3 Things I Want to Say About All of the Gamer Rage for Publishers Over Microtransactions
Let's set some table stakes, as I am oft want to do. I have been firm and outspoken on my negative opinion on the tactic of deliberately structuring game design in a manner so as to funnel and incentivize gamers to pay more into a game in an effort to give themselves an edge in multiplayer games. I have the same opinion on firewalling off essential content in a game that is necessary to progress behind microtransactions. I also want to remind everyone that GearWERKZ and what I write on it when it comes to Editorials is predominantly written from the mindset of reporting how I feel about a thing and what I am doing about a thing, not to say that that is what everyone else should do or should feel. So if you want to rage on social media about how you feel about a company's practices, sign petitions, submit user reviews on Metacritic and Amazon that are zeroes or 1.0's, even if you haven't played a game or used a product, and downvote Reddit threads in an effort to get those companies to change, by all means, go ahead. I ranted myself about microtransactions along with the rest of the E2KG crew for almost two months straight. In fact, I've gone so far as to say that games shouldn't be free. However, I personally feel that there were three main things that have occurred on this topic over the last few months that went sideways.
1. I wish that gamers would vote with their dollars as much as we rage on the internet. In some ways, I completely get why game publishers want to pursue microtransaction as a key component of their revenue. We covered the most recent quarterly earnings reports of the games industry on our quarterly financial special (embedded below), and what came to light is that for some of these companies, as much as two-thirds of their earnings are coming from microtransactions. That's as much as $1 billion in a quarter for some. And yes, the corporations are getting it twisted in thinking that microtransactions are all equal. They don't get that we see cosmetics as starkly different from buffs. But microtransactions are here to stay. And I do not personally intend on adopting a zero-microtransactions policy. But on this topic and others, I perceive that as loud as a group of gamers are on the web, there has not been enough of a signal sent by gamers in not buying the game. There's a lot of rage about Call of Duty and other franchises being on an annual release model, but yet they still sell millions upon millions of copies in the first week of launch. I hated what I heard about the design of Battlefront 2, and I elected to not buy the game. I think that more of that, and admittedly it sounds like sales of BF2 are down in comparison to BF, would be a more effective signal to the publishers. At this point, I feel like EA pulling the pay-to-win elements out of BF2 just before launch was entirely about dissatisfaction from Disney, and less about down-voted threads on Reddit.
2. I wish that gamers got equally activist about things that we can control. The publishers are going to do whatever they want to do about microtransaction to satisfy their shareholders. There is little the gaming community can do to shift that on a dime. Not buying those games will have an impact on the publishers, but it's going to take time and consistency to make that happen. What could gamers do? Some gamers could stop being munches in online multiplayer. They could be more inclusive. They could stop harassing minorities based on gender. They could stop shouting racial slurs. They could go back to the first days of the XBox 360 when you had a reasonable chance to play in a public room and not have a death threat hurled at you for taking a guy out. There's a lot of other things that are about us that we could mount up and champion change about. It is a shame that we do not find the incentive to do that, while we get frothing at the mouth about what EA and Activision are doing to gouge gamers out of their hard-earned cash.
3. I wish that gamers would engage in a logical, rational, and conversational model. What stands out most in the protests are not the issue-points that were actually sane, but the threatening, bullying, and shaking down of these companies with profanity and other less civil methods. When those things are mixed in the frequency of the transmission, it gets difficult for the accused to hear what you might be saying. And, while I need to read up on it more, at first glance, what Bungie is doing in Destiny 2 is not the same, not as predatory, as what EA tried to pull, and what Activision is patenting. And raging against one small thing as loudly as you rage about the big thing, can lead companies to just sense that there is some group of people that are never going to be happy, and therefore why should they bother even trying?
My hope is that the next time something like this goes down, that we can find a way to be a bit more clean in the messaging, that we can choose to bypass the game and withhold that cash from the businesses, and that we can exert equal effort in fixing the problems in our own house.