You may have heard a little about the mother suing Facebook for breaking her states law against online currency transactions.
This is not merely an issue however with Facebook – Apple have fallen foul of this too, with children racking up huge bills on seemingly innocuous games, and the whole MMO genre is slowly seeing a trend rebelling against the micro-transaction trend that once seemed to be its saviour.
Let us be clear on one thing – business wise, there is nothing immoral about the trend of charging small sums for minor content additions, or for added in-game items. We buy expansion packs and mounts for our subscription MMOs, and have bought expansions for single-player games in the past (and Skyrim appears to be set on doing something similar). Charging for more is not immoral. It costs money and time to make the content, these are not charities after all, and they need to cover their backs most of the time.
What has been happening is what I warned about in the past – that the additions are becoming smaller and more expensive, and the means and methods that derive that extra money are not being openly discussed in an honest manner.
If a game for a ten year old offers hints, and in the fine print says “hints cost the price of a text at your standard network rate”, then it isn’t being open and honest. Like Blizzard recently when they tried to dodge the cock-up that was their Mists of Pandaria beta agreement with Annual Pass subscribers, people either don’t read the small print, or the small print is so incredibly vague that it can be taken to mean just about anything. It needs to be very obvious. Like multiple transaction confirmations, and even then, there must be parental locks that disable the system.
For the bigger games, Capcom flexed their evil muscles when they revealed that the character roster for Street Fighter X Tekken was incomplete, but no matter – you could complete it and all the costume additions for another £20 on top. Again, this is dishonesty. You sell a game at £39.99, the buyer expects a certain degree of professionalism and open discourse. Revealing that the character roster is purposefully left incomplete to extort more money from the player is a device that EA, BioWare and THQ have used, and found that many have complained and become averse to buying brand new games, which in turn is showing up as reduced revenues for certain titles – unfortunately giving companies the opposite idea, and making them try and milk more from the shrinking userbase that seems content to pay for it.
This is the problem with the gaming industry by and large – it doesn’t learn lessons very well. There is a deep-rooted savagery inside the market that is both helpful and yet destructive, trying to change the inner workings of the world they exist in and yet at times instinctively breaking every inch of it in the process.
Because we shouldn’t expect freebies – they’re lovely when they turn up, of course they are. But if an expansion is offering you another 10+ hours of content, quests and new, flashier gear being charged a sum of money for the privilege isn’t unfair or unreasonable.
But having a button that basically says “inset money to continue” is no better than the arcades in the late 90’s, which were purposefully designed to rob suckers of their hard-earned money. I should know, I was a sweaty young adult at the time with more money than sense, and I spent a not inconsiderate sum of money on games like House of the Dead 2. Which is why the advent of arcade-perfect to arcade superior ports saved my bank balance – it suddenly became silly to waste all that money. We had a decent TV in my student flat. Hook up the Dreamcast, and we were playing House of the Dead 2. Minus the gobbling of pound coins.
It seems rather ironic that seeing as it was the home console that effectively killed the arcades in the UK at least, and across much of the world, that it is the arcade methodology that the industry is gravitating back towards in the search for how to balance their budget sheets and increase their revenue streams. That we’re being asked to pay over and over again for things that a few years ago were awarded to loyal subscribers, day-one purchasers and as gifts to those who pre-ordered.
Now it is those same people who are paying the price, because the industry doesn’t believe that they will walk when they are being asked to shell out for that additional content. It is finding clever ways to charge smaller but more frequent sums of money to keep it ticking over, sums which seem reasonable until you add up how many times you’ve clicked the button and then work out that that 50p per potion stack has added up to £20 in the month you’ve been playing, because the game has been made purposefully cheap in order to lull you into the false sense of needing it.
Some people are happy paying the excess. And that’s fine. The F2P Market cannot and will not exist without micro-transactions and therefore, love it or loathe it, it cannot disappear.
But for others, from Facebook to Capcom, questions need to be asked as to whether they’re being entirely honest with themselves, if not us. If their revenue streams have become so low, then it is time that they looked inwards, deep within themselves and ask whether there is something wrong with how they do business. Because as costs soar, it is more important than ever to keep a real tight grasp of the account book and be on top of every single expense. If you can’t make it add up, for whatever reason, then hiding it under the bed isn’t going to make the problem go away.
The industry makes so many claims about how expensive it all is, and how it isn’t adding up. If a game selling a million units isn’t breaking even, then that would denote that there’s nothing wrong with the consumer market – which has grown year on year and now overtaken the DVD and Blu-ray market sales combined – but rather, something wrong with the industry itself and how it conducts itself.
I’ve already talked in a past topic about the increase in inflation and tax not being taken into consideration. That is one of multiple issues that the industry needs to start taking seriously. Because if they keep blaming their customers for their problems, then those very same customers are going to stop buying, then the market contracts and things go very sour indeed.
If the industry wants to keep growing, it’s going to need to shed that tough skin it has created over the years. And it will leave it vulnerable for a short time, but the alternative is to crush itself under the weight of its own complacence.
That would be a disaster for something that could so easily be averted.