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Just Cause 3 & AC Unity reveal the sick insanity of microtransaction culture

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Features
Tags:
Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Just Cause 3, Microtransactions, Square Enix, Ubisoft

Just Cause 3 & AC Unity reveal the sick insanity of microtransaction culture

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 & AC Unity reveal the sick insanity of microtransaction culture

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.

Add a comment9 comments
TheChappy  Nov. 12, 2014 at 17:58

Well said! Welcome to the digital age, can someone show me the way out.. Gran turismo 6 sticks in my mind. Theres no way of buying all the cars and mods without paying real money for them or grinding for literally years. Microtransactions and pre order bonuses are both annoying as hell. I totally agree with you.

stevenjameshyde  Nov. 13, 2014 at 08:07

(whisper it) I actually think Battlefield 4, published by (whisper it, and wince while doing so) EA had the right idea. Microtransactions, booster packs etc. weren't made available until months after launch, making them a nice-to-have option for new players wanting to catch up rather than a pay-to-win must have for anyone wanting an unfair advantage at launch. Plus those latecomers probably paid less for the game in the first place, so buying the odd MT on top of that sticks in the throat a little less

It's still less than ideal, of course, but it's something that Ubi could learn from

I never planned to buy Unity in any case, because even Black Flag was ruined by microtransactions. There was no way of just blasting through the story if that's all you were interested in, you would reach an impasse unless you indulged in several hours of naval combat to buy Jackdaw upgrades or sprung for one of the "optional" microtransactions. Screw that noise

JonLester  Nov. 13, 2014 at 09:50

@stevenjameshyde: *whisper* I kind of agree with you as far as shortcuts are concerned. However, the battlepack system was a nasty way of reinforcing addictive behaviour, effectively a slot machine, and letting players purchase them outright was deeply cynical and manipulative.

Wait, why are we whispering? *whisper*

Last edited by JonLester, Nov. 13, 2014 at 09:51
151b  Nov. 13, 2014 at 16:49

@stevenjameshyde: *whisper* I kind of agree with you as far as shortcuts are concerned. However, the battlepack system was a nasty way of reinforcing addictive behaviour, effectively a slot machine, and letting players purchase them outright was deeply cynical and manipulative.

Wait, why are we whispering? *whisper*

Because it's EA *whisper*

JonLester  Nov. 13, 2014 at 17:21

@151b:

http://www.dealspwn.com/writer/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/kenway-shhh-540x303.png

kosk11348  Nov. 15, 2014 at 18:18

"They encourage developers to turn their games into operant conditioning chambers."

Yes and yes. Really, this topic deserves an article in its own right. ;)

X10  Dec. 3, 2014 at 09:13

"They encourage developers to turn their games into operant conditioning chambers."

Yes and yes. Really, this topic deserves an article in its own right. ;)


Agreed.

JonLester  Dec. 3, 2014 at 09:25

"They encourage developers to turn their games into operant conditioning chambers."

Yes and yes. Really, this topic deserves an article in its own right. ;)


Agreed.


@kosk11348 & X10: It's a fascinating subject, no? I find it amazing just how much psychology and game design overlap. Only became aware of it during a conference a few years back, when developers were discussing how the work of Bartle helped to tune the core appeal of their game for the specific audience they wanted - which is just super-basic stuff compared to the way many games cleverly leverage addiction, envy and other baser forms of human behaviour to encourage continued play/extra spend.

To be honest I don't know if I'm at all qualified to write an article on this, but I'll definitely think about it - even if it's pointing out examples or finding, you know, someone who is qualified and asking them about it.

For now, I'd highly recommend watching https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWtvrPTbQ_c if you haven't already. Old, but a great primer.

Last edited by JonLester, Dec. 3, 2014 at 13:35
X10  Dec. 5, 2014 at 08:32

Yes Jon, it's a tough subject, especially as it involves psychology and emotion.
Food Brand Marketing has been doing it for decades, becoming ever more adept at plucking the right string with the right demographic.
I find it funny when my parents or some friends tell me they hated a particular advert, but then others say they loved the very same one, and then I look at their circumstances and the kind of people they are and it makes complete sense.
Having worked in Marketing for several years now (and been interested in the 'human condition' for decades) I've always found it easy to spot, but actually sitting down and explaining it to someone is another matter.

I'm sure there must be some Dealspwn'ers out there that could help with an article like this, even if it only skims the subject. It could surely open up some interesting debate.
Or just make people angry ;)

Last edited by X10, Dec. 5, 2014 at 08:33

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