Dead Space 3′s Microtransactions Set A Dangerous Precedent

UPDATE: The details on DS3′s DLC have been released on the PlayStation store and are as follows (via Dtoid):

  • Bot Capacity Upgrade $4.99
  • Bot Personality Pack $4.99
  • First Contact Pack Free
  • Marauder Pack $4.99
  • Sharpshooter Pack $4.99
  • Tundra Recon Pack $4.99
  • Witness the Truth Pack $4.99
  • Bot Accelerator $4.99
  • Epic Weapon & Resource Pack $2.99
  • Online Pass $9.99
  • Ultra Weapon & Resource Pack $1.99
  • Resource Pack $0.99

After it was revealed that Dead Space 3 will include microtransactions to purchase crafting materials that you’d otherwise need to collect in-game, Visceral’s John Calhoun said that the reason behind this decision was to cater to players seeking instant gratification. He said:

“There’s a lot of players out there, especially players coming from mobile games, who are accustomed to micro-transactions. They’re like “I need this now, I want this now”. They need instant gratification. So we included that option in order to attract those players, so that if they’re 5000 Tungsten short of this upgrade, they can have it.”

There’s so much that disturbs me about that quote that I hardly know where to begin — the complete exploitation of “instant gratification,” the ludicrous comparison to mobile games, or the dangerous precedent being set.

The strongest argument in favor of these microtransactions is that there are many people out there with high-paying jobs, busy schedules, and little time for gaming, who don’t mind spending a few dollars for convenience. Fair enough. I can appreciate the demand for an ability to “skip ahead” if the player so chooses. But fifteen years ago, these came in the form of cheat codes and trainers, and they were free. With these microtransactions, Visceral is effectively charging players for the one-time use of a cheat code to summon more crafting materials.

Why charge for this at all? Dead Space 3 isn’t an MMO — it isn’t a game in which one person’s abundance of crafting materials will negatively impact other players. If the developers really cared about appeasing players who seek instant gratification, they would allow them to input a console command to get the materials for free. Instead, what Visceral is doing is selling us a DVD of the movie Alien and charging us extra for a fast-forward button to get to the chest-bursting.

As if that weren’t objectionable enough, Calhoun’s comparison of a $60 AAA console game to a free (or nearly free) mobile game — and the implication that you can interchangeably apply the same business model — is shocking. Games that are given away for free or sold dirt-cheap depend on microtransactions to turn a profit — they’re not using them to gouge more money from their players. Convenience-based microtransactions have no place in a non-persistent, non-competitive AAA title.

If developers want to peddle cosmetic items in $1-$5 DLC packs, fine; while I’d never pay for that kind of stuff myself, I can understand that it is something with intrinsic value that required time and effort to create. Every cosmetic item, such as a fancy weapon model, likely requires a whole team of developers to create: concept artists, texture artists, 3D modellers, riggers, animators… These employees don’t work for free. Any DLC that includes content that required man hours to develop is justified in having a price tag. But selling a commodity that you have an infinite supply of and that required no effort or resources to produce? That’s like charging us for the carbon dioxide they’re expelling from their lungs.

The worst part of all of this is the dangerous precedent it sets. I’m willing to give Visceral Games the benefit of the doubt and believe that Dead Space 3′s crafting resource drop rates aren’t tooled to encourage players to keep their credit card handy. But if the practice of including these kinds of microtransactions becomes commonplace, then it won’t be long before publishers clue into the fact that they can build psychological devices into a game to extort money from players — see Jamie Madison’s blog, The Psychology of Gaming, for frightening insight into how developers can and have manipulated us into playing longer, paying more, and keeping us as repeat customers. There isn’t a wide chasm between a CEO posing the question, “What content in our game can we allow players to pay to skip?” and, “What can we include in the game that players will want to pay to skip?”

