The subject of microtransactions and paid DLC is a sore one for most gamers, a true divide in the community, and no matter your opinion on the subject, game developers and publishers are not going to change the system anytime soon.
The subject of this article is surrounding publisher Activision and a patent, filed in 2015 but approved this week. It has the ominous title of “System and Method for Driving Microtransactions in Multiplayer Video Games”. It serves one purpose, that is to maximise players spending of real-world money on in-game items that impact how the multiplayer games turn out.
At the moment there is a fierce debate raging around whether or not loot boxes in games, paid for with microtransactions should be covered by gambling laws and restrictions. A debate that has a point, buying loot boxes filled with random items in the hope of hitting the jackpot can be seen looked at as a form of gambling, this is a long and tricky discussion and one we’ll have at a later date.
A widely shared opinion about microtransactions is that if the items being purchased are only cosmetic and offer no advantage to a player (such as Overwatch’s loot boxes) then it’s a fair trade. If a player wants skins, poses or anything else to enhance their visual style it’s entirely fair that they have the option to purchase such items for a small fee.
However, Activision’s patent details the following idea, to pit what they call junior players against higher ranking players who have bought items via microtransactions in online matches. The idea is that not only will the junior player have a harder time beating the opposing player but they will make the mental connection that because the higher ranked player has a weapon or ability brought via real money that there must be value to investing in it and will then go ahead and grab their credit card.
This would all be run by an algorithm that decides what the junior player may be interested in, item wise and matches them with someone who has it. For example, if the junior seems to use assault rifles a lot on their first few games on an online FPS they will find themselves matched with players who have paid for bigger and better rifles in hopes that this will trigger a sale.
This is where it gets murky, as I said above, cosmetic items paid for by real money is fine. It offers nothing in the way of advantages and is solely designed for those who have a bit of disposable cash and want to customise their game experience. This adds value to the game for people and while it has raised the aforementioned gambling debate it’s a fairly innocent system.
When we get into the pay to win system it’s a different story. This patent and the system it wants to implement is designed to make as much money out of new players as it possibly can, new players who have just shelled out, their or someone else’s hard earned cash to buy the game in the first place. To then ask for more money from the offset in order to actually have a chance at competing in the game can be seen as a negative or even aggressive move on the part of the publisher.
This kind of system only serves to create a gap in a games potential community, the haves and the have-nots and eventually form a community of big spenders with no room for anyone else to join in or compete, without splashing some cash to even be able to stand a chance.
Video game developers and publishers aren’t exactly renowned for their listening skills when it comes to gaming communities and their collective thoughts (with the exception of a few) and it is measures like this from Activision that just further their distance from their customers. There was a time when people made video games because they loved to make video games and they loved to share this passion. More and more in recent years however it seems that big publishers just want to milk the industry for every penny they can and turn everything into a paid “service”.
It is important though to remember that Activision has only filed the patent, there is as of yet no evidence they are actually going to implement the system and it could just gather dust and never see the light of day, but knowing companies as powerful as they are in the gaming world have ideas such as this can easily raise concerns amongst gamers whos wallets are already strained.
What are your thoughts on this and microtransactions as a whole? Weigh in with your comments below.