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Why Microtransactions In Games Are Amoral 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the there-are-good-hats-and-evil-hats dept.
Sludge writes "Graham Jans, a founder of the Vancouver Design Dojo and designer of Zombie Minesweeper, provides well-thought-out reasons why microtransactions in games are an amoral concept that can be used for good or evil, defying the typical knee-jerk reaction to Zynga-style use of microtransactions as a cynical tool designed to siphon the maximum amount of money from your wallet. Quoting: 'As well, such a thing could be a tool for benevolence. A developer could tune the length between releases to offer just a little more content for the same price, if they felt that was the right thing to do. In fact, most of the factors in microtransactions work this way. The negative reputation these systems have comes from factors that are tuned to maximize profit and abuse players for their money. But that's not an inherent trait in the system; you could just as easily use it to ensure your own bankruptcy!'"
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Why Microtransactions In Games Are Amoral

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  • Obligatory (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
  • BF Heroes is a good example of microtransactions gone ape...
    You can buy yourself superior firepower, but most times it doesn't even last. Often you just rent it for a day, week, month...
    • by cHiphead (17854)

      That's even worse, you are 'renting' items that expire, where the only work associated is an hour creating the small 3d model and modifying a few lines of text in a config file somewhere that states fire rate, damage, reload time. Its not a Picasso painting or an intensive programming mod. Its a way to siphon money out of people, when its the people themselves that are essentially creating the valuable 'content' of BF Heroes (multiplayer servers require players for the real content of interaction and game

    • I never really got the idea why I should bother to play such a game altogether.

      If I do not insert money, I play an extra, a mobile, player controlled target for someone who did.

      If I do insert money, I get to shoot sitting ducks without a challenge. If I want that, I could just as well play any shooter on lowest level without continuously throwing money at them.

      Why the heck should I play that game at all?

      • by KreAture (105311)
        Which is why I stopped playing. I played when it was beta and when it was new. Then you could pay for fun stuff, like the ability to wave "haha" to your enemy or a skull and crossbones mask or hat for that added fun when you bested someone. When they started selling insane wepons I logged off for the last time. I've not been on since but I have followed a few rants in some forums to see if they continued down the same path and indeed they appeared to for a while, but now little is happening alltogether.
      • If I do not insert money, I play an extra, a mobile, player controlled target for someone who did.

        In a 1 paid hero vs. 100 free mooks situation, you and your free teammates need to think like Tucker's guerrilla kobolds [tuckerskobolds.com].

  • Football Superstars [footballsuperstars.com] did that nicely for microtransactions, you can buy XP directly, going from level 1 to level 100 cost may be a little bit less than $300.

  • ... not amoral since the money you spend is gone and the game company still owns the game. All that money you invest is meaningless the second the one of the higher ups in the game company decides to shut-down the game or it goes out of business. This is the problem with game companies who try to sell 'games as a service'.

    This also happens with games that are locked down to a service like Xbox live or their own service (steam sdk multiplayer lockdown some games have - see: supreme commander 2) and certain

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      In the end it's just a neo-feudal model of extracting money from people without giving anything real back in return.

      If you don't count actually making the game as 'anything real'.

      I'm not a fan of microtransactions, and if they're poorly implemented they can really harm a game, but ultimately the people who spend that money are the ones paying for the game to exist.

    • by AxemRed (755470)
      People spend money on all kinds of things that don't result in getting something "real" in return. Many of these things do give us something intangible in return though: entertainment.
    • I can't entirely agree or disagree with you, but for the customer it is a matter of, do they get their moneys worth out of it. Are movie theiters immoral? IMO they are considerably worse, when I buy an item in a game, I get a preview of exactly what it is and what it does. I rarely pay more then $5 for it, and I can roughly estimate how much enjoyment I will get out of having it, no it won't be there forever, but unless the game is on it's last legs it can be safely assumed it will be there for at least a y
    • When I rent my house, people pay me and I still own the house. Is renting immoral?

      If not, what's the difference?

    • by Shrike82 (1471633)
      That's just your opinion. Don't confuse it with fact. You cite a few specific examples, but that doesn't make for a convincing argument. I can happily counter you with an anecdote of my own.

      I spent a few pounds sterling on some in-game items for Team Fortress 2; some gifts that could be dished out to random players on the community server I play at. It was an event night, lots of people spread across the multiple servers, lots of gifts flying around, lots of fun and enjoyment being had. The small amount
  • You don't have to play the game. There's a free market of video games out there, and it's large. If a developer uses these transactions and becomes unpopular for it, they'll get a bad reputation and people will stop buying the games.
    • by Haedrian (1676506)

      What planet are you living in? There's no real free market, because free markets work on a number of premisses which are unrealistic.

