The free to play system of gaming is a more recent development that came about along with the rise of internet gaming. The system should be more aptly described as the free to start playing, but costly to get the most out of it. Being always connected meant that developers had an easy system of delivery for new content, levels, gear, or just more in game currency… for a price. Recent controversy has surrounding the inclusion of pay to play element in games like Forza 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome for the Xbox One. Is this a sign of things to come in the next generation?
I really only want to write a quick article supporting the inclusion of pay to win games like Forza and Ryse, and I am also using the term pay to win loosely, because that’s not really the case. In both games you can use real dollars to purchase in game tokens which can then be spent on in game cars or items. Lets be clear that the purchasable tokens are also unlocked through regular play of the game, albeit at a much slower rate. Also nothing is locked out so that you would be forced to pay your way into receiving some exclusive items. This is not DLC, everything is in the game and you are paying for a quicker way to get in game money, which can be traded for virtual goods.
So what is the benefit here? If you really like a game, you can unlock more goods quicker and if you don’t like the game you don’t have to pay any extra, but might not see some end game content because it takes a lot of grinding to earn enough to unlock it all. Ryse does this really well, because you use the tokens to buy booster packs containing random items for your character. You also earn tokens through online play, so you can grind it out there, but a quick boost is available. This is very similar to buying packs of Magic cards, you don’t know what you will get. Some packs are more than worth the money, but some aren’t. Nevertheless, opening a pack and not knowing whats inside is addicting. Personally, I think Mass Effect 3 did a better job and I often found myself wanting just one more pack and spending some left over MS points. But for the most part I used the in game currency unlocked through regular play.
But Jake, I already paid $60 for the game, why isn’t everything unlocked from the get go? From a business standpoint, I love this trend, as it shows forward thinking. Because of the online connectivity and constant updates, developers do not cease work on a title after it ships. So how do we compensate all this extra work? By upping the price of video games to $100? The internet would be even more upset. Micro transactions help offset the extra cost of maintaining online services and patch updates. Think of any MMO… you have to pay each month to play the game, if you don’t want to play that month, don’t pay. And MMO’s receive constant content additions at a great pace and quality.
If you aren’t in love with the game, then you play the single player and try out the multiplayer and then stop playing. And you run that risk with any form of entertainment. However, if you keep playing long after release then you might be more inclined to purchase some booster packs, for example, that would enhance your experience. Micro transactions work best in relation to multiplayer online arenas, where you are repeating the same content, but seeking higher levels. Think of buying 10 games of double xp for $1.00 or a booster pack full of rare (and/or not so rare) armor mods for Halo! I would buy that because I’m invested in the online community and will play online for a long time.
These are just a few examples, but micro transactions are best used as background purchases, only meant to speed up leveling and unlocking or cosmetically change a character, but not make one player better than another. Thus, I’ll call it “pay for more” instead of pay to win. Which actually sounds like it is, in Forza you can pay for more cars if you want, or if you would rather grind them out by earning in game currency, you can do that too. In Ryse you can pay for more booster packs or just use the tokens you earn in game to buy them.
If you read nothing else: At the end of the day we should be celebrating micro transactions and the people who buy them because they keep game costs down for the rest of us. Don’t want to pay a monthly fee to play individual games online? Fine, let other people buy micro transactions in order to pay for extra development and service costs. But don’t complain about the system unless you are willing to face the alternative.
I think it would be smart for publishers to include a $5 token for a one time micro transactions for a boost of in game currency, just to get players more accustomed to using the system and add to the perceived value of a product. Personally, I’ll spend $5 on Ryse tokens because I just want it now!! Haha if you want to read more check out this article on Kotaku talking about micro transactions in Forza.