Magic Bullet Theory

June 25, 2008 by Tim

Perhaps you’ve heard of Battlefield: Bad Company? They’ve been putting out some amusing ads, including this parody of the famous ‘Mad World’ Gears of War ad.


I played the beta for a bit when it first hit a while back. It was right at the beginning of the open beta phase, but even then the game was pretty polished and enjoyable. And then there was a big stink about the game when it was revealed that certain weapons would only be available by paying more money (for the unlocks, or for the limited edition). The big concern was that these weapons were going to drastically tip the scales and magically make people unstoppable uber-gamers (I saw some comparisons that showed most of the additional weapons were on-par with what came with the game). I refrained from getting into it back then, because I wanted to wait and see how EA reacted to the consumer reaction. They ended up altering the plan to offering the weapons immediately with the limited edition, or unlocked at rank 25. It seemed to appease most people, though I know some continued to brood over the perceived “injustice”.

I understand both sides of the argument regarding micro-transactions. From a consumer’s standpoint, not everyone has a lot of disposable income, and they play games to relax, have some fun, or to compete, and they don’t want to feel forced to spend money just to even the playing field. That’s a perfectly valid concern with plenty of merit. I know I personally dislike the gold-farming scene in MMOs. I enjoy the challenge of leveling and equipping my character, and I couldn’t care less if someone else wants to skip it, except buying/selling gold and items effects the game economy, which then effects my play. Introducing real world purchases into video games carries with it a lot of controversy.

On the other hand, I understand that video games are a business. No matter how much a coder, designer, modeler loves video games, and the work they’re doing, at the end of the day it has to be profitable, or they can’t continue to do it. And I know some people think to themselves “Hmm, a million games sold, at $60 each… okay, every member on that team is a millionaire, now they’re just getting greedy”, but I think(hope) most people realize that’s just not the case. Video games these days rival hollywood films as far as production costs. They cost millions of dollars, up front, sometimes over two to three years before a single retail sale is ever made. And then there’s packaging, marketing and distribution costs. And then the retail outlets have to take their cut, to offset their costs for shipping and housing the product, and software piracy eats a large chunk of potential sales. My point is, undoubtedly video games make money, but not astronomical amounts.

Digital distribution items like map packs or weapon pack add-ons for games cut out a huge amount of overhead related to packaging and shipping actual products. It’s a larger percent of profit directly into the game publisher/developer’s pocket, so of course that’s going to be appealing. I don’t care how much passion a developer may have for making games, they still want to make money. Everyone wants to make money. I doubt you’d find anyone who, given the chance, would refuse the opportunity to make more money. So I think it’s a little silly to crucify companies, big or small, for wanting to make more money.

Yes, it’s poor practice to allow purchased content to unbalance a game. But the biggest impact you as the consumer can have is to simply not buy the game if you disagree with a company’s approach to business. They can’t expect you to purchase their stuff just because they put it out there, but on the same token, you can’t expect the businesses to stop trying to get your money with product. It’s not a friendship. They don’t owe you years of free updates and expansions and new content just because you bought the core product, and you don’t owe them anything either.

Battlefield Heroes is going to be chock full of micro-transactions. From clothing items and knick knacks, to items which help the player rank up faster. Hopefully it will help that the game itself is free, but I don’t doubt that we’ll be hearing complaints regardless. Micro-transactions aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The bottom line, the way I see it, is that if a developer is going to invest the time and resources to produce a product, be it a full standalone game, or horse armor, they have the right to ask money for it. And you have the right to say “no”.

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