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Let me first say that I am not opposing microtransactions in their entirety. In my opinion, there is a right way and a wrong way to implement them. It is the greedy implementation which impacts gameplay that I cannot agree with.
Microtransactions are a great way for games to bring in a steady stream of profit for extra elements of a game. However, those games that have allowed game design to be altered by microtransactions are undoubtedly the wrong way to go about it. Stop it!
Free-to-play games are slowly becoming a great way to enjoy games today. Games such as Farmville, D&D Online, and more are providing gamers with options. These options are exactly what the word entails: optional.
Farmville is one of the best examples the gaming industry has to date of a way to properly design a game such that users are not forced into microtransactions. In the case of Farmville, impatience is the driving factor behind the appeal of microtransactions. And thus the experience is in no way impacted by those with patience and resourcefulness.
As with most of these types of games, there will be “special” items that have their individual benefits to the game. But the best thing about these offerings are that they are in no way required to continue to enjoy that rich, rewarding experience we all look for in games. Again, these microtransactions are optional, albeit appealing.
The iPhone is a perfect platform for games based around microtransactions. When faced with the option, in the heat of a short gaming session, the less than a dollar offering is extremely enticing. There are some that not only make it appealing but almost essential, and for that I say stop it!
Eliminate is a great example of a game that is centered around microtransactions. This handheld FPS is an extremely addictive game. However, the game is designed around these microtransactions and because of that it has altered one of the most important elements of any multiplayer game: balance.
With options of purchasing additional energy and items, players that give in to these microtransactions affect the balance in matches. Basically, any multiplayer game that offers these types of incentives for players willing to cough up some extra money run a risk of balancing issues. For most of these games though, the game isn’t rebalanced to take into account these players. And because of that, game design is driven by microtransactions – which I view as poor design.
Outside of the iPhone platform, THQ and EA continue to drive the effects microtransactions have on games. But without getting into some of the more obvious ones like limited use game boosters, it is the ones that are clearly driven to force the gamer into utilizing microtransactions to get the complete experience that I find inexcusable. Lately, there is no better example that I can think of than the Madden Ultimate Team mode in Madden NFL 11.
Since I received the game roughly two and a half weeks ago, I have played Madden NFL 11 for over 60 hours. In fact, I expect to get the most playtime out of this year’s Madden than any prior entry in the series. Out of all that time spent, a lot of it has been in the Madden Ultimate Team mode (M.U.T.).
For those who aren’t familiar, M.U.T. allows gamers to start off with a set of cards that act as players on your team. Through use of the auction house and playing games, you gather coins to purchase more cards. These cards can be purchased in individual packs or from the auction house. However, EA designed this mode such that you are almost forced to purchase coins to progress.
Currently my team is rated in the low 80s, which in all honesty is quite good. A majority of my coins have come from taking advantage of the auction house when the game first launched. I had received some very good cards from packs and quickly flipped them for a profit. Despite this, I have hit a wall.
Since release, the auction house has become extremely saturated. This is due entirely to the way that EA designed this game mode. When selling a card you are not only forced to have an extremely high posting price but also a minimum at which each card can be posted. Should no one purchase your auctioned card, you lose the coins spent to post the auction.
Because of these limits set on minimum and maximum starting prices, the auction house has quickly become flooded with cards posted at the bare minimum. And because it is the “best” option, it is almost impossible to sell cards now. In turn, you are forced to seriously take into account microtransactions.
From what I have read on EA forums, these minimum and maximum post prices set by EA will not change – despite the number of users complaining. This isn’t because EA feels it is the best way to balance the game mode, but instead it is the best way for them to make some money. Even though that hasn’t been clearly stated as the reason, it is more than obvious when a game mode is designed like this.
A game mode I thoroughly enjoyed last year has become completely broken, and for those game designers out there that explore this avenue, I say stop it! To ruin an experience in any game simply because of greed is absurd. There are much better ways to design a game and properly implement microtransactions. Just make sure that all options are exhausted before you sell out.