“...microcosm of everything that is wrong with AAA gaming today.”
September 28, 2017 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Microtransactions Are Hurting and Devaluing Video Games by Taneli Palola [VG Chartz] “Over the last few years microtransactions have become increasingly more commonplace within the video game industry, popping up in a huge number of high profile games as video game companies have realized the potential profits that can be made from them. This system is understandable in free-to-play games where microtransactions are the only source of income for the developer. A good example of a game like this would be something like Dota 2, where the main purpose of microtransactions is to buy cosmetic changes to the various characters in the game, while the game itself and all of the characters remain free-to-play for everyone. However, the use of microtransactions in games becomes an issue when they are used in full priced premium titles. We already have to deal with things like pre-order bonuses, season passes, barely justifiable DLC, content cut from the base game to later sell as said DLC, and so on. It's been a long time since the video game you bought was the one you got and that was it.”

• The Future of Gaming: Free DLCs and Paid Microtransactions by Boston Blake [Game Rant]
“Over the course of the last two decades, the gaming industry has seen significant shifts in how video games are created and played. Thanks to improvements in technology and graphics, games have better, more realistic visuals. Thanks to the growth and expansion of the internet, gamers can now play in real time with friends and strangers from around the globe. More recently, there’s been a shift in the way video game developers collect revenue: namely DLCs and microtransactions. In fact, despite the negative rap many gamers hold toward microtransactions, there’s no denying it’s an effective means of income for video game companies. This shift has been so lucrative, in fact, that this Game Rant writer believes it will be an integral part of the future of gaming. The last few years have taught us that gamers have high expectations for video game developers, to the point that even a minor flaw in an otherwise stellar game can spell disaster for a game’s potential sales. This changing mindset among gamers has led to new practices by the gaming industry that will forever change the future of gaming.”
• For Honor, Halo Wars 2 Push The Boundaries Of Microtransactions by James Kozanitis [Game Revolution]
“Microtransactions of any kind in video games will always irk consumers, even in a game like Overwatch that is sold at a relative discount ($40) and only has cosmetic bonuses available for purchase. Throw in microtransactions that actually affect the game or give someone a competitive advantage, and you've just invited a village of pro-consumers to sharpen their pitchforks and come after you. Of course, there are a few different schools of thought, with arguments both for and against. The argument of time vs money is the most compelling. The basic argument is one type of gamer has more time than he has money, so he can use that time to invest in unlocking better upgrades, and the other type of gamer has more money than he has time, so he can use his money to gain an advantage he wouldn't be able to gain through time. But, that falls short when you complicate things any further. What if you have more money than I have time? Better yet, what if you have both money and time? Better yet, what if you have more money and time than I have either? Then is this microtransaction model fair?”
• The Troubling Psychology of Pay-to-Loot Systems by Nathan Lawrence [IGN]
““In behavioural psychology, that randomised system of reward is the one that creates the most addiction,” says Emil Hodzic, who runs the Video Game Addiction Treatment Clinic. “That’s the one that causes all the drama.” This comment comes from an interview about microtransactions tied to random number generator (RNG) card packs, or what I call “pay-to-loot”. It’s a system that exists beyond genres and irrespective of the price of a game. It’s becoming more common, too. You can find it in Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Gears of War 4, Dirty Bomb and Hearthstone, to name a handful of names that constantly arose while researching this piece. Publishers will tell you these RNG microtransactions are optional, and to an extent that’s true, but they’re baked into the games in question, and are offered via a number of access points. Sure, you can spend a few (or a lot of) real-world bucks, but you can also use artificial in-game currency… all to buy what amounts to uncertainty. That’s how RNG systems work. What may have been a shiny loot drop one time, isn’t likely to repeat again anytime soon because of predetermined loot drop rates.”
• Shadow of War developer discusses the game's controversial loot boxes by Tom Phillips [Eurogamer]
“Last month, big budget Lord of the Rings game Middle-earth: Shadow of War revealed it would supplement its full-fat price-tag by including loot boxes purchasable with real-world money. It was an announcement which, predictably, did not go down well with fans. The single-player action adventure has an in-game store, called the Market, that sells orcs and other items for use in the game's Nemesis System. You can also buy loot chests, war chests, XP boosts and bundles. The loot chests contain gear (weapons and armour) of varying rarity. They can also contain XP boosts which, as you'd expect, help level up playable character Talion faster. War chests provide orc followers of varying rarity which you can use to help create a strong army. They can also contain training orders to level up and customise orc followers. Publisher Warner Bros. accompanied the announcement with reassurances - that anything gained from the loot boxes could also be earned by simply playing the game, that the microtransactions could be ignored completely, and that they were simply an option offered to players as a way of saving time. So why include them at all? The commercial argument is clear - these things make money and, yes, some of this money will go to supporting the game's developer. But by acknowledging the need to reassure fans it was clear Warner knew this announcement would draw fire Shadow of War's way.”
