Response to Cliffy: Micro-Transactions Make Game Design Worse

Bleszinski compares EA’s use of MTX and Valve’s in Team Fortress 2, stating that they’re the same but that Valve does a better job of “image control” — but he’s comparing apples and oranges. When he writes about the $100 engagement ring in Team Fortress 2, he misses the fundamental difference between Team Fortress 2′s MTX and Real Racing 3′s MTX, or even Dead Space 3′s MTX. Team Fortress 2 never limits your fun as a way to get you to play, or holds back content hoping that you’ll pay extra for it, or lets you get to the fun quicker by dropping a few extra dollars. The game is already fun. Valve’s implementation of MTX elements is purely cosmetic (in fact, it’s exactly like the Gears of War 3 gun skins he mentions), and including those transactions fundamentally can’t make the game worse at a core level.

Valve isn’t going to be cutting the heads off TF2 character models and forcing you to pay for them in order to get the full experience, and that’s why no one faults them for adding hats to TF2. And Valve has not set a precedent of forcing micro-transactions on players, and until it does, it can continue to keep TF2 free and support it with cosmetic, purchaseable items. But when you start to make the move into selling real game content, you start to slide down the slope of screwing over players and undercutting the game as a whole. It’s also not the same thing to say developers shouldn’t create add-on content and sell it after a game is released in order to keep it relevant — more game is not bad. The issue is when that DLC is hacked from games to make them worse unless players pay more. Beyond the idea that this rips off the consumer, it leads developers toward making worse games, the way Real Racing 3 is a worse game than its predecessors.

But if Bleszinski excuses the quest for profits and says it’s okay for MTX to exist in premium games because “businesses exist to make money,” then the inevitable conclusion is that it’s okay for developers and publishers to make worse games and charge more for them (an argument Jim Sterling has nuked repeatedly). That’s what MTX encourages by its very nature — it shows the money men that inserting ways to make games less fun gets them more profits. Bleszinski likens MTX to arcade machines — but you don’t have to buy the arcade machine and then continue to feed quarters to the guy who sold it to you. (Not to mention that, as examples that justify MTX and DLC practices, he cites arcade titles like those created by Midway, such as Mortal Kombat 2, and Donkey Kong, which were built to beat you so you’d have to pay more. Just because there’s a precedent in game design aimed at cheating players and taking their money doesn’t mean it’s okay.)

In order to make effective MTX that encourages more people to pay, developers and publishers are encouraging themselves to make worse games that hold back more content in order to maximize profit. That’s what I don’t think Bleszinski takes into account. Day One DLC has the exact same effect. The worst thing is not even that Day One DLC is often walled-off on the disc I already bought, effectively forcing me to pay twice for content — it’s that the end result of this line of thinking is, if players are willing to pay for Day One DLC, they’ll be willing to pay for Day One Endings, or Day One Levels 3-6, or Day One Spare Rifle Magazines to Continue Playing Battlefield 4. These ideas encourage people to make games suck in order to screw consumers, and every dollar they make doing it encourages them to make games suck even more. And that is why MTX, Day One DLC and all the rest of it enrages players.

Solving the problem for players is also not as easy as just not paying for MTX or Day One DLC if you don’t want to, as Bleszinski states. You can’t just ignore this problem because as Bleszinski says, it’s industry-wide. Refusing to buy EA (or Activision, Ubisoft, or Epic Games) means players have to walk away from their favorite games, franchises, studios and developers. I can’t jump ship from Ubisoft and get Activision’s version of Assassin’s Creed because I don’t like how Ubisoft does things, because if I want to play Assassin’s Creed, I have to put up with Ubisoft’s business practices. If all major publishers are doing things the same way, where do we turn? The only “vote with your wallet” solution left to us is to stop being gamers altogether.

Bleszinski thinks we should all just deal with this gradual crappening of video games because It’s The Way of Things. I say that accepting that gaming in the future can only suck more is the absolute worst way to look at that future, and I, for one, refuse to stay quiet about it.

What do you guys think?

Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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13 Comments on Response to Cliffy: Micro-Transactions Make Game Design Worse


On March 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Micro transaction games can either be a nice alternative to those who have expendable income and can’t be hassled with some of the nounces of a particular game… Or make a game look like nothing but a cash grab that milks it’s players for all it’s worth. All to often it strays towards the latter, and that’s why micro transactions generally suck.

I get that people want more money, want to find new ways to extend the lives of there product, and reduce the used game market, but micro transactions kill games more often than not.


On March 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I wanted to comment something interesting from this conference but I’m not sure what it was, there’s no such thing as procrastination on weekends tho’ so you might just:

1st Lt Jasta

On March 1, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Thanks Phil
I absolutely agree!

Besides the quality and fairness arguments theres another point to it.
Young people get conditioned to spend money for an instand reward of joy, resulting in a reduced impulse control. Drug dealers profit from that very same mechanic.

