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?