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.