At the end of the day, this isn’t an argument about Dead Space 3 — it’s about where the industry is headed if we allow the powers that be to continue along this path. Ten years from now, will the new norm be $60 games that people regularly spend $20 on monthly via microtransactions? Will it be commonplace to pay for the privilege of skipping a cutscene? How about resurrection tokens to keep playing after dying, like in the arcade days? Or maybe we’ll be paying to unlock save slots? The industry has already sneaked one by us: free bonus packs became paid DLC. I’m the last person to claim that we’re entitled to free DLC, but the fact is that publishers have realized that we’re willing to pay for something that we used to get for free — now, they’re going to see how far they can push us. If we don’t push back, then we may as well just write them a blank check.

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25 Comments on Dead Space 3′s Microtransactions Set A Dangerous Precedent

Luther

On January 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm

It sounds like these micro-transactions are not going to break the game, at some point you can obtain that 4.99 weapon for free in the game given the time / grind you invent except for the cosmetics maybe so I personally don’t see a problem with this model at this time. Plus there will always be cheats or trainers out there so if you are smart then you’ll save yourself some money and use those instead when the hackers make them.

N. Squire

On January 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm

So really, now, they’re charging for what used to be cheat codes?

I mean, if people don’t want to spend time on your game, is the correct option to let them pay their way through? Why not make it more concise, allow players to do a mode that cuts down on certain parts of the game (like easy mode in some video games used to do, except instead of just cutting off the end you could cut off unnecessary sideplots and the like)?

Also, I’m concerned about the precedent this sets legally. I cheat and hack at (single-player) games all the time so that I don’t have to grind to get that next axe or spend fifteen minutes wandering back and forth on a fetch quest to get those 1500 credits I need. EA didn’t give my Commander Shepard unlimited fuel so that I didn’t have to arbitrarily go back and refuel every fifteen seconds, I did, because the whole concept was crap. If they can sell playing their game, what will they try to do to prevent people like myself who cheat to skip the boring parts of games from doing so instead of paying for their DLC?

pooleboy87

On January 31, 2013 at 3:06 pm

@Luther:

The problem has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the fact that you don’t HAVE to obtain the DLC garbage through effort, or that it’s not required. Justifying it like that is ridiculous. Because before long, these guys are going to think about making it UN-obtainable through work/time/effort, or they’re going to make it as tedious as possible so that you WANT to pay. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so if you think that this is going to stop here unless we MAKE it stop here, then you’re extremely naive.

If this becomes a successful method, then it’s going to start worming it’s way into other games. It’s going to start to become more invasive into games. It’s going to expand to include things that teeter on being necessary to buy.

EA has shown that they don’t have any qualms with effecting play-ability in the name of microtransactions. If you think that they’re not hoping this model is wildly successful so that they can expand it, or if you don’t think that this isn’t a big deal, then you’re adding to a problem that’s poisoning the industry.

goose2989

On January 31, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I’m onboard with your opinion on the whole thing Mr Miozzi, but you sound like Colin Moriarty when you use the words “dangerous precedent.” Maybe just rephrase it to “nickle and diming”

Vivid8

On January 31, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Love this article and I totally agree. There is a lot of info in that statement which needs to be looked at with more scrutiny. There is a dangerous plot in the words. Instantgratification satisfaction may be best for maximum profit, but it’s going to hurt society in the long run. Just look at how facebook has screwed up how we function with one another personally. Microtransactions for things like resources depletes the purpose of doing the job in the first place, while EA is all gung ho on making money now, it’s too bad no one bothers to forsee what effect not working or investing any time into a goal will teach people.

Kevin

On January 31, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Goose,

I would say it IS a dangerous precedent. Make no mistake, this is EA sending out a trial balloon for future games, and the rest of the industry is paying attention. Make paid DLC what used to be cheat codes. The eventual goal is to feature really nice stuff, but the resources require paid DLC.

they claim they aren’t setting the spawn/drop rates to force you to buy, but Blizzard said the same thing. It was clear in the beginning that they had rigged the system to practically force people into the RMAH. They scaled back on that a bit only after massive criticism.