• Behind the addictive psychology and seductive art of loot boxes by Alex Wiltshire [PC Gamer]
“Loot boxes are everywhere. They're in shooters, RPGs, card games, action games and MOBAs. They also take the form of packs, chests and crates. They're filled with voice lines, weapon skins, new pants or materials to get you more loot boxes. They're in free games and paid ones, singleplayer and multiplayer. They can be free to open and paid for with real money. You may feel an almost violent antipathy to the very idea of them, but you've probably also opened a fair few. The appeal isn't hard to grasp. Opening a loot box is a rush: a moment of anticipation followed by release. That colourful animated flurry is often accompanied by disappointment, but is sometimes with the joy of getting exactly the item that you wanted. And then you feel the gambler's pull to open another, pushing you back into the game to grind or digging into your wallet to earn or buy your next one.”
• The maddening genius of the loot box by Nick Statt [The Verge]
“The most astounding part is that none of this matters at all. Every item is cosmetic: they won’t make you run faster, deal more damage, or collaborate better with your teammates. Everything Blizzard has included in the update, and every update prior to the anniversary event, is designed to be an aesthetic flourish. You can get your hands on a funny dance animation, or a slickly designed new skin that makes a character look like a futuristic space marine or even a beekeeper. More than anything, the anniversary event illustrates why Blizzard’s business model for Overwatch is such a successful departure for multiplayer shooters — and how it could become the gold standard going forward. Because Blizzard doesn’t sell in-game currency at a 1:1 ratio, like many other modern games with collectibles, players are forced to buy bulk packs of loot boxes. These boxes have a random chance of dropping something you’ll want. But more often than not, they contain stuff you already have. There’s also a currency in the game that will let you buy items directly, yet you can only earn that currency by opening a loot box. So think of this system as like trading card booster packs, where you might have a slight chance of getting a rare card grouped in with a bunch of so-so ones.”
• Why Opening Loot Boxes Feels Like Christmas, According To Game Devs by Cecilia D'Anastasio [Kotaku]
“Overwatch box animations maximize on anticipation. They break open, shake, spit into the air and rain down items, never revealing what you receive until the very end. The rewards almost feel tacked-on to the opening experience. “When you start opening a loot box, we want to build anticipation,” Heiberg said. “We do this in a lot of ways — animations, camera work, spinning plates, and sounds. We even build a little anticipation with the glow that emits from a loot box’s cracks before you open it.” Originally, colored lights preceding the spinning plates hinted at the items’ rarity. It drew the eye to one item in particular at the expense of others. “We quickly learned that this was too early, and it killed your anticipation of the box’s contents,” Heiberg said.”
• The Seven Stages Of Spending Too Much Money In Games by Nathan Grayson [Kotaku]
““I was like you once,” says an old man with a beard down to his belt, sitting in the corner of a bar. You think he’s talking to you, but maybe he’s shouting in hopes that someone will listen. “I told myself I’d never buy loot boxes or heroes or none of that,” he whimpers. “How wrong I was.” Twist: the old man is me. For the longest time, my policy with games like Overwatch and, more recently, Fire Emblem: Heroes was “earn or die... or go play a different video game.” Slowly but surely, though, things changed. Here, today, I’m going to chronicle the agonizing process that transformed me into a penniless pauper who shouts in bars—an old twenty-something rich in skins, but poor in friends, love, and life.”
Stage One: Resolve
Stage Two: I Suppose One Can’t Hurt
Stage Three: The Worst That Could Happen
Stage Four: A Trickle Turns Into A Flood
Stage Five: Disappointment
Stage Six: Blame
Stage Seven: Disappointment
posted by Fizz (59 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fizz, I'm not a gamer but I've really been enjoying your recent gaming posts!
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:01 PM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


DLC = downloadable content
posted by AFABulous at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


In some cases this is blurring the line between gaming and gambling. I personally believe that if you target children with gambling you should go to prison.
posted by adept256 at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2017 [16 favorites]


Gonna dig deep into this. But my take on this is that the real-time PvP nature of many new games (Destiny2, for example) demands that you spend so much time memorizing patterns in maps, how to 1-shot other players, etc., that these micro transactions are bandaids for problems that the developers created for their own players!

