Case Study: A Case for Microtransactions

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Case Study: A Case for Microtransactions

Postby [Q] on Sun Sep 06, 2020 1:08 pm

I think we all agree that the way that 2k uses microtransactions to drive additional revenue on a $60+ AAA game is heartless.

However, not all microtransactions are created equal. By limiting it to purely cosmetic items, it's possible to not only make additional money off of games without being a jerk but we are seeing now that it's possible to give games away for free.

A few years back, titles like Rocket League and Overwatch had very successful and fun games that did not require or force players to pay for content they didn't want or pay for an additional advantage. They were able to implement a loot box system that seemed fairly harmless and available to those willing to pay for content. In both games, developers were then able to continue to provide new, fun, and interesting content, game modes, and more for free. In years past, extra maps or characters, or game modes would be put behind a pay wall as paid DLC.

With the success of Fortnite, they've paved the way for a new way for companies to make money off of games while giving away fun games for free. With successes like Apex Legends, Call of Duty Warzone, and now Fall Guys, could we see a future where games are free and continue to see supported by developers, driven by sales of in-game currency and cosmetics?

I think it is very dependent on the type of game as it can't work across the board for all games. Capcom took a massive fail with Street Fighter V's DLC style game (with a full $60 retail price) while competitors like Mortal Kombat have succeeded while giving players a bit more bang for their buck.

The system that 2k has set up for themselves has been very lucrative, and to be honest they'd have to be crazy to give it up at this time.

But with the rumors of NBA Live coming back, they need to make a splash and continue to set themselves apart as they won't be beating 2k at their own game. I think it would be cool if EA released a FTP NBA Live game that they continue to build on and support each year. I feel like they could follow the model of Call of Duty releasing Warzone for free alongside a paid Modern Warfare game.

Imagine getting to play on The Streets part of The One mode for free with a battle pass system and live events that got you new clothes and cosmetics, and even players for your court battles team. Also, Ultimate Team has its own built-in system for money making so that could be a part of the free experience as well. Unfortunately, the modes that people like us like to play, modes involving actual NBA and WNBA teams and leagues will require you to pay for the full version of the game. The rosters will be kept up-to-date throughout the year and since many times a new sports game is called a glorified roster update, players who buy the game can get a discount on the new season's roster and rookies, as incentive to retain players from year to year.
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Re: Case Study: A Case for Microtransactions

Postby Andrew on Sun Sep 06, 2020 2:05 pm

I used to be of the mindset that if it's cosmetic, it doesn't matter because it's generally optional and can be ignored, but over the years, I've changed my mind; especially the more I've heard Jim Sterling talk about these issues and point out the more problematic aspects of that approach. On the surface, only charging for optional cosmetic items is less insidious than loot box mechanics and skill upgrades that can be bought, but they carry their own problems. The most troubling example is the issue of kids who are bullied because they're not playing with premium skins in Fortnite:

As Fortnite has shifted into a hangout spot, the messiness of social hierarchies has followed. Some players make a name for themselves based on skill, and status is granted in accordance to your win rate or kill/death ratio. But Fortnite matches can only have a single winner (or squad), which means that the average person can’t stand out this way. Instead, players earn prestige with other fans based on their character’s look. And in the realm of Fortnite, there is nothing worse that having a standard character, otherwise known as a “default.”

When you first boot up Fortnite, the game randomly grants you a character decked out in drab military gear. These characters are functional, but they also single out players. Maybe you’re a newbie — in which case, hey, fresh meat. Or worse: Maybe you’re a player who can’t afford better cosmetics, which can cost up to $20, depending on the rarity of the item. Some skins can be earned through the Battle Pass, which typically costs around $10 per season, and others can be unlocked by linking your account to outside services such as Amazon Prime. Most people, however, just purchase their desired look — the best outfits always seem to involve money somewhere in the process.

And so “default” quickly became a put-down within the Fortnite community, a signal that you are a lesser player in some way.

“On more than one occasion I heard the kids refer to one another as a ‘default,’” Towler says, referencing things he’s overheard at school. “At one point they started to use it just as a generic insult both in and out of the classroom.”


