Didn't we already go over this with Dead Space two years back? Or Forza last year? Or Ass Creed a couple of weeks ago?
Another week, another example of Ubisoft trying to copy the EA of several years ago. I'm going to get around to the excellence of Far Cry 4 eventually, which will surely balance out some of the skewering we've been doing of Ubisoft over the past few weeks, but it's difficult to ignore things like sticking big, fat microtransactions in full-priced games.
Jon noted that The Crew is rocking a premium unlockable option for £39.99, dishing out 600,000 Crew Credits to parties willing to stump up enough cash to buy the game all over again (but not from Uplay). This isn't the first time that we've this from Ubisoft this winter -- Assassin's Creed: Unity, a game that somehow felt the need to have four different kinds of in-game currency, had an option to buy 20,000 Helix Credits for the low, low price of £64.99.
"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."
"Dual currency" and "microtransactions" are phrases that I absolutely loathe seeing when talking about full price games. They are, in essence, admissions of defeat: "We couldn't be arsed to create a meaningful way for you to earn this in-game, so here's a pay option because we're admitting that the game we made is unbalanced." The bottom line is that microtransactions exist in fully priced games simply because they can. There's simply no defence for them, it's just yet another example of game design being sabotaged in the name of profit.
To be fair, though, I'm not actually even sure that it's microtransactions themselves that I have the real problem with. It's the notion of in-game currency -- paying real bucks for completely useless fake bucks, the worth of which is defined completely by faceless bean counters. The minute you buy into an in-game currency, you put yourself at the mercy of hidden systems designed with one purpose in mind: to make money. Companies usually get around the abusive nature of this imbalance by pointing towards the fact that you can "earn" this premium currency in-game. However, this usually involves a significant amount of monotonous grinding and/or no small investment of time.
Thing is, we're not even talking about "free" mobile games here (and the App Store recently changed their wording on such freemium games from "FREE" to "GET" in light of aggressive monetisation). We're talking about triple-A blockbuster titles that cost £50 on PC if bought from the publisher's storefront, utilise a clunky, unoptimised service for DRM, and are essentially gating content behind dual-currency paywalls.
Far Cry 4, by contrast, is a stunning game in way inhibited by the pretty insignificant little purchases people can make via Uplay if they want painted elephants or a little XP boost in PvP. Thing is, the Uplay points I've accumulated just by playing games more than cover everything Far Cry 4 has to offer there. I had to go looking for the microtransactions in Far Cry 4, that's how unobtrusive they are. Better yet, the best weapons in the game are nearly all unlockable by doing cool stuff in the campaign... which is exactly how it should be!
The sad truth, however, is that there's more of the ruthless monetising to come. Ubisoft have admitted as much themselves, with Senior VP of sales and marketing, Tony Key, detailing how "that's really what has to happen, we have to get these $60 customers to become $200 customers" earlier this year in a clinically honest interview:
"We're really focused, as an industry at this point, on getting more revenue out of people for the things that they love. If they love it, give them more, right? So you're creating downloadable content, you're putting microtransactions into the games, which the new generation of hardware is helping make easier. People are learning that from other genres -- people are learning a lot of behaviours that we can take advantage of and say that people are willing to pay for more of what they love."
There's a refreshing, cold honesty to Key's statements. He's a money man, of course, this is what he does. After the placatory missives sent forth from development studios in the wake of these games, Key's soft-spoken confession to Ubisoft wanting to squeeze consumers for all that they can is alarmingly matter-of-fact. The sad truth is that he has a point. In spite of its broken, buggy state, in spite of its ludicrous in-game currencies, Assassin's Creed: Unity placed fifth in the UK charts this week. It was helped along by being involved in nearly every sub-£300 Xbox One bundle out there, but even so, there's a nasty pang of truth to the Key's notion of paying through the nose for something that we love. Assassin's Creed is a huge brand -- fans will make excuses for it, mediocre instalments will still get bought, people will continue to lap it up.
There are precious few things that consumers can do when it comes to these sorts of things. There are precious few things that developers can do, too, when the money men are forcing monetisation directives into design feature lists, which is why so many have fled triple-A studios to go indie over the past few years. But we can vote with our wallets. We can hold off on the pre-orders and all of the needless haste. We can warn others to do the same. And we'll keep doing it here. It's about telling Ubisoft and others like them that such anti-consumer practices are outrageous and have no place in full-price games (at the very least). It's about waiting and seeing, not blindly handing over money for a shadowy product designed to poke at addictive habits. It's about protecting games and developers from the exploitative tendencies of suited executives.
It's about not getting screwed by people like Key and their policies.