Thanks for the post.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


::shrug:: I used to play Magic: The Gathering.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


The debate over microtransactions reminds me of the debate over commercials before movies in the theater - sure, everyone hates them, but when you ask if people hate them enough to pay more for the entry fee, you get crickets.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I got into Minecraft when it was still in alpha, still pretty indie and obscure. It was my stock answer when people asked me about what's good for kids. One of the virtues was that you could easily make your own skins and textures without much more than MSPaint. So they're learning and being creative and having fun. Then Microsoft bought it, and you buy a skinpack for 99 cents. In Minecraft 4k, the sun is round.
posted by adept256 at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


I bought some loot boxes for Elder Scrolls Online. Probably $20 in real world money. I got: The trill of opening them, some interesting surprise goods, and 2 different unusual "mounts", a 2-legged lizard called a Guar and some kind of steampunk bear. I can ride these around now.

I'm just not the kind of person who's gonna spend another $20 the next day, the next day, etc. I can see how this is possibly problematic for people with gambling tendencies, bad impulse control, but the fucking liquor store has the same shit for sale.

Anyway, I used to spend $20-100 a night at bars, 2-4 times a week. My $20 purchase for an MMO (free to play otherwise, paid $60 for the game itself) seems pretty reasonable.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Part of me is just like… “you guys should see what a tournament-level Magic: the Gathering deck costs,” although that’s also if you buy the cards directly instead of going the huge-number-of-booster-packs-and-hoping route.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:33 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I used to play Magic: The Gathering.

I think TCG's are an interesting counterpoint, and help illustrate what's so wrong about many current microtransaction systems.

When you buy a pack of Magic cards, the probability of any given card being in a pack is provided up-front, because Wizards of the Coast publishes a list of every card in a given set, and publishes, in advance, the assortment of cards by rarity in each pack (but not the specific cards). That's not great (I neither like nor endorse that TCG model; and I'd note that you're almost always better off buying cards directly from resellers than buying packs and spinning the wheel of chance, unless you're specifically buying them to play Limited), but that level of transparency is considerably greater than many games: Team Fortress 2 crates, for example, will tell you what items might be in them, but not the chances of finding any individual item. Players have had to work backwards to determine the drop rate of most crates by comparing the results of opening them. And TF2 is hardly the only game with that problem.

The way a lot of loot crates are implemented, it's gambling where you don't know the odds up front. It's like playing blackjack without knowing whether the dealer is using a poker deck or a Pincochle deck -- it's not merely that these are gambling-analogues, it's that they're predatory gambling analogues that leverage the information disparity between company and consumer to the company's benefit.
posted by cjelli at 2:40 PM on September 28, 2017 [27 favorites]


Also a good read.
posted by _Synesthesia_ at 2:40 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I also want to thank fizz for his gaming posts. Are you going to make a post about steam removing the silicon echo 'fake games'?
posted by adept256 at 2:44 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Every game I play on my phone is of the freemium variety and I never spend money on them. I've kind of accepted that this is the model that works for phone games unless it's Super Mario Run.

But I was browsing on Steam for 4x games recently and came up on one that looked interesting but reading the comments a lot of people were complaining that the developer would turn what should be patches, bug fixes, or just core functionality into expansions that had to be paid for.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:05 PM on September 28, 2017


The way a lot of loot crates are implemented, it's gambling where you don't know the odds up front.

This is a particularly interesting point since Blizzard and other loot-box model companies have been contending with a new law in China requiring that these percentages be published. I'd love to see similar in the US.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:13 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


I've gotten addicted to microtransactions via Humble Bundle. It's great--each transaction is a new game! (or three)

Not of which, I believe, have had actual microtransactions.
posted by ropeladder at 3:24 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


Gonna dig deep into this. But my take on this is that the real-time PvP nature of many new games (Destiny2, for example) demands that you spend so much time memorizing patterns in maps, how to 1-shot other players, etc., that these micro transactions are bandaids for problems that the developers created for their own players!

Well, it depends on how seriously you take it. I've always thought that taking the PVP side of Destiny too seriously is the wrong tactic - for one thing, it's just not well-designed for super competitive play that is also fair, due to server issues, unbalanced weapons, and so on.

But what you said about PVP is interesting because I think it's one area where Destiny has a "reward" that isn't loot. Destiny is built around loot. Opening a loot box (engrams or chests) containing semi-random items is the reward for almost every activity. That's true for PVP too, but in PVP you can also play in order to move up in the rankings.

Microtransactions don't have much to do with PVP though. Most of the items are cosmetic, and all of them can be gotten through play. You're just paying for another chance to open that type of loot box, but you get a chance every time you level up.

I still don't like it. I personally don't feel pressured to buy, but I can imagine how someone can easily fall into the trap of wanting something, paying, paying, paying again... and I hope that they never expand microtransactions (especially of the gambling type) to more important items.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:25 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


The way a lot of loot crates are implemented, it's gambling where you don't know the odds up front.

