By Contributing Writer Harry Sullivan-Silva.
On October 5th, 2018, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the newest entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise was released, featuring stunning graphics and an interesting story. But nestled in the “pause” menu sits and option called “Time Savers” which offers the ability to pay to not play. For $9.99 the player can increase the amount of experience points earned, making their character stronger and allowing them to progress through the story more quickly.
Although one can argue that this purchase is optional, similarly many feel that, as reported by a gaming news outlet, Polygon, “The mode doesn’t just make Odyssey more accessible; it makes it altogether more enjoyable” which begs the question: are mainstream games being designed to be more enjoyable for those who spend more money? Alternatively, are games being designed to be enjoyable without any extra spending from the consumer?
The inclusion of microtransactions such as “Time Savers” has steadily grown in major game development, documented by a Gaming Front article. Having become popular in mobile games such as Clash of Clans, and immediately expanded upon by Electronic Arts’ FIFA franchise .
The FIFA franchise introduced “FIFA Ultimate Team”, a system in which users can purchase card packs containing random soccer player cards to form a team and compete with other users. Since its initial installment, FIFA Ultimate Team has grown to make $800 million annually for Electronic Arts, illustrated in an article by Games Industry website. Other companies followed, and as the popularity of random chance microtransactions grew, so did public awareness of a possible issue: gambling.
Random chance microtransactions, nicknamed “loot boxes”, sparked a controversy, following the release of Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront 2 in 2017. The game featured many kinds of loot boxes that could be earned in game or purchased with real money. Within these boxes were items that made the player stronger, or able to perform in-game abilities quickly. These could be used in the online multiplayer function, meaning those who paid more were more likely to perform better. Many were outraged, as players who were willing to spend additional money would be stronger and more well equipped than a non-spending opponent.
Several agencies sought to investigate the scientific nature of microtransactions, and decided that they bore similar addictive qualities to gambling through the randomly generated rewards and dopamine release once a microtransaction is opened. The BBC reported that Belgium was the first to ban the inclusion of loot boxes in games, and since then fifteen countries have joined a coalition to investigate the addictive nature of loot boxes and find a consensus.
Whether gambling or not, it is clear that the inclusion of loot boxes and microtransactions are a better way to experience a game, and for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey the best way. I would argue that a game should be developed as an enjoyable experience with the ability to purchase more content (which has been sold for years as Downloadable Content). Only then would it be an option for players to purchase microtransactions, rather than the definitive way to play a game.
An argument to support microtransactions would be that with the constant demand for better graphics and bigger games, the cost of development requires additional sources of income. However, based solely on game sales from the 2017-2018 fiscal year (which ended in March) Ubisoft saw a $164.5 million profit says a GamaSutra article. Meaning the sale of games was enough to cover expenses and turn a significant profit, disproving the previous argument.
Thus, microtransactions are not necessary, it is merely icing on the cake for major companies. I believe this cuts to the heart of the issue: microtransactions are not for consumers, they are meant to make as much money as possible, regardless of gamer experience.