Ours is an ever-evolving world. Technology moves forward at staggering rates and the video game industry with it. In the past decade alone, we’ve come leaps and bounds in terms of graphical capability, open world scale, mechanics, and gameplay.
Once grainy, low-resolution textures are now shiny, detailed masterpieces – for those with the machines capable of generating them on higher settings without lag, that is. VR headsets now exist for all to enjoy, and the hardware just keeps getting better and better. We’ve seen bitcoin become mainstream and gain serious buying power. The global gaming market is now worth somewhere in the region of $111 billion dollars, and as investment, corporate management and profit-focused production of beloved titles continues to take place, it raises the question, then: how far is too far, and have gamers already had enough of the cursed loot crate, micro-transaction and pay-to-win functions cropping up in our titles?
Star Wars Battlefront 2 – Micro-transactions Strike Back
We first saw micro-transaction gaming appear in the mobile scene – smartphone apps that were entirely free, but built around encouraging players to advance more quickly with the aid of small buys and purchases. The developers need to take home a paycheck, after all. The issue arises, it seems, not in this relatively ethical system, but when AAA games include micro-transactions in an already full price retail copy. Whether for cosmetic purposes or simply to unlock pre-existing content at a faster rate, it’s been a gripe for many. Battlefront 2, published by EA and developed by Swedish studio Dice, was recently involved in such a scandal. One observer noted that to unlock everything – note, everything they had already purchased and existed on the disk – it would take up to 4,500 hours of gameplay, or $2100 dollars of loot boxes. EA and Dice have since reworked the leveling system and removed micro-transactions temporarily, but it sets a worrying precedent for the future and is yet to repair their reputation. In more optimistic news, the game is now available to buy with bitcoins at BitKeys, and cryptocurrencies seem to be set to become an option for in-game purchases too. Although SW:B2 does not allow for in-game bitcoin payments yet, cryptocurrency features heavily in online casino gaming, where casinos allow for roulette and other types of games to be played with bitcoin, Ethereum and more. This different form of micro-transaction is actually very welcome for players, as they can choose exactly how much to bet on and do so in the safety and anonymity that this digital money provides.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War and Single Player Cheek
From Star Wars online shooters to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, we recently saw one of the first attempts to include micro-transactions in a single player role-playing game. Customers would be able to purchase orcs, for their army, gear for their character, and skip large portions of grinded content through the power of their pocket wallet in aid of their battle for the land of Mordor.
It seems that so long as game companies think they can get away with it, they’ll do it. Pay-to-win systems have existed for a long time. Being able to purchase gold for your World of Warcraft account, or even selling your gold for real-world money, for example. But as developers focus more and more on profit at the expense of gameplay, players take note, and it will certainly be interesting to see where the issue leads in the coming years. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There is certainly an argument to made for a number of micro-transactions, in the right context and for the right reasons: funding future free DLC, for charity, and indeed, simply to support a studio you believe in.
Where we end up next is uncertain. Long gone are the days when the purchase of a disk or an online download of a title guaranteed a full and complete experience. We can only hope that the developers, who love games as much as us, do all they can to maintain professional integrity. Of course, we want game companies to make money – then they’ll make sequels of the titles we love! Will we see another Battlefront game or Shadow of War but not at the expense of reasonable ethics, and certainly not in a pay-to-win manner? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Nerd Stash. An avid gamer since I could walk and can be found in Ashland, KY, where he hopes to find inspiration and uniqueness in life by meeting awesome people, development friendships with companies, and become more nerdy.