Not only do you not know the odds, the house is in complete control of the deck and there's nothing stopping them from completely changing it after each draw. Based on my experience with some of the (terrible) trading card phone games I got sucked into, I have a pretty strong suspicion that they change the odds constantly to provide a consistent player experience and make sure the only way to get a lot of desirable stuff is to shell out cash.
posted by Copronymus at 3:55 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


I played a bit of the most recent installment of Fallout on the PS4, so I happened to be tuned in when they started releasing paid expansion packs--and I saw a fair amount of angry commentary online, along the lines of OH MY GOD WHY ISN'T THIS FREE. "I already paid for a loaf of bread--are you telling me that when I come back to the supermarket for more bread, I have to pay AGAIN???"

I also recently caved and got myself one of these here non-land-lines, so I'm newly introduced to the idea that there are games that you can play on your phone. And I was looking at Oceanhorn, which is a Zelda clone--except that the art looks, arguably, better than a number of recent premium Zelda games that you'd pay sixty bucks to play on a console. But it's available for Android, as a free demo which asks you to buy the full version for eight bucks if you want to play past a certain point.

And the comments in the Playstore are unbelievable. Oh my God, the wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth that such a terrible trick should be played on an unsuspecting public, that the game should be ONLY PARTLY FREE, and that people should be asked to pay eight bucks for a title that stands a fair comparison to a console product. I've just played Monument Valley, too, which is sublime, and I struggle to understand an ecosystem in which this game is worth a buck, and people act like they're making some huge altruistic gesture by paying anything for it at all.

So... in light of this stuff, I have to wonder if the people who are 'devaluing gaming' aren't the gamers. Folks gotta eat; if you don't want the crap, don't buy it, and don't give your kid your credit card.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:57 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


And this is discussion highlights, once again, how gaming isn't even remotely inclusive to the poor. The amount of money necessary to even be casually into comics, video games, and board games pretty much completely shuts out huge swaths of society who simply can't afford the cost.
posted by Beholder at 4:14 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


I've learned that I HAVE to stay away from anything with microtransactions. I can play little games on my phone that have just one transaction to unlock the full game, or to get rid of ads, but if you can buy diamonds or orbs or gems to make things go faster, I cannot play that game.

I spent over $500 on Dragonvale. For pixel art. No, not even for pixel art -- for getting to see pixel art sooner.

I spent $280 on Idle Universe, a STUPID fucking tick game. ("I'm only spending $1.50. I could easily spend that on a soft drink, and I'll enjoy this more than a soft drink!")

I'm dirt poor. I'm a graduate student. I cannot afford this. But I am incredibly vulnerable to the dopamine reward of opening a little box to see what's inside. After many conversations about this with my husband, who is an ABSOLUTE SAINT, I've determined I just have to stay away from freemiums and anything else with microtransactions. I changed my google password to an excessive 30 character password that my password manager remembers for me, and set my phone to require me to enter my password for any transaction. It's super hard to type that password, I get it wrong the first couple times, and that's just enough of an interrupt to let my brain kick in to gear to keep me from purchasing anything.

I fucking hate microtransactions. I hate how they make me feel and I hate what a dupe I am.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:26 PM on September 28, 2017 [47 favorites]


This is a particularly interesting point since Blizzard and other loot-box model companies have been contending with a new law in China requiring that these percentages be published. I'd love to see similar in the US.

I was about to reference those laws as well. Absolutely, this is a bare minimum consumer protection practice that game companies must either start doing voluntarily or be forced to do by government regulation. I think it's only a start, but it's so hard to object to on any reasonable grounds that there's no reason not to require it immediately.

So... in light of this stuff, I have to wonder if the people who are 'devaluing gaming' aren't the gamers.

It's fashionable in MMO fan circles these days to complain about free-to-play games and free-to-play monetisation, but I remember the days when a new MMO would come out and be greeted with a resounding, "Ugh, I'm not going to pay another subscription fee." Which is how we got over a decade where every MMO that wasn't WoW or EVE either withered on the vine or dropped it subscription to go free-to-play instead.

