Two games have dominated headlines over the last 24 hours: Just Cause 3 and Assassin's Creed Unity. One a hero, one a villain, both perfect examples of how insane and toxic microtransaction culture has become.
To be perfectly clear, I don't have a problem with micro-transactions in cut-price or F2P games. They allow us to cherry-pick the content we want and spend however much money we want, while developers deserve to be paid for their effort. There's nothing wrong with that.
Unfortunately, when shoved into a game that already set you back £30-£50, something has gone horribly wrong.
Just Cause 3 raised eyebrows and hackles when leaked screenshots seemed to suggest that the dreaded microtransactions were on the march. It wasn't long before the developers stepped in to explain that the images were based on an obsolete experimental build, allowing the internet to breathe a collective sigh of relief. No microtransactions. Phew.
That's good news, but here's the thing: should it really be news in the first place?
No! At least, in a perfect world. It's a sad state of affairs when a game not having microtransactions is an exception to the norm, an incredible and amazing occurrence that deserves to be somehow lauded and praised. It's genuinely depressing that the rare few games that release without them are heralded as an oddity.
After all, microtransactions are usually smoking-gun proof that a game's economy is designed specifically to delay, annoy and otherwise tempt you into reaching for the credit card, or that the company deliberately withheld content or cheat codes to sell post-launch. They kill immersion by reminding you that you're just consuming an incomplete product. They encourage developers to turn their games into operant conditioning chambers. The idea of full-priced games offering them is genuinely insane, if not insulting, when you think about it. And it's big news when a game avoids them. What an age we live in.
But hey, at least Just Cause 3 is making all the right noises. Whereas our current whipping boy, Assassin's Creed Unity, would love nothing more than to rip great big fistfuls of cash straight out of your wallet.
Assassin's Creed Unity already costs a bomb. The PC version is an exorbitant price outside of serial key resellers, making even the console versions look competitive, and Ubisoft had the gall to cram in an exorbitant number of microtransactions.
Though "micro" isn't really the word, is it? Considering that one piece of DLC, 20000 meaningless funbucks, costs $99.
$99 for fake money to buy content that is already on the disc. Capcom and EA took plenty of flack for this, but hell, at least those were characters in a fighting game or shortcuts for competitive multiplayer gear. In contrast, this is stuff you'll just... earn... throughout the singleplayer campaign! And more than the price of the game itself. Unless you bought one of those ludicrous special editions.
This is genuinely sick. Isn't it? If players don't have the time to grind and grind and grind, isn't the game's economy and optional mission design at fault? Shouldn't time-pressed players be allowed to just toggle an achievement-less cheat mode in a game they've spent top dollar for? Should consumers be forced to pay to keep banging away at a cynically compulsive metagame? Are we okay with content being witheld and sold back to us piecemeal even if it's included on the disc or quietly installed onto our hard drives in title updates? Is all of this flagrant shortsighted bullshit pointing us straight towards an industry crash that, frankly, might be deserved?
No, really, I'm asking you. Let us know what you make of microtransactions in the comments.