At this point, we almost need the gaming bubble to pop. Let it all burn, and let’s have some truly hyped game be this generations ET. Otherwise this nickle and diming is going to get worse and worse.

More and more will be behind a DLCwall, but that won’t reduce the price of the base game, which will still be 60 bucks. And since everyone is focused on ways to force the consumer to buy extra DLC, good luck watching the base game improve in quality.

Felch Obama

On January 31, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Greedy, deplorable bastards.

SupremeAllah

On January 31, 2013 at 7:18 pm

This is scary, but not suprising in this age of greed and BS in the game industry. Again, you can all thank Microsoft for starting this trend.

I would like to see people who want “instant gratification” just download and use a trainer for the game to get any weapon/item them want. Because by the looks of this, we won’t have access to a console to give ourselves these things on our own anymore…

Kyle

On January 31, 2013 at 9:47 pm

I hate to say this but please do not buy this game. No one bought Resident Evil 6 and they came out and publicly admitted they needed to get back to their roots. If enough people pass on this game even if it is good then EA will be forced to do the same.

gasmaskangel

On January 31, 2013 at 10:46 pm

If for some reason I don’t want gameplay in my games, since apperantly it takes too much time, why wouldn’t I just watch all the good bits on youtube instead?

Again I’m going to say that microtransactions in a FREAKING 60$ GAME are an abomination that should be roundly condemned from all sides. Even if we accept the PR speak as literal truth and the developers really are just blameless lambs trying to get what “kids these days” want in the game (which is apperantly not to have to play the stinking game) it is still a fathomlessly stupid, pointless thing to put in the game. I want to know what focus group they talked to that said “it would be really great if I could pay you for something that should, at most, be a cheat code or an easy mode or something” because I want to see human beings that stupid who still somehow manage to breathe and feed themselves.

They’re probably the same group who said “co-op would be a great addition to a horror game!”

Honestly every piece of news I hear about Dead Space 3 convinces me more and more not to buy it as I simply cannot support many of the practices going on behind the scenes.

quicktooth

On January 31, 2013 at 11:52 pm

I agree with everything in this article. To clarify- I simply don’t buy the publishers try to push. While I have bought the Space Marine DLC, this was the only time (and was during a Steam Sale).

R.J.

On February 1, 2013 at 12:21 am

It’s amazing how thin the justification is. Yeah, some like F2P games on their phones and paying a few bucks here and there is certainly fair, but when I pay $60, I’ve already paid my share. The same reasoning simply doesn’t apply. I would also love to know who they’ve spoken to that said, “I love to play games, but I don’t want to actually play them.” I get that some people are too busy, but isn’t that the exact crowd that mobile/F2P games are meant to serve?

Axetwin

On February 1, 2013 at 1:17 am

CJ, I understand your frustration, but unfortunately, it is misplaced. Dont direct it at Visceral, it should be directed at EA. This is EA’s doing, Visceral is just the hand doing what the brain says. Months and months ago, EA said all of their future games would include multiplayer components and microtransactions.

Wesker1984

On February 1, 2013 at 1:23 am

I dont care the only things i buy on the online store are the story-driven DLCs.

clive anderson

On February 1, 2013 at 3:03 am

This is the future of our industry. Spend more, get less. EA is deable.

sep

On February 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

EA enables me to morally justify pirating, with every game they release.

Thank you EA.

Games I am sincerely waiting for:

Star CItizen
Witcher 3
Cyberpunk 2033
GTA V [If it ever comes on PC]

Wesker1984

On February 2, 2013 at 1:52 am

Games I am sincerely waiting for
Dragon Age 3
Dead Space 3
Mass Effect 4
Resident Evil 7/REboot
Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zero
The Phantom Pain(MGS5?)
Bioshock Infinite
Grand Theft Auto V
REvelations on PS3

Chris

On February 2, 2013 at 4:39 am

So let me get this straight, it’s perfectly fine when it’s something I feel I will have to pay for (I enjoy cosmetic items and have always loathed that I have to pay extra for them, only to be met with comments from my so-called “fellow” gamers like “its only cosmetic, you don’t need it because i don’t need it!”) but now that it’s something you feel you might have to pay for it’s suddenly a ‘dangerous precedent’?

