NAG Online > Opinions > Opinion: Dollar signs in the eyes of publishers

Opinion: Dollar signs in the eyes of publishers

The Crew E3 trailer gate break

I’ve come to realise while writing this column that a large majority of my work includes discussing money. Whether it revolves around performance per Dollar/Rand, price per gigabyte or in-app purchases, money drives a lot of what I write about. That’s all my System Builders guides are wrapped around – getting the most performance for your budget. But it’s not only in hardware where I’ve concentrated on value before – I’ve previously also been very vocal about microtransactions. It seems that microtransactions are to the industry what Flappy Bird is to millions of casual gamers out there. Its a simple, easy to get into and very hard to leave behind concept. It just can’t be left alone, seemingly.

And The Crew has been confirmed to have that thing I loathe most – microtransactions and an opening for a pay-to-win model. Damnit, Ubisoft, why this one?

When I was writing for MyGaming in 2013 I focused quite a bit on microtransactions and their effects on gameplay. I particularly concentrated on how it related to progress in Microsoft’s Xbox One launch title Forza Motorsport 5, essentially making the game fit into a pay-to-win model if you’re not as skilled as other racer’s drivatars on the track. Later on I asked if the trend was here to stay – it had already infected Electronic Arts completely (which is why I’ve boycotted everything except Crytek’s games), going so far as to purposely make Dead Space 3‘s armor and weapons progression more tedious and shoveling Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer in with a pile of purchases you can make in the game to get the leg-up on your opponents.

The trend has moved into other titles from other studios as well – Grand Theft Auto V, Guild Wars 2, Assassin’s Creed III and Gran Turismo 6 all have some form of in-app purchases or microtransactions inside or outside of them.

Gaming is a luxury hobby, I get that. I get that people who have the hardware to do so generally have some spare cash for buying another game or two. But why must every publisher get into the trend under the guise of “doing the math” to see if their investors like the buckets of free money they’ve been getting in? That has the most potential for alienating your potential core market very quickly.

Even Miklós touched on the microtransaction saga this in his piece, What’s good for the casual isn’t good for the core, focusing on how Forza 5‘s progression for players who haven’t played any of the previous titles for Forza Rewards and don’t have the skill to progress through is a much more difficult and time-consuming task.

Although Turn 10 has on numerous occasions tried to make up for this with price drops on cars, increases in money earned for races and so on, the game still constantly lets you know that this would all be a lot easier if you just handed over more money right now. If anyone thinks we’re bashing them for fun, we’re not – Forza 5 is just the best modern example of a $60 game that has a difficulty curve adjusted to coax players to pay to progress through it.

In fact, much of the launch lineup for the Xbox One back in 2013 had microtransactions in it and it’s forgivable in Killer Instinct’s case because the base game is free. Microsoft’s original plan was to make their new console always-online, with all your games linked to your live account with little resale value, no trading with friends or family and have everything still behind the Gold paywall.

In The Crew’s case…

microtransactions everywhere

In an interview with Videogamer, a representative from Ubisoft confirmed that microtransactions are in the game and the wording he gave implied that, just like Forza 5, real money will be given the same weighting in the game as virtual credits earned from player progression and that it’s only there as a short-cut to gamers who don’t have time to play the game properly to earn the required cars and upgrades.

“We can confirm that performance parts can be unlocked through progression as well as microtransactions,” the rep said. “All content can be unlocked through progression, but for busy gamers who want to save some time, they will have the opportunity to buy some items in-game.”

Even Julian Gerighty calls it a “dual-currency approach” which is more than likely PR-speak for “we just want you to avoid the grind and give us more money.” Why would they feel bad about doing this, anyway? Need for Speed Rivals gives you entire upgrade packs for just under R100 a pop.

That’s not all. Videogamer’s preview for the game also points out something that I hadn’t known about before – doing everything and anything inside The Crew costs money. Fast-traveling across America costs (in-game and real-world) money. Using public transportation costs money. The reason for that is because Ivory Tower wants you to remain playing the game at all times and if you don’t want to spend any of that money, you’ll have to drive all the way there. That’s an hour and a half of real-world travel time if you’re meeting a friend on the other side of the map.

Its like these game designers don’t care about the title they’re making, they just want to get the most amount of money for their publishers so that they’re able to collect their cheques at the end of the month. I intensely dislike this direction that the industry is going. I don’t support it, either.

I feel a little helpless against this trend

Who’s going to give a damn that someone didn’t buy The Crew because they didn’t support microtransactions? No-one at EA is going to care that some small-time hardware journalist in South Africa with a long history of loving Need for Speed games won’t ever buy another one because they’ve quashed anything that I ever liked about it.