Lets see where this will lead.
But luckily EA is not the only company on that market.


On March 1, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I will say this right now. The next console cycle will be the one that ends it. All these companies keep trying to stick there fingers in our wallets. For example the PS4 will not be able to play your PS3 games the DLC’s and all the PSN games you purchased for. But the are going to resell to you the consumer the same thing again for the new console.

Remember the days when you purchased a game popped it into the machine and you actually started playing without these stupid banners they have for social medias. Why cant I have that again. I dont need Netflix, facebook, hulu etc on my machine. I should be given the CHOICE to have that on my machine or not..


On March 2, 2013 at 12:40 am

Thank you, Game Front!.

When I read Cllff’s comments yesterday, I was hoping to see a prompt response on this site. Cliff acts like it’s only the players’ fault for buying into the idea of microtransactions or day-1 DLC. Sure, to some extent it is the fault of gamers who buy those things. However, multimillion-dollar companies that strive only to make a buck can afford to put things behind a pay wall and let gamers wonder what they’re missing. Seriously, who is going to be able to wait longer, the fan who has followed a series for years, or the company that only looks at the game as a chance to make money?

Cliff is quick to point out that games are a product made for profit, which is entirely true, but as Jim Sterling so adequately put it, the quest for a profit doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a jerk about it. EA is quick to point out that we don’t need to pay for microtransactions in DS3, which is very true. However, they also talk about it like they are doing the customer a favor by allowing them to pay to speed up a game, when just a few years ago, we could do the exact same things via FREE cheat codes. I probably wouldn’t even mind the system if they didn’t take such a pompous attitude toward it. Companies do things like this or including DLC that is proven to be on the disc, and then dare to call gamers “entitled.” As much as Cliffy might be right that gamers are partly to blame for allowing these practices to continue, he conveniently ignores that more and more we are being asked to pay for the things that would have been included last console generation.


On March 2, 2013 at 4:33 am

@ Tiagonal you do great with this video.This guy says every thing had in mind , so no need to says more.


On March 2, 2013 at 4:36 am

People like CliffyB are killing the golden goose with their greed.


On March 2, 2013 at 8:51 am

“They exist to produce, market, and ship great games ultimately for one purpose. First, for money, then, for acclaim.”

Personally, I think if you’re in the business of creating games just for the cash you can make, then you need to get out of it and find something else to do. People should be creating games for the sake of creation, building something they dreamed about or thought up one long weekend, they should want to see their ideas come to life, become everything they wanted it to be. Then, and only then, should they be thinking about the money they’ll be making from it.

This is the problem with modern gaming, it’s all so cut and paste because it’s these people looking at what’s popular and making a copy of it so they can have a slice of the money pie. That’s why so many MMO’s are copies of World of Warcraft, or shooters are copies of Call of Duty. It’s all about making money instead of making a new and quality product.

I used to want to be in the business of creating video games. I’m so glad I never followed that plan.


On March 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Micro transactions influence game design, therefore they are evil. I do not know anyone who has a single positive thing to say about micro transactions in video games.


On March 3, 2013 at 4:04 am

League of Legends does microtransactions well. They don’t sell power. They sell costumes and time “next 10 wins double points” kind off boosts. None are required to compete in the game and the game itself is free-to-play. This combination of accessability and not catering to the biggest wallet has made The League the huge success story it is today.

So MTXs -can- be implemented well. In the vast majority of the cases though, it’s just the producer trying to milk some extra dollars out of the player. I personally dislike all DLCs for single player story driven games like Mass Effect. While I think DLCs are reasonable in replay-oriented games like Civilization V. Every time I start CiV I feel the effects of the DLC I bought. But I’m really not inclined to replay a story driven game. I’ve already seen the story!


On March 3, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Can anyone name a single game franchise that has been improved by MTX?

Can anyone name a single game franchise that *isn’t* the worse in some way for including it?

Didn’t think so.


On March 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

Couldn’t agree more on this. Mircro-transactions should be implemented on a game-by-game basis if there is a way to make them a system that enhances the core product. “Sweeping legislation” like EA supposedly has in the works to just shoehorn it into every title they put out seems like a bad road to head down.


On March 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

The other distinction that sweet lil’ CliffyB so conveniently forgets is that Valve’s TF2 has been out for 6 years, has no expansions or DLC, and for the last couple of years has supported itself SOLELY through those vanity micro-transactions.

Meanwhile, EA has released yearly iterations of games and tacked on handfuls of DLC that usually equal or better the price of the original game (for, ultimately, a smaller amount of actual content) and is now going to be tacking on MTXs to those yearly iterations.

Yet he wants to seriously suggest that EA is exactly like Valve, just with less “image control”? Please…that’s absolutely naive at best, and disingenuous at worst. I know which one I think he is.