within. Thus microtransactions will intrude upon your experience, whether you opt into them or not. Nor is it fair for a company to ask you to pay extra for a £50+ game. Furthermore, such arguments grant publishers the freedom to see how much they can get away with as in the case of Destiny 2’s shaders, a previously free feature commoditised by Activision.

That said, I don’t entirely disagree with microtransactions in principle. I think they’re acceptable in games that are free to play (though only then if they’re not so intrusive as to render the game unplayable). To paraphrase Jim Sterling, microtransactions in free to play games are the price of entry. But microtransactions in paid games represent gaming’s capitalistic excesses at their worst and we should not tolerate such avaricious and contemptuous behaviour.

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