Microtransactions: The Future of Console Gaming?

Games that base their revenue off microtransactions utilize a very profitable business model. 93% of the profits made off mobile phone market are free to play. Anyone who’s watched the January 31st Game Scoop would’ve picked up that tidbit information. They would have also heard one of IGN’s editors, Justin Davis, claim that this type of model is on its way to consoles. Those words tend scare us gamers, “microtransaction” is synonymous with “pay to win” or “always online” or “subscriptions”.  It seems that as technology evolves the doors are opening for companies to utilize this type of model.

Take for example a game I don’t think a lot of people have talked about for a variety of reasons, NBA 2K14. People aren’t talking about this because of much of a better quality game 2K14 is compared to NBA Live. It destroyed Live to put it bluntly. It’s been put on a pedestal somewhat because of this, and it’s also marketed towards a more casual consumer base. Before we all hop on the hate train, I’ll admit that 2K14 is a fun game and the multi-player is great. Yet people don’t seem to be talking about the in-game microtransactions. I’ve played that game upward of 50 hours so far and I am not even close to unlocking all the features that were standard in the older games. In order to unlock these features you have to spend gold coins that you earn from playing games or buying them. Usually the idea of grinding to unlock features or items is analogous with MMO’s or mobile games. I can honestly say I had to grind in 2K14 in order to unlock in game items. Tired of playing single player games but needing to unlock more core gameplay, I bit down and continued to grind to unlock features. I can’t even bear to play association mode because of how many features I still have to unlock. I used to almost exclusively play association with friends and compete to see who the better GM was. On top of all this you can’t even play multi-player association on the same system like every other past NBA 2K, you’re forced to play online. One of my friends that I played the association mode with often told me that it was a deal breaker for him and he wouldn’t get the game because of it. To be clear though, I wouldn’t be mentioning the game if this was the worst part.

A humorous but exaggerated look at NBA 2K14’s microtransaction system

Most people saw the gamers’ victory in Microsoft’s reversal of its always-online DRM policy as the end of that B.S., at least for now. You may want to reconsider. Let’s take a step back for a moment and assume Microsoft wasn’t the bad guy, or at least not as bad of a guy. What if Microsoft was doing this to offer you the most content possible and to make the Xbox One have higher quality games? What if this wasn’t purely about monetizing your living room with ads?

To see what I mean let’s go back to NBA 2K14. The microtransactions weren’t the worst part about the game, nor was it the lack of multi-player association mode. It was the always online aspect of the game. A few weeks into playing 2K14 my account couldn’t connect to the servers so almost none of the core features worked besides exhibition games. All I wanted to do at the time was to continue with my character in the My Career mode and I couldn’t even do that. It was awful, I sent an email to 2K and I didn’t hear from them for a month. It took over two weeks for my account to be able to connect to the servers again. My brothers account on the same PS4 wasn’t affected, only mine for some reason.

Now were going to go back to Microsoft. What if this DRM nonsense wasn’t Microsoft’s idea? Rather, it was the big game companies that came to Microsoft. The promise to optimize their games for the Xbox One then port to the PS4 and offer more exclusives is nice bargaining chip. It would have been in back to back generations that Microsoft beat Sony in game content. Sony’s supposed advantage in specs would have been all hype because games would have been optimized for the Xbox One. Microsoft would have had far superior exclusives and a much fuller library. It would have seemed like Microsoft cared more about getting content to its customers. In reality, the required online and no used game policy meant that the big publishers microtransaction-based model of games would have been implemented easier and have reached a much wider audience (everyone with an Xbox One). This may be why it was so easy for Microsoft to reverse their policy once they heard all the uproar. It was a tacked-on feature rather than built into the foundation of the system.

“Okay, but what’s the big deal about what-ifs? I mean, it’s all hypothetical. We were able to stop Microsoft from doing this by making our voices heard.”

That’s true; we were able to stop something from being implemented that wasn’t the norm. It’s a lot harder to do once it does become the norm. This is why it’s significant that more games like NBA 2K14 are using microtransaction or always online based models. It will become the norm and there will be no reason to speak up. I’m not saying this because I believe that all of us should grab our pitch forks and torches. The reality of it there’s nothing we can do about it. It may sound pessimistic, but we simply can’t stop it. We’re gamers and we love to game. We’ll buy the new titles, and those that are disciplined enough to avoid these types of games are too few in number.

I’m not claiming this to be some incredible insight into the industry. Many assumed Microsoft wasn’t alone in proposing this new structure for console gaming. But the question isn’t if micro transactions are the future of console gaming; because they’re not. They’re a fundamental part of gaming right now, and they’re here to stay.