Next Generation and a Micro-Transaction Future

March 11, 2013, Author: Neil Hughes

Last week, a five-year old boy hit the headlines when he racked up a bill of £1,700 after making 19 £69.99 in-app purchases whilst playing the iOS title Zombies vs. Ninjas. The parents were caught out by the free-to-play nature of the game, unaware that potentially costly in-game items were available to purchase.

The more tech savvy amongst us might scoff at this story and utter phrases like “Parental Responsibility”, but the reality is that many publishers know that most people think if you pass your device of choice to your offspring with nothing but a newly downloaded free app, nothing else can happen because their lovable rogue of a child does not know the password.

Somebody needs to stand up and say that £69.99 IAP in children’s apps is unacceptable. We all know that the increase of in-app purchases has now hit an all time high, but you cannot help but feel that shady publishers are almost setting people up for the big payout.Apple had already told the family they were unable to help until it hit the headlines and only then, as if by magic, a refund appeared.

Gamification is a well-known sales tactic which involves using game mechanics to manipulate weaknesses to the human psyche, so it’s no stretch of the imagination that it would be quite easy to lead unsuspecting younger gamers for a few hefty purchases.

A virtual mousetrap that they know will cause a few of the customers to slip up and learn an expensive lesson seems a little unethical, especially if it was planned all along, whilst also   ruining the game itself.

Essentially many of the companies know full well and may even encourage the accidental purchase of virtual items for £69.99 a time and when the angry parent attempts to appeal, they are advised “You should understand how to lock down your device, this is your responsibility etc.” Although this is true, I suspect that there are people out there making the most of this transitional time in gaming.

As we prepare for next generation consoles, it’s easy to see how the freemium business model is set to take the world by storm. Why would you pay £300 on new console then £50 for the latest Need for Speed game that looks exactly the same on your tablet for £0.69p? Would it make more sense and actually be fairer than the current pay-up front business model with distribution costs and piracy risks?

Over at Game Industry International, a gamer called Jade Law commented “This all reminds me of coin-op arcade games where I’d pop in some money and have a limited experience. Interesting how that became a dated concept once popularity of buying the game outright grew. Now I get to buy the game outright AND shovel money into the coin slot.”

Are you sure you want to buy?

Are you sure you want to buy?

Step forward Electronic Arts, who have announced that they have plans to include micro-transactions of some sort into everything it does in the future, which is of no surprise and probably a good indication of what will be in store for gamers from all publishers in the immediate future.

If used properly, then micro-transactions could bring something positive to a gaming experience but personally I fear that this will be abused and milked dry quicker than an Activision franchise.

Despite trying my hardest to be open minded about this, Cliffy B decided to wade into the debate claiming the poor people at EA are being bullied: “If you don’t like EA, don’t buy their games. If you don’t like their micro-transactions, don’t spend money on them. It’s that simple. If you’re currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You’re the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn’t know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?”

Thanks for that Cliffy, I have taken your advice, I’m not buying them but they’re still in the games I’m playing and affecting my enjoyment because they are now set-up in games in a bottomless unlock system.

They say you should never meet your heroes for a reason…

Maybe I am in the minority in loving the art form of video-games, but if a sell-out like Cliffy B wants to try and grab a few quick, cheap headlines for attention, that’s fine, but suggest our views are irrelevant then yes, we will bite back and vote with our wallets.

The gaming industry may well be struggling at the moment, but I can promise you that any company that has a short-sighted strategy of making lots of money now and worrying about the future later, will ultimately ruin the art of gaming for us all.

If EA were to charge £50 for a game only to then fill up with additional micro-transactions, then it’s simply greed and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise. However, this is one argument that I guarantee will rage on for many months to come.

My only concern is that if people honestly think that the next generation of consoles will involve spamming people’s Facebook walls with game requests like your mum does, and using psychological techniques to sell micro-transactions inside of games, then the art form of video-games could be disappearing forever. If that happens, then this gamer might have to hang up his spurs once and for all.