EA Microtransactions display worrying signs of Evil

We’ve posted about microtransactions before on Objective 514. That post spawned quite a bit of discussion. Most of you seemed cool with paying for stuff – snazzy hats, for instance – as long as the stuff you bought didn’t actually affect game performance.

Well, guess what – the barely-established taboo has already been broken. By EA, no less. Same guys who are bringing us the free-to-play, financed-through-microtransactions game Battlefield Heroes.  Now they’re taking one more step – charging for special, unlockable weapons in the upcoming release Bad Company. See the full story in Xbox 360 Fanboy magazine. Comment here!

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6 Responses

  1. I’m not going to jump on the anti-EA bandwagon here, because this isn’t really some nefarious plot or even anything new. Multiplayer video games have long favoured those with deeper pockets. For example, it is understood among PC gamers that the player with the most powerful rig, the fastest connection and the sexiest peripherals will always have an advantage over those who don’t have the money to spend on a high-end gaming machine.

    Is AlienWare evil for providing people with pimped-out rigs? Is nVidia evil for continuously releasing newer, more powerful video cards? Is Logitech evil for developing a keyboard that makes gaming easier and more efficient?

    Of course not. These companies are responding to a market that exists within the gaming community: people who are willing to pay real dollars for a competitive advantage in virtual worlds. EA is doing precisely the same thing.

    That said, there is some merit to the argument that we’re talking about an Xbox 360 title here, and theoretically all console gamers are supposed to start out on a level playing field. Nevertheless, if xl33txSN1PAx666x wants to fork over his money for a rocket launcher or whatever, then that’s his business. Hell, I’ve even got a ready excuse when I lose: “You suck so bad you had to PAY to win.”

    Sometimes I think that people have a skewed sense of entitlement. There seems to be an idea that since so much stuff is “free” on the Internet (books, music and movie torrents, emulators, CD cracks, etc…) that no one should ever have to pay for anything, which I think is basically bogus. EA isn’t coming to your house and setting your dog on fire. They are looking for new ways to increase profits – which is hardly surprising, given the responsibility they have to their shareholders to do so. If you don’t want to pay, then don’t. If you feel that by not paying, you won’t have fun, then don’t buy the game. Hey look – you’ve just used your money to make a powerful statement, all without paying cent.

    There’s plenty of genuine evil in the world, without creating it where it does not exist.

    Besides, xl33txSN1PAx666x is gonna kick your ass anyway.

  2. On the other hand, EA occupy a rarefied positon in the gaming industry; as rich, high-production trend-setters, EA have the power to push the entire industry in particular directions. They can’t necessarily push everyone very far, but the possibility exists that EA’s actions could encourage a trend where games – right down to core elements like weapons – could be distributed incrementally.

    The bright side of that idea is steam, where you can buy entire new games, peripheral software, or classics on the cheap. The downside, I believe, is what EA is prosposing here; creating a dichotomy between “have” and “have-not” players within the games themselves. Why not just sell the game for a fixed price? Is the idea to make the initial purchase cheaper?

    …as for the Chinese, man, have they got their heads up their asses…

  3. Good points, Rusty. If games that employ microtransactions are cheaper, then I can see the appeal. Heck, if the transactions are limited to unlocking special weapons that aren’t necessary to finish the game/compete (but make it easier or more fun), I’m ok with that too.

    On the other hand, if I have to pay full-tilt for the title, and then pay again for the kit I need just to get along, then to hell with that.

    EDIT:

    Wired has some additional details on the “Pay to Slay” mechanic. Apparently some weapons will be available in the Gold Edition of the game, but if you don’t get that (more expensive) version, you can still buy the special weapons from the Xbox Live Martkeplace.

    Also of interest is this other Wired blog. The writer was comparing the stats of the weapons available in the game’s beta (which goes live today) with those of weapons listed as requiring purchase or otherwise needing to be unlocked:

    According to the statistics graph, the for-cash weaponry doesn’t seem to be more any powerful than the other high-end guns. But the beta won’t be playable until later this month, so we can’t be sure.

    Assuming EA’s own chart isn’t lying to me, it’s good to know the game won’t let players literally buy an advantage.

  4. I suppose the counter-point to my post is that in every other facet of existence, you can improve your chances of success with money.

    War. Courtship. Sport. Business. Even virtual worlds (buy gold, anyone?)

    But on the whole I agree with Rusty. EA’s microtransactions aren’t evil. But I don’t want it to become a common practise, that you can pay for more power in a multi-player environment. It would detract from my enjoyment, because it feels unfair. It’s breaking the magic circle that isolates the game world from the rest of life.

    I get pwned enough as it is, in any head to head fragfest. I don’t want some dude to buy access to a rocket launcher I just haven’t bought. I want my opponents to whore the power-ups the good, old-fashioned way, with 1337ness.

  5. Penny Arcade agrees.

    Says Tycho:

    In shooters, this is what we know: that each player is in control of an entity in the same map, and each entity is capable of the same range of movement. Beyond this, my actions are responsible for the outcome. Lag is the primary vector of inequity in this system, because it kicks over this egalitarian thesis. Balance is, in a way, a kind of morality. It’s systemic morality. And even if we don’t use those terms, we know instinctively when it is being injured.

    This is what makes the proposed for pay weapons so distasteful. We’re told that they will be “balanced,” and that may be so numerically, but if their ownership isn’t universal we’re arguing against the bedrock assertions of the genre. Quite frankly, it’s wrong. We’ve come to endure, if not accept, premium maps and modes. But when they start fiddling with the numbers like this, I’m not sure they understand how corrosive it really is.

    Seems he has the same concerns as Rusty and Tripp.

  6. So EA has backed off. Interesting.

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