Writing Prompts: Micro Transactions and End Products

A screen capture of my play-through of Farmville 2

This greymuzzle is lamenting the ‘evolution’ of gaming, which has gone from an era where games were once released fully formed, to an age where to have the finished article, or to have any hope of achieving victory, you must pay.

Can you imagine plugging in the cartridge for Super Mario Bros or Sonic the Hedgehog, and getting say, two-thirds of the way to the end, only for a message to flash up telling you that to continue, you had to pay for the next level? What if an alert told you that to unlock a specific power-up, you needed to drop some cash? The idea seems ludicrous, and back then it was, but many modern games, across various formats, now incorporate micro-transactions.

What changed? Well, in this humble meerkat’s view (and it’s only my opinion here people, so please don’t take this post as gospel), the advent of the internet, and a desire for immediate success/gratification are among the reasons, but please, let me explain.

From Physical to Digital

In the earliest days of video games, a game developer had to ensure their finished product was, well, finished. Games were released via physical media (consoles originally used cartridges, and later CDs and DVDs), and without the means to connect a console to the internet (which barely existed back then anyway), it would have been impossible to download updates and patches. Developers had to take their time to be certain that their game was complete. Whether the game was good is another question, but it had to be the finished article. Buggy, glitch-ridden games would inevitably tank, and dent the reputation and revenue of the developer.

This was also true of PC gaming, which used CDs/DVDs, both before the internet arrived, and for some time after.

As technology changed, and the internet enabled, among other things, the ease of shopping from home, the gaming industry changed too. The industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and it is an increasingly saturated market, so game developers and console manufacturers are both keen to exploit the desire for bigger and better games, and under pressure to provide them. With the means to download and/or stream games, it is now possible to get what you want, more or less instantly. Indeed, there is now an expectation of this. Gamers do not wish to wait.

The flipside of this impatience is that developers will now release incomplete games, or games riddled with glitches. A prime example of this is No Man’s Sky, which promised an incredible experience, yet delivered a mediocre one upon launch. The developers of No Man’s Sky are, to me, something of an exception to the rule, in that they didn’t then charge for the updates and upgrades they subsequently made. A lot of companies will now release a game, knowing that the customer will have to pay to get the complete game, or pay to unlock the means to beat it.

Nowhere can the latter issue be seen in more detail than in mobile games. It did not take long for smartphones to become a platform for all sorts of games, and nowadays there are all sorts of empire/city building games. They are always selling various packs, intended to help the player make progress. Indeed, without these addons, the alternative means of completing (or at least developing) your city/airport/racing team/farm is a long slog, that in an era of immediate gratification, is undesirable to many gamers.

I am not a fan of micro-transactions. The idea that a game be released as a fully-functional, whole entity is one we ought to get back to. It is a shame that we have go so far away from this.

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