View From the Road

View From the Road
A View from the Road: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Microtransaction

John Funk | 3 Aug 2009 17:00
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What I found in Exteel, on the other hand, was something else entirely - a middle ground between the two, so to speak. In Exteel, you start off with a dinky little mecha with the most basic equipment. Play matches, increase your rank, and earn credits with which you can purchase new, more powerful parts and gradually fight your way to the top.

Or, you could just spend five bucks and get yourself a powerful, badass-looking giant fighting robot right off the bat. A nickel or two earns you a nifty coat of dark red paint, and now that you've spent that, what's another dollar for a cool-looking pair of advanced energy swords?

It's more than just cosmetic, but here's the catch - almost every piece of equipment and weaponry you can buy via NCSoft's store has a near-identical counterpart in the game that you can only purchase via hard-earned in-game credits. Said equipment looks recognizably different from its microtransaction brethren, meaning that it's easy to pick out in the middle of combat who has earned their metaphorical stripes and who has a few extra bucks to burn.

If there's no penalty for going with the in-game armor, and earning your suit might actually earn you geek cred, why take advantage of the microtransactions at all?

The answer: Because it's convenient. It's the same principle that causes a WoW player to buy gold that would take him a week to farm for the cost of a few hours of work. Buying a top-end mecha in Exteel earns you no superior advantage in combat; it just means that you didn't want to spend time on the grind.

And you know what? I'm okay with that. Hell, I understand it completely - many of those inhabiting all these virtual worlds have jobs, have families, and have lives that they don't want to spend slogging their way to the top. It's like a cog train on a mountain: It might be easier getting to the peak, but once you're there, you have the same damn view as everybody else.

It's this style of microtransaction - the Convenience Tax, if you will - that online games should consider adopting, even the big-budget blockbusters that don't need the extra revenue. It'd be killing two robots with a single positron beam cannon, too: Why would anyone pay a third party (and hand over potentially sensitive information) for in-game cash or services when they could go to the developers instead? They'd be funding the game's development, the official store would be able to undercut third parties at no loss, and there would be none of the negative stigma that accompanies gold-buying or power-leveling today.

Still, maybe they should make the in-game sword burst into fire when swung, or something like that. Just be wary of pissing off the hardcore - otherwise, they might start internet petitions. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

John Funk painted his mecha red so it'd go three times as fast.

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