I’m a drop in the ocean worth $60 and to the people crunching the numbers its no big deal. They have enough other people hooked in to not care about me or the piracy rates.

To the developers reading this, please make your in-app purchases in games that have a high buy-in price only apply to cosmetic items. It was cosmetic armor for your horse in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion that started this all off and that’s how it should stay – custom liveries and tyre rims on cars, pink night gowns for your GTA Online character, glow-in-the-dark weapons for Artyom as he travels through the train tunnels in Metro.

Give these things value, but don’t let them give other players advantage or make the game easier (put cheats in for that instead). I can understand that this doesn’t apply for free-to-play (F2P) games and there the model works perfectly well. Team Fortress 2 is the perfect example of how to balance in-app purchase with the required amount of skill to get anything nice in the game.

But for a game that has a AAA-sized budget and a huge development team as well as piles of money from the publisher to move it along? Don’t make your DLC give players an unfair advantage over others who won’t be able to afford it. That’s not supporting the players, that’s just a blatant attempt at money-grabbing and directly creating animosity between players to others who have better parts or items than theirs.

  • Alex Rowley

    Good article. I totally know what you mean about being helpless to change this trend, I mean the best I can hope for is that the Crew bombs hard but that is obviously not going to be the case.

    The worst part about this to me is how they explain it’s to help people with less time. That is utter bullshit, why charge for fast travel then? Make it free and that makes things a lot easier. Make progression easier instead of making it harder for those who don’t pay, give cheat codes, have all parts unlocked at the beginning. Any of those are better for us than having to buy the things with actual money.

    This game is getting as bad as a Facebook game with the time gating as well, a full priced game has got mechanics that you see in a Facebook game and I feel this is a tipping point of some kind. I hope to god people prove me wrong and they show Ubisoft exactly what we think of things like this.

  • Squirly

    The fact that they have all these purchases for people who “don’t have the time to unlock everything” tells you exactly who they are targeting – not us. Fine then. Aim for the casuals and the quick pickup-and-play-briefly people. Their choice. But if they see their fans and their core market drift away and then see themselves with a bunch of people who don’t actually play games that much as their main customers I will only laugh.

    I hope I will laugh, not because I want The Crew to fail, but because I want to see a publisher with egg on their face.

  • GGoDeath

    yea, i agree with the Wes, the thing is that there is a working model that gamers and developers are happy with, f2p with micro-transactions for cosmetics, why this hasnt been widely adopted by more developers seems incredibly short sighted on their part..(to me anyway)

    • Alex Rowley

      This isn’t a free to play game though. It’s a full priced game with pay to win in it. Also you have to think of the ramifications if this becomes the accepted norm. Will Assassins Creed be locking fast travel behind a currency system? Will you be able to buy gear with actual money? That is a dark road I don’t want to see gaming go down.

      • Rick de Klerk

        “Live in your world. Pay in ours.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wesley-Fick/184346154999538 Wesley Fick

      Most probably because not every developer has Valve’s staff and CEO. At GDC 2013 Gabe basically told everyone in a lecture he was giving that all you have to do is make the game great and sell hats. Hats was all that was needed to make TF2 profitable.

      I’d like to see CD Projekt Red follow suit. I don’t think they’ll have purchases available for Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 will be a completely clean slate for them as well. It will be interesting to see how Crytek deals with it as a ID@Xbox member.

  • Stan Smith

    Good article. That’s why I never ever buy games that even have a slightest hint of P2W.

  • http://xelusprime.wix.com/ettiennev Xelus

    This, this is the reason why I’ve lost much respect for gaming and don’t take it seriously as I used to. The kiddies go ask mommy and daddy for money and buy level 80 armor and XP boost for the next 10 years and they never lifted a finger nor will ever know what the work-&-reward system is all about.

    Where is the days when you had to play 18 hours, struggle your arse off to get that one item and once you get it, you have a sense of accomplishment. Ubi can keep the crew, lost respect for them and their games a while back.

    Again catering for the kids who sit at home and ask mommy and daddy for money to buy the items they want in the game instead of working for it. Defeats the purpose of playing the game, they might as well hack then, to me that is equal.

    • PicklePod

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s not about people with no time, it’s about people with lots of time, no patience, and more importantly LOTS OF MONEY!
      There just happens to be lots of people in this category to cash in big :(((

  • Kyle Myburgh

    Remember when cheats unlocked things you didn’t have time to unlock yourself!

  • BinaryMind

    It’s OBSCENE. That’s it.

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