Transparency: Microtransactions exist because gamers are suckers

What are some common purchasing traps for gamers, and how can we avoid them?

Perhaps it's my age or the length of time that I’ve been in the industry, but it seems that the customer base for gaming is getting more and more gullible. I’m not saying that you are particularly gullible. Of course, it’s always someone else, right? I mean, I preordered Elder Scrolls Online even though it was clearly unfinished when the game launched because I was going to cover the game for a website. I wasn’t forced to take the assignment, but that’s beside the point, right? I’m not a gullible person.

Everyone has their reasons to be gullible. I reluctantly have to admit that I’m gullible when it comes to Star Wars games. I have the unfortunate privilege to have played nearly every single Star Wars game ever made even if it was bad. I’m looking at you, Masters of Teras Kasi. I guess it could be said that it’s my vice when it comes to games.

This week, I’d like to point out some of the ways that developers try to trick you into buying their products, even if you don’t necessarily want it. Some of these might seem obvious, but when you look back at your gaming purchases, I bet you’ll find more than one game or in-game item that you bought because of these reasons. But ultimately, I want to express how to avoid them.Unfortunately, everyone has these vices. Developers and, especially, publishers like to feed on these vices. And it’s really bad because beyond the research groups and metrics, developers know our vices because they are gamers themselves, and they know how to best take advantage.

You love certain intellectual property

The obvious way to use intellectual property is to create a game that based on that IP. Nearly every Star Wars game now uses IP to sell its product. We can look at many of that IP’s games as reskins of existing games. But the use of IP stretches beyond building a whole game on the subject.

Developers will push certain microtransactions when other IPs are popular. How many people do you think bought a deerstalker hat in Team Fortress 2 when the latest season of Sherlock was released, or more recently the dwarf-like beard with the Hobbit movies’ releases. Although these items aren’t owned by those who own the IP, but these kinds of microtransactions feed off the IP’s popularity.

That being said, IP by itself is a huge draw to a whole game. As lovers of certain IPs, we expect to gain the same feeling playing the game as we do when reading the book or watching the movie. Some games use the IP well; the Batman Arkham series does a wonderful job of capturing the feeling of being Batman from the comics and the Dark Knight movies. However, Batman Arkham is the exception to all the shovelware out there.

My advice would be to hold off on a lot of purchases that have a strong IP pull. Ask yourself, would I buy this game if it weren't an Avengers game, for instance? Have you seen what the gameplay is really like? Have you put a controller in your hand and run through a level or two? If you can’t say yes to those questions, then it might not be a good idea to buy the item.

It's only a minor cost

I’ve looked at some in-game items and thought, “Well, it’s only $2 what do I have to lose?” I’m not begrudging developers from making a buck or two, but many times microtransactions blind us to what we are really getting, which is usually nothing. Of course, it’s not a lot of money, and if you have money to blow on useless items, I don’t have a problem with your spending it on things you enjoy. But I suggest that you figure out if you’re actually going to enjoy it before making the purchase.

Sometimes when a developer drops the carrot of microtransactions, it’s really just to help line their own pockets. Developers know that most of the money a game is going to make is during the first month of launch. So it has to stack the deck right at the beginning because there is no better time to make money off the game. Developers will toss out things like season passes that will automatically give you a certain number of updates for a one-time fee. Most of the time these updates are already made or not far down the pipeline, meaning whether or not you’re going to make the purchase they will get made anyway.

Developers ask you to toss a few extra dollars their way because when making a $50 dollar purchase $10 or $15 more doesn’t seem like a lot. Again, I return to the question: Would you have bought this item anyway? Is it going to enhance your overall enjoyment of the game or are you just buying it because it’s cheap? Regarding season passes, will you be playing the game beyond a month? If you can’t answer 'definitely yes', then you might consider not buying the game, or at very least, the season pass.

Microtransactions are our fault

Ultimately, the reasons behind some of the scammy parts of gaming ranging from early access to microtransactions are your fault. If you and the other “suckers” out there wouldn’t given into these traps, then companies would stop doing it.

Games are designed to make money. Big named publishers will not back a game that they think will not make them money. Some game designers do it out of the love for games, but I can tell you that CEOs and other executives of gaming publishers aren’t looking to make the next great game; they are looking for the next great sale.

And the best way to say no to a developer is to stop buying the things you don’t like. I don’t care if Daredevil is popular right now, don’t buy him in Marvel Heroes Online if you’re not going to play him. It doesn’t matter if that hat in Grand Theft Auto V is only fifty cents; it’s not worth telling the developer that you like those kinds of transactions. Stop being a sucker.

Of course, it’s always someone else, right?

Featured Columnist

Don't use a lightsaber to spark up your cigarette.

Published Jul. 3rd 2017
  • Game Oracle
    Columnist
    This problem in game development and gamers is more of a human equation problem for me.
  • Game Oracle
    Columnist
    We have a culture and society based upon money as the main and for some the only value system, is it any surprise people do anything to make money?

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