Op-Ed | Scourge of Gaming: Microtransactions

Slots are regulated, taxes, and must declare odds. Microtransaction loot boxes are of dubious, undeclared odds.

Microtransactions. The very word turns many gamers into raging, gibbering messes. Yet select gaming publishers would have you believe these exist only to give players more choice.

Need For Speed The Run Box
Need For Speed was one of the first series to pioneer ‘shortcut’ passes which unlocked all vehicles, but this instant ‘unlock’ lacked the randomness of the industry’s current bug-bear.

The ‘choice’ being, how a publisher could get their hands on more of your cash, of course. The trouble is. the system is being pushed harder and harder and is now making its way into even the most unlikely of games. Originally, this was pushed in free-to-play games as a way to supplement the cost of development, then it started appearing in multiplayer as a way to spice up the variety and customisation options. Now, however, we are seeing it in single player games as an option pitched for the busy gamer. Now I will say off the bat, that I’m not fully against microtransactions, I believe they have a place when done respectfully, and in a way which suits the game genre.

Set aside the free-to-play games for this discussion, and let’s be honest the spread of these small purchases were always just about getting more money out of the consumer. But, who is to really blame for this? We are, the players and the reviewers. We moan about it, don’t get me wrong, but do very little about it.

As a group, as a whole community, we have allowed this practice to spread unhindered, allowed it to gain ground. Despite how us oldies have fought it, a new generation are now just accepting it, with a grumble here and there, but still accepting it. Our inability to rally against it has allowed select publishers to operate these systems on weak justifications, that these ‘micro-transactions’ are somehow much more palatable than DLCs and Expansion Packs which came before. And —ultimately— why shouldn’t they keep operating on that logic if the money is still pouring in for them?

Warner Brothers’ Shadow of War is definitely one of the most recently showcased examples of poorly implemented microtransactions

Just look at Shadow of War. A publisher’s excuse for littering the game with microtransactions is that it’s a time saving option for the busy gamer to move the game on. At best this is ridiculous, at worse… well, we know what it is at worse. If the aim had really been to help the busy gamer then why not gut out these loot boxes, why not simply release a ‘Shortcut’ DLC, or even some content which justified your sudden inheritance of a formidable army in short notice?

Then we have Forza 7 which has ripped out the series’ beloved progressions system and replaced it with a grind for loot boxes — and I bet that the real jackpot odds sit around the point of winning a lottery.

So, what’s the best course of action? How can we kill it and ensure that it stays dead? Well, for a start we can begin with our wallets. If enough people refuse to buy the stuff then it sends a clear message to some publishers. What about ways that reviewers can push back against the anti-consumer blocking of content behind paywalls? Reviewers and those in respected or influential positions need to push back against them too. Any game outside of a free-to-play game should have a capped score, or come with a big ol’ warning.

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Slots are regulated, taxes, and must declare odds. Microtransaction loot boxes are of dubious, undeclared odds.

When I say reviewers, respected, and influential I mean it. They are all different classifications in the age of the influencers. Just look online at the Forza 7 reviews, a lot of noise about the game is coming from different circles than would normally be looked too — it’s disheartening to see so many ”paid to praise” reviews and influencer videos saying nothing about the microtransactions horror show.

A revolution is needed and quickly. Currently a select few publishers are already relying on different means to cut out the reviewer from the conversation, and to get the game in front of faces with no mentions of things which need to be discussed and exposed. If we don’t keep raising awareness, and continuing the conversation then there’s a real risk that the series we love will become ”Pay to Win” and that is bad new for everyone…..except the publishers.

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