The Microtransaction Choice
There’ve been a lot of folks this week that are buzzing about Blizzard’s decision to allow people to purchase in-game pets for a crazy price over in their store, in what is admittedly another step in the long line of paid services Blizzard has created with WoW. It was interesting to hear about all the furor over this, especially reading another perspective from a perturbed Gordon, who said that the price translation to the UK is more than the monthly subscription amount, and therefore, ridiculous.
I get why people facepalm over microtransaction stuff. The concerns range from folks with practical concerns such as Gordon to people who worry about the inroad into microtransaction is a smoking gun for more significant purchases (such as gear or levels). There’s also the whole side market of RMT, too, and how its influence has given developers pause about opening their own alternative services. Microtransactions is one of those things that affects both the present (as in WoW) and the possible future (as in SWTOR not having committed to a pricing model yet) of MMOs.
But I think that what people can and should realize is that right now, microtransactions as a whole aren’t a big deal. I don’t really mind microtransactions for the simple reason that they are a choice – an optional decision made by players to get something that isn’t essential to gameplay. Sure, the future of microtransactions might see players able to purchase a “fast forward” to their levels or to their gear, but again, such a decision would be a choice made by players, and not one they are forced into.
The reason why I believe this is what the outcome will be is because even though MMO developers might not seem like they have their pulse on the community feeling sometimes, they do have at least some idea of how their players feel. Right now, players feel that the idea of microtransactions are potentially something that could end up out of control, as more financially stable people are able to get a leg up on folks who live from paycheck to paycheck. Any MMO developer worth their salt is going to do things to minimize the impact of microtransactions, whether to make it so that purchasable items are not more powerful than getting things “the old fashioned way”, or allow players to be relevant no matter if they opened their wallet or not.
Honestly, even if a microtransaction-based major MMO came out without these balancing effects in place, the decision to subscribe to one is also a choice by players. While it may not seem like it, players vote with their wallets more often than not. While a microtransaction business model for MMOs might seem practically sound, ultimately if the players don’t like it, they won’t bother with it. Their voice is more powerful than you would think, and it’s that for that reason that microtransactions as a model ultimately don’t bother me in the slightest.