So, Steam has recently unveiled its next money-making venture in the form of Item Stores, a service that allows developers to sell in-game items for real money to consumers en masse. It’s a tactic that hearkens to the recent Payday 2 outrage in its execution, and is drawing its fair share of (rightly deserved) outrage now. The argument is more split down the middle this time instead of just being a whirlwind of anger and criticism, especially with how it pertains to customers and the way they are treated in the industry as a whole.
The Item Stores program essentially allows for any game to sell microtransactions with ease, while drip-feeding players the content to make it appear like an ‘optional’ endeavor. Rust is the first game to take advantage of this new feature, and going into the game’s store page brings up a rather large new menu that displays a lovely assortment of guns and clothes that can be purchased with meatspace dough. The catch of this over-standard DLC practice is twofold: first, the system is linked to the community market, meaning that you can perhaps purchase items for cheaper prices from other players, and second, the game gives you these items anyways, albeit through random, timed drops. While it’s certainly no paid mods fiasco, it’s incredibly easy to spot what the problem might be here.
You see, while this idea might be new in the realm of selling downloadable content (at least in my eyes, as I’ve never seen a system run exactly like this one before,) that does by no means make it good. It’s the newest in a disturbing trend the game industry is exhibiting of not only cutting things piecemeal out of a game and charging for them later, but also addicting players with small bits of cordoned-off content to make it appear as if the items can be commonly come across instead of being the tiny, overpriced bits of DLC they are. Sure, you may get some paid items every now and again, but you’ll never get them all until you fork out some dough and pay the piper. It will likely take years of these random item drops before you get all the costume pieces that should have been included in the game in the first place.
I understand the need of publishers to make money, but this new system of gouging customers who want the full experience (and while some people may say otherwise, yes, being able to own all the costumes through natural gameplay is part of the full experience) is not exactly friendly to consumers, and is turning many people, myself included, away from games that offer such features. It’s something that the mobile game market has been plagued with for quite some time, something dubbed ‘whale hunting.’ Companies for some of the more popular mobile games do not rely on expansions that include additional content, they instead rely on cheap and dirty tricks in order to get some of the more naive consumers to part with their hard-earned money. This may turn away a vast majority of players, but for the few poor players that do end up getting addicted to the game and keep spending money on a genuinely restrictive game experience, they are milked to the very last drop. These ‘whales’ are players, usually children, who spend vast amounts of money on a single game, giving the publisher a consistent source of income for comparatively little effort. After the creation of these manipulative gameplay mechanics, the men in charge just have to sit back, relax, and rake in their dough.
Whales might be gold mines for video game companies, but it negatively impacts the game experience as a whole, no matter what kind of inclusion it takes. This Steam Item Store concept is a rather frightening concept as it threatens to make ‘whale hunting’ in the realm of gaming a normal thing to do. Companies will see the feature, see how much money the idea is making (and it will make money, whales will pay hand over foot for any sort of content, no matter how small) and then follow suit, actively chopping off parts of a complete game before turning around and trying to sell us these amputated pieces at a premium. It doesn’t matter if the items are cosmetic or not, in either form the concept is simply an egregious one. Downloadable content is not the most successful in the long-term stage, much as video game companies would like you to believe. DLC isn’t supposed to be something to stretch game enjoyment to a breaking point, whittling down the players levels of fun until they run out of money to spend on the experience, it’s supposed to be something that enhances the game experience overall.
Think of your favorite bits of DLC over the last few years, and imagine just how much money these developers have made in the process. The Shivering Isles, for Oblivion, Afterbirth for The Binding of Isaac, even The Taken King for Destiny, despite microtransactions being added in to the experience later on. These packs contained a great assortment of content for a fair price, and they sold like hotcakes. I can guarantee that more money has been made off of the stellar Hearts of Stone expansion pack for The Witcher 3 than those silly costume pieces for The Last of Us. The games that involve these manipulative mechanics are usually fairly solid, Rust is a good game at its core, but the inclusion of this rather sketchy new business model does not bode well for both downloadable content and the treatment of consumers in the future. We’ve already lost Payday 2 to the microtransaction train, there’s no need to lose the rest of the good stuff on the market.
Source: PC Gamer