So, it's a two-fold problem. On the one hand, a lot of gamers are just cheap as fuck and will tolerate these exploitative gambling systems if it means they don't have to shell out up front. On the other hand, a lot of game companies are greedy as fuck and will happily ask you to pay five bucks for their tribute to a deceased employee or force you to go unlock your loot from the same place where you can buy your slot machine pulls.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:22 PM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have a pretty strong suspicion that they change the odds constantly

They absolutely do that to maximize your spending.
posted by markr at 5:56 PM on September 28, 2017


The big problem with microtransactions is not that money is changing hands at all, but that once it becomes possible to extract unlimited amounts of money out of an individual player, it creates a direct incentive to design the game around extracting as much money as possible.
posted by Pyry at 6:27 PM on September 28, 2017 [21 favorites]


Some developers are worse than others. Example, the new Futurama game; it is nigh impossible to complete quests lines without spending in game currency, which can be earned one at a time by watching ads every few x time units, but is obviously Skinner box designed to make the user shell out real cash. And while I was testing it for review, and we loaded the game with $40US worth of game currency, not long after, the game corrupted, and restarted, with none of the premium purchased items or currency still attached to the fb login id used to create and save the game. Developers response? Wow, that sucks, sorry, we can't help, even though you have the game id, the transaction record, and a receipt from visa. On the upside, their customer response was all I needed to have visa reverse all the charges, but yes, many, many developers have turned to the dark side of microtransactions.

(That said, y'all I have so many WoW premium pets. So many. And mounts. And characters I've boosted to 100, because I can do all of that with currency from the game itself, rather than real money. I am unlikely to spend $60US to boost a character, but I have no problem dumping $300k spacebux for the same toy. )

But tinyco, the publisher of futurama, can kiss my shiny metal ass.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:05 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


"The big problem with microtransactions is not that money is changing hands at all, but that once it becomes possible to extract unlimited amounts of money out of an individual player, it creates a direct incentive to design the game around extracting as much money as possible."

The first article implies this is happening when studios take out part of the game and make it paid DLC.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:10 PM on September 28, 2017


Really interesting, thanks!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 PM on September 28, 2017


I hate how they make me feel and I hate what a dupe I am.

You aren't a dupe. This isn't some simple carnival scam. These games are highly evolved money making schemes that have had armies of super intelligent designers, armed with a staggering amount of data about human behavior, spending enormous amounts of money to create these digital mousetraps.

It's virtually impossible for anyone who plays these games regularly to not eventually be suckered into spending money they didn't want to spend, so don't kick yourself too hard.

PS, I'm worried that Gearbox is going to go down this road with Borderlands 3.
posted by Beholder at 7:49 PM on September 28, 2017 [10 favorites]


(That said, y'all I have so many WoW premium pets. So many. And mounts. And characters I've boosted to 100, because I can do all of that with currency from the game itself, rather than real money. I am unlikely to spend $60US to boost a character, but I have no problem dumping $300k spacebux for the same toy. )

I bought a $20 horse skin in LOTRO, and I don't even feel bad about it. I probably spent several hundred dollars on LoL skins back when I paid that, too.

There's a discussion to be had, for sure, about the prices that some games charge for cosmetic items. But the gamebleboxes that have become so trendy lately are on a whole different tier of pure evil.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:56 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


Based on my experience with some of the (terrible) trading card phone games I got sucked into, I have a pretty strong suspicion that they change the odds constantly to provide a consistent player experience and make sure the only way to get a lot of desirable stuff is to shell out cash.

Yep! They collect oceans of data not only about which patterns of reward increase player spending in general, but also about how to algorithmically tailor the reinforcement schedule to each individual player to maximise revenue extraction. It's revolting.

Jim Sterling has had... things to say about this (youtube; NSFW audio).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:14 PM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


Japan has similarly started to regulate freemium/gacha games as well.

As far as I'm aware, however, the only type that's been completely banned is the "complete gacha", in which the loot boxes have items that are part of a set, and completion of that set results in a rarer weapon/character/etc. Getting duplicates is expected. This game model was subsequently made illegal in 2012 under the Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations (text + translation)

Related example, because I remember reading about it when it happened: the game Granblue Fantasy made headlines in the 2015 holiday season for being, uh, pretty grabby-hands for cash during an event.
Under normal circumstances, there is a 3 percent chance of locating rare characters like Anchira, but for the week Cygames was running its promotion, the chances would double.

Delirium ensued. Millions of new players downloaded Granblue. People across the country spent hours on end chasing the promoted characters. [...] Finally at about 3 a.m., on attempt No. 2,276, [gamer "Taste"] unlocked Anchira. The crowd erupted. He had spent some ¥700,000 ($6,150).
These characters absolutely have an effect on the game (and other similar games), because they're higher-powered than usual. If you've played Fire Emblem Heroes, you'll have played a typical gacha game.


If we're doing confessionals, I absolutely have spent a couple dozen of $$ on Tsumtsum over the years (and much more on WoW), but they're easy to go back to after taking a break, so I don't feel too much regret over it. With Tsumtsum, it's usually specific in-game events that'll make me obsess over it for two weeks before returning in a few months.
posted by lesser weasel at 11:49 PM on September 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


Thanks for posting Made of Star Stuff. Everything I've read about microtransactions is that the companies make their money mostly off of a small percentage of high spenders (the "whales"). I mostly don't have that psychology for spending, through some dumb stroke of luck, it's interesting to read your perspective.

