Although long a part of casual and mobile gaming, microtransactions have arrived in a big way in mainstream gaming and may soon become the standard of the future is the game companies have their way.
For those unfamiliar with the subject, a microtransaction is where a developer charges a fee in game for players to obtain more items to help enhance their gaming experience. With high development costs, game manufacturers see this trend as a new way to lower risk and increase profits as consumers can opt to spend more to enhance their gaming options.
In Farmville and other games that rose to fame thanks to social networking sites such as Facebook, players would be able to purchase things like more turns, in game currency, and items for a fee.
Although such purchases were not required to play the games, those who did spend the money often found themselves at an advantage over those that did not from a competitive standpoint.
This practice became very common for mobiles games as developers often offered games that could be downloaded for free and then charged users for bonus content or access to new levels in the game.
Electronic Arts drew some fan ire by making microtransactions a big part of Dead Space 3, as although not needed to complete the game, fans believed the tone of the series was changed from that of survival horror to third person shooter, and in game resources were to plentiful.
This issue was further compounded by reports that EA were looking to include microtransaction in many of their future releases which has not sat well with many gamers who are uneasy with this proposed trend.
Now that Activision has brought microtransactions to Call of Duty: Blacks Ops 2 fans are thinking that the inclusion on the mega franchise to the micro transaction parade is a sign of impending doom for gaming as they knew it.
Although currently limited to the Xbox 360 version of the game, fans can buy items such as weapons packs, targeting sites, weapons decorations, and special maps via the transactions. The series has long offered the ability to purchase new maps on either a case by case basis or via a season pass that offered 4 collections of maps through the year at a discount price.
The series has also offered an Elite service where players could obtain new maps and other perks on a yearly basis for one flat fee so the idea of paying for new content is nothing new to fans of the series.
From my perspective this is not that big of a deal as a player can play through the game and have a very enjoyable time online with the maps and gear that is included with the retail version of the game. New maps while very appealing, mainly help keep things fresh until the next chapter of the series arrives, and are no means a necessary item despite the added enjoyment they offer.
If the trend of pay to play is here to stay, then perhaps game developers should take a look at the way gaming used to be done and take some lessons from the past. Id were innovative in the early internet days by offering freeware for games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Gamers were allowed to obtain the early levels of a game for free and were able to purchase additional content such as the full game and expansions if they liked what they saw. Consumers also could opt to buy select chapters instead of the entire game so developers had incentive not to offer up the best content in a game early and keep them wanting to come back for more.
While this is more than a demo, the idea that gamers have the option to experience a good hour or so of gameplay before having to purchase more is an interesting concept. Valve attempted to provide episodic content for Half Life 2 and Sin via Steam but this trend faded quickly as developers were not able to get fresh material of high quality to consumers in a timely manner despite having a solid distribution system with Steam and Origin.
I believe that the best way to handle the situation is to consider lowering the cost of games. If a consumer is being asked to spend $59.99 for a release and then has to cough up more money for in game additions this is going to be a bitter pill for many to swallow. Perhaps a $39.99 base price or an all-inclusive price of $59.99 is a better way to go.
Naturally I do not expect developers to come down from their price point easily but consumers have the ability to make or break a game, and with millions of dollars invested in the development and marketing of a game perhaps it is a good idea not to take the customers for give consumers more choices as well as safeguards against games that are not as advertised or do not function properly at launch.
It remains to be seen how this trend will be embraced long-term buy the industry and consumers and if the next generation of consoles will make microtransactions even more common.
However, the day that micro-transactions are needed to fully enjoy or easily complete a game will be a dark day for the industry in my opinion.