The Worst Microtransactions in Gaming so Far – Part One
What is modern gaming without microtransactions? Better off? Maybe. Less open to shady practices which harm consumers? Definitely. Regardless of your position on microtransactions going forward, there can be no denying that the past and present are full of examples of publishers and developers inserting harmful microtransaction practices into video games, and that is where we want to look today. Here we’ll list a few of what we think to stand as some of the most egregious examples, and why we hold them in such low regard.
Horse Armor – TES IV: Oblivion
May as well start at the beginning, and the dubious title of floodgate opener falls to Bethesda. For $2, this armor was little more than a paid cosmetic item. Seems minor, and by today’s lowered standards it is, but the issue here is what this DLC represented. This was Bethesda charging for something small, something insignificant, and something which would have been offered for free in the past. This was dangerous, gamers argued, and would only open the industry up to a new type of financing which hurt the player experience. Some waved this away as a slippery slope argument, though time would do nothing but prove the critics of this practice right.
Grand Theft Auto 5
A fun game in many ways, including the still popular GTA Online, but one which in which the experience is hamstrung by the microtransaction infrastructure. Part of this comes down to the focus of the multiplayer experience – gaining cash. This makes sense, GTA has always been about collecting money and has often been about using this money to buy guns and gear. The problem here is that earning money the way you are supposed to be an extremely slow experience, further hampered by the extremely high cost of much of the gear and guns. In a game rife with competition, where the difference between expensive gear and cheap gear was night and day, this led to many situations of one-sided stompings.
Where do microtransactions come into this? Well, that was through the inclusion of what Rockstar calls Shark Cards. These are technically microtransactions, though since they can cost far more than the base game, we feel the term macro transaction is after. Here the players could spend a boatload of real money to avoid all the hard work of the common player, netting themselves an undeniable advantage in what is most definitely a pay-to-win type of system. Add this to the fact that GTA Online servers are peer-to-peer and incredibly unstable, and the anti-hacking effort is functionally non-existent, and we have left with Rockstar painting a picture of a gaming villain. A company who wants your money doesn’t care about ruining the experience for others because of this greed, and won’t even expend the effort to ensure those who do pay are able to enjoy what they spent money on.
Not a good look, and with rumors circulating that the attention on GTA Online is delaying the eventual GTA 6 and informing the systems of Red Dead Redemption 2, we are very nervous for the future of Rockstar’s games.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War
WB Interactive had a surprising hit on their hands with the first in this series, Shadow of Mordor, with its Arkham, inspired combat and Tolkien based story and aesthetic. The biggest hook, which is still fairly unique to this series, was the concept of the nemesis system. This is where various orcs, through murdering you or their own devices, would generate personalities and traits of their own. Combined with some hammy but incredibly fun voice work, and we were left with a system that let us feel all the more engaged with the world, as we grew closer to its inhabitants and bonded with our friends and nemesis both.
The sequel, Shadow of War, decided that this classic and much-loved system needed an update. One of the means in which we saw this update was through the inclusion of random loot box based nemesis drops. No longer would those rare orcs you built a relationship with becoming the center of attention or the basis for your army, now you simply rolled a slot machine and hoped for the best. And yes, like a real slot machine, you could spend real money. The kicker here is that the endgame consists largely of grinding out huge amounts of orcs, which meant that a realistic 100% completion time would rely on the purchase of these loot boxes.
You have to give it to WB; not many developers could raise such a legacy with one game, just to turn around and unload all over it the next. They even eventually came out and removed this loot box system entirely, claiming that it had become evident that this paid system had damaged the game. Of course this is something which gamers had already been pointing out since before the game’s launch and, of course, WB only changed and offered a token apology after the game had already gone through the first few months, where by far the most money is to be made. You’ll forgive us, WB and Monolith, if your apology rings just a little bit entirely hollow.
This one will see us face the Star Citizen Defense Force, but it’s just too ridiculous an example to pass up. For those unaware, Star Citizen is the magnum dopus of Chris Roberts. Roberts is a games designer famed for the Wing Commander series among gamers, and his micromanaging and poor time-management within the industry. Star Citizen was/is supposed to be his triumphant return back into the world of AAA gaming, but so far things have not quite gone as planned.
Starting development in 2011, Star Citizen was originally slated for a full commercial release in 2016, with a companion single player game named Squadron 42 having its first episode released the year before. As of mid-2018, we do not yet have the first episode of Squadron 42, and Star Citizen itself still only exists in an incredibly buggy and poor-performing alpha state.
All this despite the game being the most successful in crowd-funding history, with a massive $187 million raised so far. On top of this, Roberts himself claims that the crowdfunding nature and lack of overhead allow the resources spent on development to become four times as effective. Does this mean they are working with something approaching $700 million? Well, no, probably not.
Now that the stage is set, let’s look at the offending microtransaction. The Legatus Pack, which is only available to players who have already spent $1,000 on this game in alpha, comes with every ship and a wide range of cosmetics and other fun and useful items. It also costs $27,000. Far be it from us to say that Cloud Imperium Games is taking advantage of what are commonly called whales but, on the other hand, twenty-seven thousand dollars.
Star Wars Battlefront 2
The first two Battlefront games were a revelation in gaming and were the exact type of Star Wars game we wanted since the first Battlefield. A huge quantity of players, a huge variety in classes and maps, and a ton of vehicles to pilot poorly, and usually into the ground or a cliff-face. While the EA developed follow-up was well received, it was also criticized by fans of the original for its lack of variety and features, even going so far as becoming a meme. Falling far behind its predecessors to focus on graphics and release alongside The Force Awakens also drew negative press.
There were high hopes for the sequel. More variety in everything, an expanded game to fulfill the promise of the series in the new generation. This was a game which was always going to sell an enormous quantity based on its name and legacy alone, and this was something EA understood perfectly well. Not content to settle for the millions of guaranteed sales, EA also inserted a pay-to-win loot box system. Here, players could put down real cash to spin the reels for usable card items, which gave the user serious gameplay advantages over their non-ripped-off competitors. EA came out to try to defend this at first with corporate speak, in what was to become the most downvoted comment in Reddit history. Seemingly surprised at their failure to placate the masses, EA removed the offending system and promised to do better in the future. Of course, this future still includes similar systems in their FIFA series, but that is a story for part two…