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.