Obviously, kids are often cruel to each other, and while "kids will be kids" hardly justifies poor behaviour, if it's not Fortnite skins, it would be something else. That doesn't mean that there isn't a toxicity to the approach of premium cosmetic items, though. Additionally, even putting aside insults and the like, the fact that it's used as an informal but common method of matchmaking - "I don't want to play with a default!" - means that it promotes a toxic atmosphere within the game itself, wherein it's difficult to get a game unless you pay for a digital status symbol.

We see the same thing in NBA 2K. Try getting a Park game while wearing the default outfit (unless you've also got insanely high rep, and are clearly wearing it as a gag). Even if you're not wearing the default outfit, there's a certain style that identifies hardcore/accomplished Park gamers, and if you don't fit that style, people don't want to play with you. This forces you to budget VC for clothing items as well, which lengthens the grind...or pushes you towards buying some VC so that you can level up and outfit yourself quicker. 2K's lack of proper matchmaking is an issue here too, and ultimately contributes to the toxicity in its own way.

That's why I'm not a fan of Battle Passes, and disagree with there being no harm in microtransactions if it's purely cosmetic and therefore optional. In many cases, it's optional in theory, but not in practice. In practice, if you don't pay for that stuff, you're going to have an inferior experience - one way or another - because the way the games are designed and the culture that's cultivated are intended to push you in the direction of spending. Anyone who doesn't gets shunned and shamed, and this is something that developers are intentionally preying upon. Unfortunately, just cosmetic isn't really just cosmetic, when a game's online culture makes it a status symbol and an informal means of matchmaking.

I'm with Jim Sterling on this one. Premium cosmetic items, loot boxes, Battles Passes, and so on...it's all problematic, and it's something that as consumers, we should be against. Easier said than done, and until there's a mass revolt and the bubble bursts, they're not going anywhere. All the same, I don't think we should give video game developers license to do this by buying into the idea, figuratively and literally. Look at what 2K tried to do in NBA 2K18 by having us pay to change hairstyles at the barber in The Neighborhood. Some people defended it, because it's hard to find something people won't defend, but there was a big push back because we could see the writing on the wall as far as putting more and more basic functions behind a VC paywall. The suits will want to press their luck as much as they can with microtransactions, so I do think we need to stand firm. The slippery slope argument is often fallacious, but it's also true that developers/publishers will try to take a mile if we give them an inch on these practices.
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Re: Case Study: A Case for Microtransactions

Postby Lamrock on Tue Sep 08, 2020 7:08 pm

Well I think Andrew is absolutely right that free-to-play games are not free. If you're playing a game with "cosmetic" rewards, the game itself is an advertisement for the paid features. If you're downloading a free game from the Epic Store, you're giving them your information and normalizing them as an alternative to Steam.

I wouldn't call 2K putting microtransactions into a $60 game "heartless" or "being a jerk", it's just business and they get away with it because people pay for that crap and there is no alternative. People on the internet fellate CD Projekt Red to no end, but they aren't any different - they've just cornered a different part of the market and I'm sure the day will come where they have to betray Reddit.

Unfortunately when it comes to sports gaming, monopolies are a huge problem. I'm sure you both have heard that Madden 21 hasn't been particularly well received by fans but a couple days of "Madden bad" trending every year doesn't change the fact that the NFL gave EA exclusive rights to make simulation football games. The NBA has opened it up to a handful of publishers, but it's not like some upstarts can just make their own NBA or NFL game without making everything generic like Backbreaker. Still, I do hope that they decide to actually try with Live next year - although I still like 2K, I only play the myLeague mode, and who knows if that makes it into the next-gen version of the game.

Given that the mobile version of Live is the only one they seem to be able to put out, maybe having a free-to-play mode makes sense, but what your describing is something I wouldn't play.

I do think that going to a live service makes sense though. Sports games are updated and patched over the course of the season, then the following year's game is basically a big patch updating the menus, adding the rookies, changing the soundtrack, maybe adding some gimmicks to the game play. If they released a patch with updated rosters and all the rookies a couple weeks after free agency for say, $20, they could beat 2K to the punch, live up to their name (NBA Live a live service game, brilliant!), and be the less expensive option. Or they could skip all of that and just try the $20 price point like 2K did in the mid-2000's. That would convince people to try Live and make the microtransactions seem more palatable. Live always goes on sale for $20 a month after release anyway so might as well.

Anyway it's 2 AM so that probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense but those are my thoughts.
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