It may not have mattered to you but the precedent was set a long time ago, your apathy allowed things like this to come to pass. Who knows, maybe now my apathy will keep it here.

The battle’s been lost for me, people finding issue with this never came to my aide, I now refuse to come to theirs.

You reap what you sow.

CJ Miozzi

On February 2, 2013 at 8:14 am

@Chris:

If you read my last paragraph, as well as the paragraph you seem to be referencing, you’d know that I don’t believe in paying for cosmetic items. We used to get those for free in bonus packs. I pointed out that that’s when publishers realized they could charge us for these things they used to give us for free.

However, we never had a “right” to get free content. It was a gift from the developers. They had to put man hours and resources into producing it. It has intrinsic value. It was nice to get free stuff, but it’s not right for us to demand free stuff. But a fast-forward button? They have no right to charge for that if they want to keep us as customers.

Eddie

On February 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Does anyone happen to know a billionaire they convince to buy EA, because I’m sure the greedy bastards in charge would part with the company for the right price and I don’t think anything will change until they’re gone

Bruce

On February 3, 2013 at 10:17 pm

And pay to win has another pillar with EA… whatever, not much of an EA fan before, and certainly not convinced now

Nevarion

On February 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

Not going to write an essay about this. Instead I’ll simply point to –> http://www.3drealms.com/cheat/

Scott C

On February 5, 2013 at 6:48 pm

They did the same thing with Mass Effect 3, In Multiplayer you were able to buy a pack that would unlock different weapons to use. It’s highway robbery, this is worse than 1st day DLC

ARaven

On February 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

…this is new? Weird. I’ve seen games nickel-and-diming people who don’t want to grind for things since..well, forever. If I recall correctly, Godfather had DLC for extra cash, for example. But hey, way to overreact about something that only affects the gameplay of the impatient, and doesn’t at all interfere with yours. Your argument is about equivalent to the I CAUGHT MY KID SMOKING WEED SO NOW THEY’RE GOING TO END UP A CRACKWHORE freakout. The one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. Also, if you’ve failed to notice, cheat codes are essentially a thing of the past as well, since nowadays the trend is Get Achievements/Trophies, Feel Accomplished..and you can’t use cheat codes without deactivating the ability to achieve those. But yes, you are correct. The sky is totally falling. Tomorrow our games will be full of popup ads and levels programmed to be impossible to complete just so we’ll have to shell out extra money to skip them, and there will be no weapons at all and it’ll all be DLC packs.

Sirocco

On February 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

@Pooleboy87

Wrong. The content being optional has everything to do with it. So long as it doesn’t interfere with the base game, it doesn’t matter, and shrieking about it like the sky is falling makes you sound like a flighty alarmist. Your assertions are based on nothing more than your own paranoia about what could or might happen, but that does not counts as fact no matter how angrily you proclaim it.

If, for the sake of argument, a game is made that absolutely REQUIRES that you participate in microtransactions to enjoy it at all, do you honestly believe that such a product will not only sell in the multi-millions, but become so overwhelmingly popular as to inspire an industry-wide paradigm shift towards microtransactions as a required feature for the bulk of all new games? If you truly believe that, then you are just as naive as you claim Luther is.

Like them or not, I don’t see microtransactions going anywhere, but that does not mean it will become the overwhelming standard. While EA’s handling of microtransactions is shoddy and downright greedy, that does not mean, in and of itself, that the entire model is evil. I think it’s more probable that the gaming industry will eventually find a workable middle-ground.

If anything, I think the people who use nonsense like this to justify pirating games outright (I don’t mean you specifically, unless you actually have pirated; in which case, I would mean you) do more to poison the gaming industry than the people who are content to simply ignore nonsensical microtransactions.