Microtransactions in all future EA games: a step too far?

Feature Ryan Lambie 28 Feb 2013 - 06:57

As EA unveils its plans to introduce microtransactions in all its future games, Ryan wonders if it'll do more harm to its sales than good...

As the current generation of consoles gives way to the next, the games industry finds itself in a state of transition. Aside from the new batch of hardware on the horizon from Microsoft and Sony, we're also seeing a huge shift in the way games are bought and paid for. Mobile phones and tablets are continuing to eat into the market traditionally ruled by dedicated handheld consoles. Sales of games in boxes are on the cusp of being overtaken by downloads. And at the same time, publishers are beginning to adopt new means of making profits from their games.

Yesterday, EA revealed its intention to introduce microtransactions in all its future titles, as announced by its CFO Blake Jorgensen.

"The next and much bigger piece [of the business] is microtransactions within games," Jorgensen said. "We're building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business."

EA caused a certain amount of controversy with Dead Space 3, which introduced microtransactions to the franchise for the first time; as part of its weapon crafting system, certain resources can either be mined by scavenger bots, or alternatively, purchased via an in-game marketplace with real-world cash.

Now, this is a principle which has been knocking around for years in online games - usually of the free-to-play variety - where revenue is earned through the sale of items rather than a large up-front payment from players. The controversy, of course, comes from applying microtransactions to a game which costs anywhere between £30 to £40.

On one hand, EA has faced accusations of shameless money grabbing. On the other, there's the argument that such microtransactions are optional, and that they merely tax those who - for whatever reason - want to speed through the game more quickly. Eurogamer's Tom Philips has argued that the service is only a little different from one of those old cheat hotlines you used to see in the back of instruction booklets.

Whatever your opinion on microtransactions in full-price games, it seems they're the future as far as EA's concerned, and may be as prevalent in its future output as DLC and map packs have been in its games of the past five-or-so years.

Games: from a product to a service

EA's announcement is a sign, perhaps, of the industry's changing attitude to what games are. Where they were once considered to be a product - the same as a console or any other sellable item, which is sold in exchange for money - they're increasingly becoming a service, where a regular stream of updates is offered for months or years after its initial release.

This in turn has led to a new way of thinking about how games can be packaged and monetised. Content can be sold in small morsels rather than one large chunk. Extra revenue can be earned from optional weapons, items and multiplayer maps. And up until now, many players have enjoyed the relatively new world of free-to-play games, which have experimented with ways of introducing these approaches in a way that satisfies both the end user and those hoping to make a tidy profit - sometimes disastrously, sometimes with great success.

There's a major difference, however, between a free-to-play MMO or a cheap mobile app and a full-priced game like Dead Space 3. While microtransaction defenders have argued that they needn't have a negative impact on the end product, many reviewers have already found fault with the process of having to grind through certain parts of the game rather than pay for resources.

"... there were plenty of moments where I fell just short of what was needed," Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead wrote of Dead Space 3's newly-added resource management gameplay aspect. "I scraped through, but faced with an uncertain journey to the next workbench, it's easy to see how the temptation [to pay for resources] would be hard to resist, especially when certain resources are conspicuously less common than others."

Dead Space 3 has earned decent reviews, but the series has seen a rapid change from a survival horror experience to a co-op shooter with RPG elements and, yes, optional microtransactions. It begs the question: how will EA's other franchises reinvent themselves in order to accommodate this additional revenue stream? Will we be faced with the choice of either winning 40 races or paying before a new track's unlocked in a Need For Speed sequel, for example?

Such cynicism aside, we have to allow the possibility that EA - and any other publisher thinking of introducing microtransactions - will be able to integrate this new business model without upsetting end users. And this is something it'll have to implement very carefully, particularly when it comes to full-price games.

With sales of Dead Space 3 reportedly 26 per cent lower than the previous entry, it's just possible that gamers are already voting with their wallets.

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I think that as long as they don't punish players for not participating in microtransactions (as in, players can still get the full game experience without them), they're not a bad thing. I still pick up my old NES and SNES games pretty frequently, and if these new games aren't able to be played to their fullest 20-30 years from now, then we have a problem.

Yes Micro transactions, and free to play games are optional, you dont have to do them however I dont feel that they are the future at all. I have always preferred earning/ unlocking things in games, through time played or ability. NOT for me thanks EA. I understand that games companies are here to make money, I get that, but there are some actions taken by companies that have made me incredibly cynical as to whether to purchase other games from them. Capcom is a prime example of this. I Bought Asura's Wrath, "played" through, and completed to get an ending which would leave me to believe that it was to have a sequel in the works however it turns out the *True* ending was to be released as DLC. Another Tactic Capcom tried was in Street Fighter X Tekken, it was released with a number of characters, and they later stated that they would be releasing more as DLC. They were later found to already be on the disc, just locked away until the right fee was paid. Also, you have the option of customising your characters however you only have a limited number of options for colours, and have to pay for any more (Im not sure if they are free now?). Not to mention the gem packs you could get, and additional costumes. That is not to say they are all that bad, but I am hesitant to continue giving money to companies that treat consumers in this fashion.

As long as everything that's available to buy, is available to find/earn in game and those things aren't made artificially harder than they are today as a way to drive microtransactions or marketed offensively, I'm fine with it. Do I trust EA not to do those things? No.

Remember when cheat codes were free hidden extras?

This is all wrong. EA are heading down a bad route and theyre going to lose. As Chris says, many of us prefer to earn the unlockables as its part of playing the game. They're charging up to £50 for a full priced game and I think its a damn piss take to charge more money in game. Capcom damaged their reputation with this tactic and EA's is already at breaking point. Ubisoft treated PC gamers like criminals before realising their error and now they're trying to make amends, EA should be careful, they're only as big as they are whilst customer allow them to get away with these things.

