The State Of: Microtransactions

It’s pretty obvious that in the current state of video games, the digital age has taken over. If you have any type of video game system, whether it be console or PC, and you are connected to the internet, then you have some way of being able to purchase full games, expansions or add-ons to your current games via some sort of digital service. With the PlayStation 3, it’s the PlayStation Network; with the Xbox 360, it’s the Xbox LIVE Marketplace; with the PC, it could be one of many various services including Steam, being the most popular. But, where is the line drawn for microtransactions? When is it that people will stop supporting a game because they’re just making all of these additions to their game in order to scam you for your money?

Every Thursday, Sony posts up their latest PlayStation Store Update on PlayStation.Blog, which contains information on every new downloadable content that was released on that day for that week. Looking deeper into it though, searching for something to that seems like it would be worth buying is becoming harder and harder every week. The biggest complaint I’ve been having lately is the price-versus-worth of the content that has been released in this week though. Some of the new releases are just attempts to milk money out of those poor souls who don’t feel like playing the game to unlock their content, and others could be worth it if they weren’t so expensive.

The first item on the list is the Killzone 2 Steel & Titanium Pack, which is Killzone 2’s first DLC, and contains two new maps for playing in multiplayer. The problem is, for only two maps, and no additional features, this will set you back $5.99. To me, that seems terribly expensive for only the addition of two new maps, while very creatively made and good looking, don’t provide enough content for me to justify shelling out that much money. The maps aren’t even that big, for that matter, as one takes place within the ISA airship, and the other takes place on two moving trains, neither with a terribly large amount of space, but with a unique environment to fight in. If this pack were something more along the lines of $3.99 at the very most, I might have considered purchasing this pack, since I love this game, but, I can’t see how this can be worth six dollars. I’ve always figured that with microtransactions, if you make it cheaper, you would be able to gain more of an audience to purchase this content, therefore being able to make more profit by selling more at a cheaper price instead of getting less downloads at a higher price. The one issue with this is that we will never know the stats on how many downloads on this pack that they are getting, but it would be interesting to know players’ stance on the price of this package.

Every week developers release new content such as new characters, accessories for your characters and other asthetic items for your game. LittleBigPlanet is one example of a game that has not stopped releasing new costumes for your character since the day they came out. But, the costumes are just that; costumes for your virtual character that you and anyone who you play with online will be able to see, but hold no value in changing any other part of the game, such as giving you an improved skill level in a certain in-game ability. This pack, weekly, costs $2.99, and the amount of these released has to be upwards in the twenties by this point. I can’t say that I know what type of player would purchase these packs on a weekly basis, but due to the fact that they are still making new costumes, and charging the same amount, must mean that it’s working for them.

Since day one, the creators of Need For Speed Undercover have released special packages that unlock cars, tune-up packages, body kits and other unlocks that can be acquired just by playing the game. This week, for the price of $4.99, players can now download every car that the bosses in the game use. Supposedly these cars are more powerful than the cars you would normally have, as they are driven by the bosses in the game, but really, all that you’re gaining is the ability to drive different cars and give yourself an edge in the game. In theory, this sounds great, but you’re spending more of your real money, on top of what you paid originally for the game, to be able to drive different cars and help you beat the game faster, reducing it’s value that it should have. Let’s be honest, if you bought all of these unlocks and the game had no challenge, what would be the point of spending the full price of $59.99 on it?

My kicker of the week comes from one of my favorite games that I own: Burnout Paradise. Last year, all of their content that they released was free, making the value of your game double at least. This year, though, they decided that they would release “premium content”, as they call it, requiring players to pay for their newest game types.  Unfortunately, their content has been lackluster, at best, only releasing different cars (which as spoken about before it’s enough), or new game types. Their newest game type, Cops and Robbers, was promoted heavily, and looked wonderful, but a price was never released until the release date. I was excited, thrilled even, to play a new, fun game mode in a game that had already proved itself worthy of being in my favorites list, but the price of this content changed my mind faster than I had gotten interested in it: $9.99. Burnout Paradise, on any system, can now be purchased as low as $19.99, and you’ll get more content with all of last year’s free releases than you know what to do with. This Cops and Robbers game mode is an online-only mini-game, which does NOT have enough content to be worth 50% of the game as it already is. Once again, at the very most, if it was $4.99, I would at least have considered it, but, with it’s current price, there is absolutely no justification for this price.

Ever since they began, I have not been excited for microtransactions. I’ve been afraid more times than I can count that developers would start releasing incomplete games and offer the rest of the features in a DLC package later on, and rip off the public. I haven’t been wrong in saying that, as there have been some games that have tried to do that, or, when rushed for a release date, they’ve just pushed back the features they wanted to release with the game and decide to charge for them later. But really, it’s this new wave of content that has been coming out in which they think that such a minimal feature, map pack or whatever it may be is really worth what they think it is. Especially with our current economic situation, I can’t see as many people paying an increasing amount for this content which, to be honest, really isn’t needed, but is nice to keep the game fresh and new.

4 Comments

  1. I do agree Jon, but, as of right now, I haven't seen much ad-based add-ons in games, at least for the PlayStation 3. In fact, I find these prices to be unusually high. With games such as Burnout Paradise, they already have advertising built-in to the game, and it's dynamic, so the ads change if you are connected to the internet. With games such as Killzone 2 though, there is no place for ads in that game, causing it to be difficult to raise more income that way. Although the add-ons can be "sponsored" by certain companies and such, I have yet to see that been taken into a great effect lately. :)

  2. I also agree with you Freyar, but, let's step back and look at this a second. The Horse Armor is a perfect example that agrees with my statements above, but, looking at The Pitt and Operation Anchorage, those are not only sections of a map (more of an add-on to the entire thing, not something such as a multiplayer map), with also more storyline, quests, etc. Those are worth their money. Also, how much were those? I can't remember them being over $9.99, no? So, those were great value, yes.

  3. Jon Wing

    I’ve seen a lot of sponsored content that can be downloaded for free. If developers can bundle their add-ons with relevant brands, I think you’ll see prices drop considerably, perhaps even to zero. The most successful games should command high advertising premiums, while more niche games allow advertisers to pinpoint a specific target audience. This is all happening right now, of course, but I see it becoming a lot more popular in the next few years.

  4. Freyar

    I’ve been watching this trend myself and while I can agree that most seem extremely expensive, there are some good choices that were made. While Bethesda’s notorious “Horse Armor” is certainly the low point in their decisions, the availability of “The Shivering Isles” and “Knights of The Nine” for Oblivion is a decent decision.

    Even Fallout 3‘s “The Pitt” and “Operation Anchorage” are decent in their own rights as well. With that said, however I do see a trend for the We Love Katamari approach which is to bill for a game, but leave 40% of the content locked for purchase using keys.

    Advertisements may be a good way to offset the costs of these add-ons, but the real question is whether or not said advertisements would be fitting. Keep in mind, the point of advertising is not to be a good background to a game, the idea is to be in-your-face. So, there is easily a conflict of interest in taking that route.

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