A common discussion point in the debate over the ethicallity of game monetization practices is where the line should be drawn. At what point does something go from acceptable to questionable to blatantly wrong? What is and isn’t worth fighting against? You’ll find people on every point of the spectrum. Unfortunately for a lot of these people, truth isn’t subjective and the objective reality is that in a full priced game, the monetization practices in the modern game industry are not good for the consumer in any way.
Unfortunately the people marketing and supporting these practices are doing a good job of muddying the conversational waters and injecting shitty rhetoric. Today we’re going to look at the most common arguments in favor of ripping consumers off and look at why they don’t hold up in the face of any level of scrutiny.
Argument One: It’s Player Choice
A lot of what I’m about to say has been said better by people like Jim Sterling but that entire line of thinking is utter horseshit. No one makes something available to buy if they don’t want everyone possible to buy it. No one makes something they want everyone to buy without doing everything they can to make people buy it. So it’s not a choice. At best it’s coercion. At worst it’s manipulation.
Argument Two: You Can Play The Game Without Them
That leads to two logical conclusions: they are a waste of time and money or the game was built to encourage players to buy them. I would leave it to.you to decide which is more likely, but people being left to make their own decisions is part of why we’re in this mess. If a game has mechanical advantages for sale THE GAME WILL BE DESIGNED AND BALANCED FOR PLAYERS WHO BUY THEM!!! It may be “possible” to play the game without them but possible covers a lot of ground. There are games where it is possible, in the most broad sense of the term, to do everything but without money it would take thousands of literal hours to make advancements that they sell for money instead. There is absolutely no consideration for players who aren’t continually sinking money into the game.
Argument Three: They’re There To Let Players Skip “The Grind”
Technically this is a more specific variant of argument two, but I see it enough to call it out in it’s own section. If your game is so grindy that people are willing to spend money to play less of it YOU HAVE MADE A SHITTY GAME!! And don’t try and say its anything other than intentional design choices. Games don’t spontaneously fucking code themselves with bullshit progression or ass backwards economies. Game devs and publishers are responsible for their products. If a game is good, that’s because they made a good game. If it’s crap, its because they made crap. Period.
Argument Four: It’s Keeping Prices Down
The arbitrary 60$ price point for “AAA” games is it’s own convoluted mess of why it exists. It shouldn’t. I think the games industry needs to evolve to the point that pricing is varied based on the game itself. I’ll also be the first to admit that consumers need to figure that out too and accept it when it happens. If you get down to it though, games aren’t 60$ anymore. Special, Limited, Gold, Collector, and all the other editions of each major release have effectively destroyed that model. The 60$ version of any game is missing content. And no, the other versions don’t have bonus content. They have the stuff that was cut out other versions. Between special editions, dlc, and all the other content that’s eventually put out in the “Complete Edition” a year or two later a games full price is closer to 100$-120$. And you cant call the original release a full release and then put out a complete edition later. Either its complete or it’s not. There cant be two complete games when one has more than the other.
Argument Five: They Fund Future Content
This is one that on the surface seems sensible. Doubly so if the content is being released for free. You have to dig below the surface though to see where it doesn’t truly benefit consumers for a few reasons. If you’re funding free content drops via microtransactions in a paid for game, you need to look at your business model. Products you sell are expected to fund later products. That’s how the rest of the world works. Games aren’t that special. I can see making an exception for free to play games but only free to play games. If you’re going to put out content that is actually new and wasn’t cut to resell later then charge for it if you need to. There’s nothing wrong with selling a product you made and it allows the consumer to know what they’re getting. Secondly, you’re expecting consumers to pay for an unknown. It’s the same as season passes and other prepaid dlc models. All the risk is on the consumer because the developers and publishers already have the money.
Argument Six: It Could Be Worse
That’s just an ignorant, lazy, shit for brains defense. If you really think that something is okay simply because something worse exists you’re either an idiot or a liar.
Argument Seven: It’s Not A Big Deal
This is the one I saw today that actually spurred this little rant of mine. Kotaku editor Jason Schreier tweeted that some games critics are overreacting to microtransactions. Specifically, he said that “they are not a cancer on the games industry” and that ” people toss around words like ‘exploitative’ and ‘predatory’ without really thinking about what they mean”. In general, I like Jason’s work. I think he’s a good journalist and I dont have any reason to think he’s anything other than a good guy. But he’s wrong on this point. Completely.
Now, to be fair, he was talking about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in the initial tweet (context is everything) but in later responses to comments on that tweet he made it clear that he thinks a lot of critics are overreacting and blowing things out of proportion. That’s not the case. While they come in varying degrees of shittiness, the industry has proven time and time again that they are going to be as predatory and exploitative as they can get away with. And this is a cancer. Like cancer it will start small wherever it can get a foothold, it will consume and destroy everything it can to continue it’s own the growth, and if you don’t destroy it completely it will keep ccoming back.
So no, I won’t let it go. I won’t drop it or shut up. I’m going to keep yelling and ranting and fighting against this garbage. Doing the right thing is always the right thing.
If anyone reading this things that I’m wrong here, feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @bssourpineapple and we’ll hash it out.