As you say, while I have zero interest in microtranslations myself I'm fine with them so long as everything can still be earnt/unlocked with proper time and effort without them.

If that ever changes, yeah, big problem right there.

lets be honest, the game developers are there to make money, so introducing microtransactions and upping the difficulty of the game in that section will happen in a bid to force the players hand into their wallet.
The beginning of the end in my opinion, as developers squeeze harder and harder sections out until games are unplayable without them. We already see this on games from the app store, but when you pay 1.49 you can just about stomach it. £50 on the other hand? Screw you EA.

Yes, this isn't elitist in the least. I can understand online multiplayer gaming isn't a cheap enterprise to run and so subscriptions seem to be a necessary evil, and I don't mind giving my money away for such things because I love games and I want to see them continuing.
But a subscription does not give you an advantage, it pays for the foundations. Sign up to WOW at whatever it is now - £8 a month I think - and you've signed up to operate in the WOW universe. There are loads of players better than you - but then that's because they've put in the hours. If you put in the hours, you'll get up there too.
To allow someone to walk into a game and just splash around money around to give them an advantage over other players is nothing more than naked profiteering. There is no feasible reason on earth why you would do this, other than to make more money. So you take something wonderful and creative and in many cases almost magical - and you turn it into an elitist battle ground where there is a clear divide between rich and poor - e.g. the poor are being cut down in droves by the superior weaponry of the rich. I'm quite happy to play a game with this set up, but only if it is a narrative and not the actual reality of the setup. I don't agree with this in the same way that I don't agree with express cues at Alton Towers - it's a good idea insofar as a few extra quid will get you in faster. But you've just made the cue elitist - poorer people simply can't afford the extra so they get to go on 4 rides because they're queuing all day, and the other folk go on everything simply because they have more money. You would never accept this situation in a restaurant - 'sorry sir you'll have to wait another 20 minutes, some richer people have turned up and they're paying us extra to be seated and dined first'
I felt the same about Diablo 3's real money auction house. Why do a powerhouse like Blizzard need to squeeze more profit from their customers, they turnover a truck load of money!?
Business ruins everything. Why can't it just be about running the enterprise rather than making profit!? Grrr! Rant over.

"consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business."

Fudge you Blake! ........................... just........... just fudge you!!! GAH!!!

Agreed. Besides it's always fun whooping people that have clearly spent loads of money ie Team Fortress 2

I already feared that the imminent SimCity would introduce microtransactions to unlock content - now I'm sure of it.

Profit ........... you just said it. That is pretty much the sole reason most of the big publishers think and operate around - gaining as much profit share for their shareholders as possible. The stupid thing is, as Valve has more than successfully shown, if you work with gamers and give them what they want in the first place, you still can turn a massive profit. But that takes time and effort which it appears that many of the biggies just simply do not want to invest in.

Microtransactions / Free To Play bubble will burst just like Social Gaming did. Just like Wii did. Just like Pogs did. Just like Cabbage Patch Kids did. Anyone see a cycle?

Exactly. The mobile app market sort of set the precedent on this, but with fairly good reason. You simply cannot develop and re;ease a game for free or for pennies and expect to stay in business. So microtransactions help with. And that to me is fine for something costing less than a fiver.

However most of EA's games do not cost a fiver on consoles or PC ...... they cost more like £50. And anyone who is "enjoying and embracing that way of the business" either needs to rethink their gaming/financial requirements or stop using their parents credit card!!!

I understand the requirement for profit if you're planning on expansion....But Blizzard must be about ready to put a 3,000 acre base on the moon with the cash they're raking in. EA obviously love a good cash cow as well, what with Fifa being released more than once every year, and more add-ons for the sims than actual people in the world....
I have a real issue with the elitism presented in these micro-pay ideas (Starting to sound like bluddy Murdoch!), if someone can at least afford the game then don't immediately throw them into a wealth divide.
But another issue is that art should drive business and NOT the other way round. The only thing business should drive is a bus. Off a cliff.

I can't stand the thought of being statistically wedged into a box and then being sold what they think my wedge will like. Not because I want to feel I'm an individual, but because I want the game to surprise me. "Oh well statistically our main customer base is the 25-35 year old males from the UK so a war theme would be a safe bet as they've done well in that market previously, and if we make it an FPS then we already own a great engine for engineering FPS's so that'll keep production costs down. With such a great customer base, we'll be able to charge a good whack for any advertising - plus we've also found out in the data that white and red images sear themselves into a persons mind more vividly than any other so we'll ensure all adverts are coloured accordingly"
Just make the game you want to make. If it's crap, then it's crap - go back and try again. DON'T make a game you think I will like because it makes me lose all faith in humanity, the world and I want to start killing things in the real world. Grr!

I feel your pain bud, I frequently rant about this subject for hours .............................. and that's the reason those lovely people put me in this very nice cream room and give lots of wonderful injections AAAAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAABBBBBBBRRRRRRRRRRRRRR DING DING DING!!!!!!

It is this exactly why I will never ever buy an EA game brand new.

Personally this doesnt sound like something i would buy into (pardon the pun). I think that this isnt the best way to combat people playing small games on tablets and phones etc. Instead surely it would be better to advertise in such a way to get people into the great storylines and character development that can happen in great games. Hopefully this with any luck would result in a large increase in console gaming sales. I dont know though, its allways difficult to predict how the general public will react.

yes we are enjoying buying a game & then paying again for extra stuff!! Get real oafs!

This is a really dumb idea, at least for the PC market. Why should I pay for a partial version of the game, when I could get a full version of the game for free from a torrent site?

I've never downloaded a game before, but this would certainly make me consider it.

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