Microtransactions: Help Us Shigeru Miyamoto You’re Our Only Hope.
Miyamoto Speaks Out
Nintendo has always been a rather conservative company. They waited patiently to utilize color in their handheld systems (a full 8 years after Sega.) They begrudgingly allowed blood in their games after Mortal Kombat ushered in the era video games for mature audiences. They have resisted combining their consoles with a dvd/blu-ray players to create true multimedia entertainment centers. They were slow to incorporate online play into their systems. So, it is no real surprise that the companies legendary developer Shigeru Miyamoto does not think highly of gaming’s current trend – microtransactions
Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong among others, spoke out against microtransactions while speaking at the Computer Entertainment Developers Conference in Yokohama, Japan. According to Bloomberg reports, Miyamoto expressed his belief that video games should have a one-time upfront cost. He commented on this “fixed cost” philosophy saying ““I can’t say that our fixed-cost model has really been a success, but we’re going to continue pushing it forward until it becomes entrenched. That way, everyone can develop games in a comfortable environment. By focusing on bringing games to the widest range of people possible, we can continue boosting our mobile game business.”
The New Way of Gaming
Micro-transactions are rapidly becoming the standard business model in the gaming industry. For many genres they already are. Less than ten years ago consumers payed a lump some for a complete game. Nowadays players pay small sums throughout the gaming experience to unlock new levels, skins, weapons, or modes of play. For smaller independent programmers this has allowed them to break into a competitive and well saturated market. By allowing their games to initially be free to play but placing micro-transactions independent programmers can have a steady stream of incoming. However, larger companies have latched on to the practice in order to double-dip into the pockets of their consumers. EA famously found themselves on the wrong end of public outcry with the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II. While they quickly back pedaled and revamped the system (as well as the system for Star Wars: Battlefront I) the damage to their reputation was already done.
So What’s wrong with Micro-transactions?
As an older gamer I find myself increasingly frustrated by this new trend. While it is fine for free-to-play mobile games, it reeks of corporate greed for higher end games. For a game like Battlefront you are going to pay nearly double the price of a standard game for all the DLC. Then when you start playing you either have to spend $20 or so leveling up or go through the grind of extremely unbalanced game-play to acquire the necessary in-game cash. There was a time when skill alone determined the outcome of a match. Now money can rule a game. I feel like a toddler stamping my feet and crying “it’s not fair” but it’s not. We have whole generations of gamers for whom this is now the norm. They are being ripped off by a new standard in the industry and don’t even know it. There is no recourse for the gamer except not to play, which is a depressing option for those of us who truly love the games.
Aside from being greedy this practice is also incredibly lazy. DLC, Loot Crates, and other micro-transactions allow developers to put out partially complete games at full price. They then sell us the necessary updates as some sort of bonus.
Now, Nintendo is not entirely innocent in all this, they are clearly more mindful of it. Nintendo tried to balance their philosophies with maintaining a profit with their mobile game Mario Run (and less successfully with Animal Crossing.) It will be interesting to see how they manage as they continue to develop their mobile platform where this practice is far more common. The bigger question is, will Nintendo be enough to stave the tide of microtransactions or will they succumb? Will Nintendo’s fixed-cost model be enough to give players an alternative to the money grubbing shenanigans of more unscrupulous developers? Can the success of the Switch help correct the course of gaming? I wouldn’t hold your breath, but, Miyamoto’s vocal opposition and Nintendo’s philosophy has earned my faith and my money.