Overwatch almost snared me though. They have a particularly predatory system around seasonal rewards. Lots of really nice cosmetic art only available for a month and absolutely no hope earning them all by playing for free. So you buy. But the buying is pure gambling, the loot drops are random. This Christmas I really wanted that Zenyatta Nutcracker skin, it was so beautiful and clever. So I bought $10 worth of boxes, what the hell it's Christmas. No Nutcracker. So I bought another $5, in a frenzy. No Nutcracker. Then I got so mad I stopped. I played a bit more and got a free loot box for my time and hey, Nutcracker, a Christmas miracle. But I'm still angry at Blizzard and won't ever buy another box for myself again. (They do make nice gifts though.) I guess I'm not susceptible for the basic gambling loop, but make it a time-limited thing and I fall victim.

What kills me is Blizzard and other companies know this. They watch user behavior and learn what kinds of users have what sorts of desires. It's a really ugly form of predatory marketing.
posted by Nelson at 12:12 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


I play a decent amount of AAA games and I haven't ever encountered this. Maybe it's because I only play single-player games? I mean, sure, I see paid DLC, but it's usually something significant like a whole new area with its own quests and stuff, added on top of a game that already gave me tons of entertainment. Sometimes even on top of a game I never get around to finishing because there is just too damn much of it.
posted by egypturnash at 12:51 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


One of the worst things about all this is that there's really nothing inherent about video games that somehow make them an appropriate venue for this gambling crap. When game publishers say they have to do this to be profitable, it's no different than a restaurant claiming they need slot machines in the lobby to be profitable.
posted by straight at 1:25 AM on September 29, 2017 [6 favorites]


pretty much completely shuts out huge swaths of society who simply can't afford the cost

Only those poors who have been indoctrinated and properly controlled in your capitalist dystopia. Out here on the periphery there are plenty of free riders.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:21 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


I play a decent amount of AAA games and I haven't ever encountered this. Maybe it's because I only play single-player games?

Yeah, single-player AAA games have mostly steered clear of predatory loot box gambling mechanics, although whether that continues to be the case may depend on how much dirty money Middle Earth: Shadow of War makes on its "war chests". More Jim Sterling.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:24 AM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]


egypturnash: As A Thousand Baited Hooks (eponhysterical) mentioned, lootboxes in single player is the next big thing. That's one of the other big complaints about microtransactions and lootboxes: They're eating everything.

NoxAeternum mentioned commercials in a movie theater. We're getting to the point in games where not only are there commercials before the movie, but they're showing a TV edit of the movie with commercial breaks, and telling you to feed money into a digital slot machine built into the seat in front of you in the hopes of winning a chance to skip a commercial, and still charging you full price for the movie.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:45 AM on September 29, 2017 [6 favorites]


One game that I think does random loot boxes ("crates", as they're called in-game) about as well as they can be done is Rocket League, a fantastic game of rocket-powered cars playing soccer in a large cage (more or less) that I've sunk nearly 1200 hours into in the last 18 months. The crates can be unlocked with keys you buy from the Steam/XBone/PS4 marketplaces.

The items in the crates were, until recently, purely cosmetic: wheels, decals, body materials, rocket boost trails, "hats" and other car toppers etc., none of which affect your gameplay abilities, your hitbox or the stats of your car. Then, a while ago they started introducing new car models as random crate drops (the game ships with a bunch of cars, and new cars used to be cheap DLC items before the introduction of crates). The choice of car does have a gameplay effect: while all of them are just as fast, their hitboxes, turning radii and a few other things do vary, and skilled players definitely prefer certain cars over the others.

Recognizing the problem of having randomly dealt items with a subtle but noticeable gameplay effect, they decided to standardize all car models into five different categories, with every car inside a category identical in terms of hitbox, turning radius etc. with a maximum variability of just 1% on these attributes. Crucially, each category contains at least one car that either ships with the game or can be purchased for pocket change (being of the old non-random DLC variety). With by far the most popular car among both pro players and the community at large being one that ships with the game, there's absolutely no pay-to-win element here.

You're even able to hide the crates in the game options, so you don't have to be aware of them if you want to avoid the temptation entirely.

The community embraces this implementation of random loot. Personally I don't begrudge it at all, either. The keys finance not only continued development of the game and the multiplayer server infrastructure, but a part of the proceeds also ends up in tournament prize pools. (Rocket League is likely the most promising new e-sport, showing a solid growth curve in terms of spectators, prize pool sizes and interest from established e-sport organizations.)

