Electronic Arts Under Fire
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 23:10
In 2013, Electronic Arts was named the “worst company” in America for an unprecedented second year in a row via an online poll by the “Consumerist.” While I could easily ramble on as to why EA received this “honor,” a significant target of criticism was directed towards the implementation of microtransaction that has become rampant in both the publisher’s casual and core titles.
Microtransactions refer to optional additional fees, often in the $.99 to $4.99 range, for additional content. They are often offered via a linked credit card that a developer might opt to include in a title for the purpose of increasing a title’s profitability. The problem is that the implementation of such a system more often than not “breaks” the game. Users foolishly willing to chalk up the extra cash when prompted will gain an unfair advantage in the game (i.e. extra health, better weapons, etc.), or in the case of multiplayer centric titles, an advantage over other players. By allowing players the ability to “succeed” in games without actually playing the title for a significant amount of time makes it difficult for developers to balance the game.
EA’s recent incarnation of “Sim City” has garnered much criticism due to the system. While primarily intended as a single player game, the game will not run unless you have a constant internet connection. Why? Because, unless you’re online, the game won’t be able to pester you to make additional microtransaction purchases.
“Star Wars: The Old Republic,” an MMO also by EA, adopted a free-to-play model last year. Supported by microtransactions, new players are able to obtain equipment and abilities that were intended to be made available only to players who had put significant time and effort into the title.
The most severe cases of microtransaction abuse often occur in cheap mobile games designed to cater to an audience that typically is short on patience. Titles such as EA’s “Mass Effect Infiltrator” are arguably designed to be unnecessarily difficult as a means to encourage the player to spend additional real world currency for in-game bonuses.
Despite all this, the microtransaction system has become an extremely lucrative business model for numerous companies. While EA is the worst abuser of the system by far, countless other companies, including Rovio, Disney and Square Enix with their ghastly Final Fantasy mobile spin offs, have adopted similar models.
However, when the implementation of microtransactions does nothing to unbalance the game, there is nothing to complain about.
Valve’s wildly popular free to play shooter “Team Fortress 2” adopted the model a few years back and the model has become both profitable for Valve and beneficial to players. Various customizable equipment and clothing for characters (often designed by users) can be purchased for a small fee in the game.
“Grand Theft Auto Online” will allow players to spend real world money on in-game cash that can be used to purchase weapons, vehicles, etc. However, in-game cash can also be earned by completing online missions. Here, the microtransaction offers a “short cut” for players so to speak, but does not give them an advantage over players who can acquire the same materials through regular gameplay.
These micro transactions don’t unbalance the core gameplay, but rather allow each user to customize their experience if they so wish.
In other words, as long as it doesn’t upset the balance of the game, the microtransaction system can be mutually beneficial to both publishers and players. But if it does, that’s a whole different ballgame.