      According to wikipedia - Zynga, which is famous for these microtranscations...made $850 million last year and has ~250 million users. That's the free market for you eh.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        What planet are you living in? There's no real free market, because free markets work on a number of premisses which are unrealistic.

        The free market is just what people do when no-one is holding a gun to their head forcing them to do something different.

        Unfortunately we live in a world where there are millions of people with guns telling others what to do all the time.

        • by Haedrian (1676506)

          Not really, not just. Free market depends on the concept of "Perfect Competition".

          To give a good example - assume I dislike car company's lack of care for the enivornment. The free market would tell me that I should enter the market myself, and my superior ways will draw others away and the problem will be solved. I can't however realistically pull a car factory, and all the technology to compete out of thin air. Free market works when you have a bunch of farmers selling produce and there's no communication

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            Not really, not just. Free market depends on the concept of "Perfect Competition".

            No it doesn't. It just depends on you and me being able to freely agree on what price we sell to each other for (or whether we refuse to sell).

            The free market says nothing about whether anyone will give a crap about your environmental views; merely that if people do want to 'save then environment' then they'll choose to do so, and if they don't then they won't. In the real world very few people give a crap about 'the environment' in the abstract, and most would rather save $10,000 next time they buy a car t

          • Perfect competition is just one type of market in a free market economy. Many industries naturally have imperfect competition under free markets. Economies of scale and networking effects can create barriers of entry making it harder for new competition to emerge.

            If you really think you can build better cars for cheaper, you can go to Wall Street and convince people to give you the capital needed to do so. There are less barriers to entry in game development, so it shouldn't be an issue there.

      • by Machtyn (759119)
        What planet are you living in? Zynga made $850 million last year, not because they were holding their users hostage, not because of a lack of choice or information, not because of some mandate, and not because Zynga holds a monopoly on online games with micro-transactions. In fact, a person can play a Zynga game without spending a dime (time and personal information not-withstanding).

        Free Market: an economic system in which prices and wages are determined by unrestricted competition between businesses, without government regulation or fear of monopolies.

    • by s73v3r (963317)

      At the same time, this kind of behavior needs to be nipped in the bud, otherwise it will spread. Cell phone providers used to not charge for text messages. Now they all do. They also used to not have restrictions on data plan usage. Now they all do, in some form or another. Saying "You don't have to play the game!" doesn't work once the vast majority of games are engaging in that behavior.

  • I find them immoral for most cases. I don't know whether DLC counts as microtransactions or not, so I'll leave it out.

    The problem is that they are common in multiplayer games. Most multiplayer games involve some sort of competition between players. People play games to 'win', and to feel good about it. Now most multiplayer games I saw which have MT end up letting people who buy MT get a huge advantage. Then its not fun for the other players, because you can just buy victory.

    Now some games DO keep it down lo

  • You mean to tell me that selling stuff is neither inherently moral nor inherently immoral but it can be used for either purpose?

    No fucking way...

  • by Chas (5144)

    Ensure your own bankruptcy

    Leave the $70 monocle alone!

    LEAVE IT ALONE!

    *Emoweep*

    • by Gravatron (716477)
      You know whats funny, and rather dickish? One of the swag items CCP gave out at PAX was a plastic monocle.
  • I'm one of those luddites whose cell phones makes phone calls, and I'm antisocial, so I'm kind of behind the curve here. Zynga's the guys behind Farmville, right? How do microtransactions come into it?

    Are they basically trying to rent you the game by the minute? Or is it that they're trying to actually sell you in-game stuff with real money? I've never understood the point of their games. It's no worse than Solitaire in terms of pointlessness, I suppose, but I'm not exactly excited about Solitaire.

    • by robthebloke (1308483) on Friday September 02, 2011 @12:04PM (#37287432)
      The basic premise for all Zynga games is something like this:

      * Game is free to play
      * Game lets you click on something (to buy, attack, build, whatever) once every N minutes of hours.
      * After a number of days of clicking, you win some new item
      * You can bypass the whole thing by simply coffing up some cash in the ingame shop.
    • Zynga games are really not games. They're Skinner boxes. You unlock more stuff by performing many repetitive actions (clicking different areas on the areas for 5 minutes, for example). The more repetitive actions you perform, the more pictures and widgets you unlock. Nothing of what you unlock changes the game in any significant fashion. But people keep clicking, because that's how we work. And Zynga has figured out that some people are willing to pay money to not have to click so much, and still unlock stu

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Zynga games are really not games. They're Skinner boxes. You unlock more stuff by performing many repetitive actions (clicking different areas on the areas for 5 minutes, for example). The more repetitive actions you perform, the more pictures and widgets you unlock. Nothing of what you unlock changes the game in any significant fashion.