Microtransactions can definitely be done ethically in a win-win manner, and I can only hope this kind of approach (and the ethos behind it) becomes the norm.
posted by jklaiho at 5:07 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Microtransactions can definitely be done ethically in a win-win manner, and I can only hope this kind of approach (and the ethos behind it) becomes the norm.

...in games where microtransactions can be justified in the first place, I should add, which I think they can in Rocket League.
posted by jklaiho at 5:56 AM on September 29, 2017


An interesting corollary to these problems is that the companies don't even necessarily have to be making big profits off these kinds of transactions for them to be really harmful to some users.

A specific example would be Plunkbat (a.k.a. PUBG, a.k.a. Playerunknown's Battlegrounds).

There are crates, there's lots of non-game-affecting hat-like stuff in them, and that stuff is done on a rarity schedule making some stuff really unlikely. They've done one short special event where there were crates with purchaseable keys, but other than that event no money goes into getting crates from the game makers. However, getting crates requires earning fake money by playing, and the fake-money cost per crate goes up with each crate you buy (it resets once a week), making it nearly impossible to get more than 4-5 crates in a week, even if you're playing an unhealthy amount*.

So what happens?

Well for one thing, players can sell the unopened crates on the Steam market (typically around $1 each). So, some people are spending a lot of money on what are effectively scratch tickets -- plop down some real money, open a crate, and maybe you'll get that awesome rare item! Or, maybe you'll get a red shirt that sells on the Steam Market for $0.05.

For another thing, some of the rare items are going for ridiculous prices. There's a miniskirt for a Japanese schoolgirl costume (sigh) that people are paying like $300 for (a MFC'er sold one, even). I have a pair of stupid safety goggles I found in a crate that Steam tells me people will pay $50 for.

And of course, Valve is making a cut on each sale.

So, even when the development company isn't (currently) making a ton of money off the microtransactions, the player economy that springs up around it can be real bad for some people (and real good for Valve).

* Don't ask me why I know this, my plunkbat habit is under control
posted by tocts at 6:12 AM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]


tocts, I've been thinking that someone should make an entire post about PUBG/Valve marketplace.

I've heard some insane things about what people are paying for an in-game item, which if I understand correctly, can be lost or taken away from you if you lose in a certain way!
posted by Fizz at 7:02 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


So it's not quite that bad. You never lose the items (unless you get banned, I assume), but in each game if you get killed people can pick your shit up and wear it for the rest of that game. Usually this isn't of real importance other than like, taking someone's bulletproof vest, but you can totally kill a guy wearing a really pricey yellow track suit and then put it on for the rest of the game.
posted by tocts at 7:13 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


Thanks for clarifying that tocts. It's still an interesting part of the game.

Even more interesting with Valve announcing that they're making their own DOTA card playing game, Artifact. I find it interesting because I'm wondering if they'll utilize this same trading/auction/microtransaction mechanic into their new game. After all, they have that built into Steam already, so it'd be weird if they didn't take advantage of that.
posted by Fizz at 7:19 AM on September 29, 2017


I first ran into a single player FPS asking for micro transactions in Deus Ex Man Kind Divided. You can pay for more upgrade modules (I can't remember the proper name). Instead of their being a cheat code or something to superpower your character, you had to pay money for this particular run through. It's one of the reasons I didn't even read reviews of the sequel before deciding not to buy it and it's part of why I don't really have fond memories of the game. Quasi microtransactions have been around for a while even before this, with being able to fork over real money for better guns in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 and the Horse Armor for Oblivion.

The random loot drops that you saw in WoW were enough to turn me off of it to begin with. With new MMOs and other multiplayer games doing this with real money gambling, it's given me even more incentive to just keep playing single player games these days. And I hope to god that whatever the new Lord of the Rings game is doing with loot crates in single player doesn't work.
posted by Hactar at 9:05 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Usually this isn't of real importance other than like, taking someone's bulletproof vest...

And you said it already in your first comment, but I'll reiterate that the bulletproof vests (and everything else not purely cosmetic) cannot be found in those loot boxes or purchased. All of the stuff that has an effect in game (not counting varying visibility of different colours) is found in the game itself and only lasts until you die and start over.

I'm having fun with pubg. Add me on Steam!
posted by ODiV at 10:22 AM on September 29, 2017


I don't have that much time for games these days, but microtransactions have definitely killed a couple for my family.

For me, GTA Online was completely ruined by the in-game currency. All the coolest and funnest stuff (mainly vehicles) costs far more than a person can earn in-game, even if they had unlimited time. So the whales are playing one very fun game while the proles are playing something quite different.

My spouse is very into Hayday, which has an ongoing competitive team event called the Derby. You can literally pay to win it, so I have to watch as the whales crush the little rag-tags every time and they have to make do competing for second or third.

I know people don't care much about microtransactions if you can only buy cosmetic items, but even then I wonder what it is teaching kids when some of the people they play with look really cool and they look very basic. Or they have all the shiniest stuff and other kids don't, through no merit or fault of their own. Kids have to deal with very visible class distinction in real life, it would be nice if they could have a single social event in which it wasn't thrown in their faces.
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:22 AM on September 29, 2017 [6 favorites]


Microtransactions can definitely be done ethically in a win-win manner

No they can't.
posted by Beholder at 11:32 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'd quibble with that, stated so absolutely.

However, I would definitely agree that repeatable microtransactions (consumable stat potions/boosters, "stamina" unlockers, lockboxes, etc.) can never be done ethically. Lockboxes are by far the worst offender, but the others are still predatory and shouldn't be a thing.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:12 PM on September 29, 2017


Seconding Jim Sterling. He's been going off on this a lot recently. w/r/t Shadow of War, and other upcoming fee-to-pay transactions, he made the point that if you are buying stuff for a more powerful character outright, then you are paying to skip past what you would get by playing the game normally, then they are conceding the game is not worth playing, because its more valuable to not have to play those parts.
posted by lkc at 1:21 PM on September 29, 2017 [10 favorites]


All of the stuff that has an effect in game (not counting varying visibility of different colours) is found in the game itself and only lasts until you die and start over.

I would make the (minor) argument that in PUBG there's definitely some technically not-game-affecting crate clothing that's slightly game-affecting, just by being better for hiding in. Not a huge amount, but I wish that stuff was free or super easy to get.

Then again, the stuff that goes for like $30-$300 is all insanely gaudy and counterproductive (yellow track suit, purple tuxedo, etc) while e.g. the useful camouflage jacket tops out around $2.50, so clearly in-game benefit is not the primary driver of price.
posted by tocts at 1:22 PM on September 29, 2017


The problem is that the microtransactioned games stop being fun. One of my favorite games ever is Puzzle Quest. They made a Marvel version, which I really liked. But they redesigned the game such that continuing to play required shifting your focus from the game, to the economics. It's like a waiter continually coming to your table while you're on a date. Yo, I told you what I wanted, you're not the point of this engagement.

But you *become* the point of *their* engagement, and so I don't play Puzzle Quest now.
posted by effugas at 6:43 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


"then they are conceding the game is not worth playing, "

I learned this some years ago with WoW. I reached a point where I paid another player real money for in game currency. Then I realized that I was paying to skip ahead because I was not actually having fun with the game anymore. I some how thought I could skip ahead to a better part.

Once I realized that the desired to skip parts of the game was a pretty good indication that maybe I should just find a new game. I quit WoW very soon after.
posted by Hicksu at 9:43 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


A thing I've joked about but will never get around to, is a game where you need to insert virtual quarters into a virtual arcade machine in order to play. And of course you can buy additional quarters as microtransactions.
posted by RobotHero at 8:21 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's already been done.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:48 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


For those of you familiar with Wechat, the biggest most giantest mobile chat app in China that integrates into fricken every level of the economy and has pay functions to the point that tons of people are going cashless and just carrying this now, you'll know it has a "red envelope" function, which allows you to send a random amount from a few cents to a few dollars to random chat friends.

Since, microtransactions have infested everyday life. Strangers send spam messages asking for "good luck". Sometimes people call you a jerk if you don't tip them. There are games and other such silliness on the platform. I f**king can't deal.
posted by saysthis at 12:19 AM on October 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


When you say random amount, do you mean when I send it I don't know for certain how much it's worth?
posted by RobotHero at 8:46 AM on October 1, 2017


Obsidian recently sent a survey to gauge the attitudes of their players to DLC. They asked about things like how often do you buy DLC, how would the inclusion of DLC that sounds interesting affect your desire to buy the game, what kind of DLC sounds interesting eg Free bite sized DLC, new systems, expansion separate from main game, new characters etc. They also asked about how you'd feel about DLC in respect to different price points of the main game. Source: I like Obsidian games and they sent me the survey.

Of course Obsidian put out some of the best expansions, so if they hear me, we're getting more Old World Blues and Mask of the Betrayer.
posted by ersatz at 10:33 AM on October 4, 2017


When you say random amount, do you mean when I send it I don't know for certain how much it's worth?

You can only do random with a group, and you select the total payout and number of packets.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:01 AM on October 4, 2017




(already linked in the More Inside of the post, FWIW...)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:04 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


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