        You just described pretty much every MMOG I've ever tried.

        • Kinda. But at least MMOGs provide fun ways to hang out with friends, and game mechanics similar to regular single-player games. The good ones even have a good story. Zynga games have none of that.

    • by AaxelB (1034884)
      Their games are basically this [smbc-theater.com], except you can pay to reduce the amount of clicking, or so I gather. I'm happy to say I've never played a Zynga game in my life.
  • I hated when they brought "micro-transaction" to Everquest. I wouldn't mind paying a dollar here or 50 cents there... but they offered $10 items from day one... and the prices only went higher. Sure, there were deals, promotions, and the like, but I resented it.

    And then I learned that the EQ engine is SO old and cobbled together that they would need extra revenue to justify the expense of creating newer prettier items. I began to accept it then, but would only actively participate in their micro-transaction

  • I don't have an inherent problem with games that feature microtransactions. Provided, however, that the core game is free and that the game isn't specifically designed to be so tedious as to require those purchases to make the game playable.

    I personally can't stand games with microtransactions. That's why I don't play them. I don't really understand what's so difficult to figure out here... A game is not a necessity. It's not like food, insurance or fossil fuels. Don't like it, don't play the damn game. If

    • by Frankie70 (803801)

      I don't really understand what's so difficult to figure out here... A game is not a necessity. It's not like food, insurance or fossil fuels. Don't like it, don't play the damn game. If everyone followed this mantra microtransactions would go away. But a lot of people obviously don't care or are not principled enough to do something about it. So it gets forced on the rest of us, who evidently are in the minority.

      What do you mean 'forced'? A game is not a necessity. It's not like food, insurance or fossil fu

  • Twenty years ago, this was a major paradigm in PC gaming. You get the introductory set of levels free, you get the rest when you cough up the dough.

    What happened? Why is this paradigm now evil?

    • because nobody wants to spend anything when the economy is in trouble.

      • by Gravatron (716477)
        Judging by the amount of self-righteous pirates I know, I think a lot of folks object to paying anything for a game period. Ditto for other types of software or digital items.
    • What happened? Why is this paradigm now evil?

      Originally, you got the promo version that ended at level 2. It was clearly labeled "promo version" or "demo" or something like that. You played up to level 2 and decided whether or not you wanted to continue by purchasing the rest of the game for $39.

      Now, you get the whole game. All 37 levels. Absolutely free! But what happens is that when you get to the end of level 2, there's a giant wall which is impossible to climb unless you buy the $35 super-jump shoes. But there's a free pair of super-jump sho

  • In MMOs, it's really annoying when they actually lock content.
    What that means is that if you want to play a certain area with your friends and one of you doesn't own that area, he will be left out unless he buys it.

    Makes a game become the lowest common denominator.

    Aka, boring.

  • Sure, there isn't even a real moral dilemma-- people can choose which games they play, and there is practically an infinite supply of them. -- But:It's lame if the rich kids get to "own" the fantasy worlds of games. It's not like they don't have enough shiny toys IRL. Micropayments just create an uncomfortable tie-in between real life and games, removing the "magic" from it. Games are actually a bastion of fairness and equal opportunity in a world that seems less than fair to some people.
  • Micro-transactions are bad.
    I'm not talking about bad in the moral sense, rather, bad in the efficiency sense.
    There's a cost associated with every transaction.
    That cost includes the cost of deciding to make the transaction.
    More transactions, more cost of deciding.
    To put it another way, the smaller the cost of the other things, the greater the percentage cost of making the decision to pay.

    -- ABH

  • You grow two brain cells and don't put all the money that you own into a stupid game?

    If, as a result, you do get bankrupt, can't buy perty clothes and nobody wants to mate with you? I'd say let evolution sort 'em out... That way the problem will take care of its own...

    Hell... the avarage IQ will go up. I bet we're totaly screwed if that happens...

  • Micro-transactions are a tool, a method of payment.
    Can we reasonably assign a moral value to something that can be used for either good or evil?
    Well, yes we can. In fact, the courts have already done just that when they ruled against Napster, and in favor of video taping.
    We look at what the tool is primarily used for, and what other uses it has.

    The thing about micro-transactions is that they work on scale which humans have difficulty making rational decision in.
    Deciding if, for example, 1/10 of cent is a g

  • by argStyopa (232550)

    Sophomoric philosophy is still sophomoric when spouted by a game designer.

    Microtransaction systems are morally wrong? Who even suggested such a thing? It's like suggesting a hammer is morally wrong, or the idea of barter is morally wrong.

    My goodness, I guess when I wasn't looking, computer games became "srs bznss"?

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