Remember when you paid for a game and got to enjoy 100% of its content at launch? Those days have long gone, with publishers seeking to drain you of hard-earned money as much as they can. The explosion of DLC packs created for games after launch was the culprit at first, following most major IPs through their life cycles. Not everyone liked that push, though gamers were never forced to pay in most cases. A bunch of games didn’t follow that, but you always get a few of those greedy oddballs in the industry. More so, we’ve got to experience some brilliant stories added the games post launch, with likes of Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker and The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine providing quality entertainment once you’ve finished the main storyiine. Now, however, the industry has adopted a mass trend of throwing microtransactions in every pot, with publishers like EA and Activision being worst offenders of the bunch. The former seems to take up a new headline each year, with no end in sight for slowing its greedy momentum. You pay for a game, then buy some DLC (which doesn’t seem to be that widespread these days), and maybe you’d also want to spend extra cash on useless cosmetics or worst case – pay to win the game. Costs of a new release now suddenly spike to over $100 from initial $60, with especially EA known to be most aggressive with its premium currency.
I was prompted to write this piece upon checking out a new battle royale by Respawn Entertainment – Apex Legends. It’s a solid entry in the genre so far, with far more stability at launch than most of EA’s catalog in recent memory. Surprisingly enough knowing the publisher, the game’s reveal didn’t come months before release; instead, it almost quietly dropped on February 4, 2019. What I’m really after here, though, is the fact EA already has plenty of premium currency packs on offer, available right from the get-go. It always seems like EA’s microtransactions work perfectly at launch, no matter how much the game in question suffers from performance hiccups, or worse – is blatantly missing features. One can’t be surprised to see this in Apex Legends at launch, given the company’s abuse of loot boxes and microtransactions – their Ultimate Team mode in sports alone nets $800 million annually. While not so bad in a free-to-play title like Apex, EA’s greed has spilled over into every full-priced release across its franchises. It doesn’t seem like they’ll ever cap this monetization either.
To illustrate my point, I could pick any of the various examples in EA’s catalog to cause fan outcry in the past, and there’ll be no shortage of discussion to find here. Star Wars: Battlefront II is a prime example, where EA turned a beloved series into a full monetization platform. At launch, it was the epicenter of the publisher’s greedy practices that allowed players with enough disposable income to outright pay and skip an otherwise painstaking progression. The objectively better weapons at higher levels further didn’t help matters, resulting in a mass pushback from gamers. We’ve even reached the point where government legislators had to intervene in the gaming industry – never a good sign – and review whether loot box microtransactions are considered a form of gambling. Those are a slightly separate beast, but nonetheless, speak to how much greed the company demonstrates year after year. EA isn’t the only offender here, of course, but considerably the worst across the industry.
If you want to look further, EA’s practices further spill into its single player franchises – most notably Dead Space 3 from 2013. Multiplayer games to some extent justify additional spending if you desire more customization (a correct way to do microtransactions that EA seems rather oblivious to in most cases), but when a single player game throws those in – that’s just completely anti-consumer. Dead Space 3 gave players the option to grab a bunch of in-game resources for real cash, and consequently imposing high requirements in its weapon crafting system. Having beaten the game on two separate occasions, I can attest to my ability to craft a most of three weapons during the entire run. If you aren’t willing to spend extra bucks, it entices you with a diverse array of weapons that aren’t accessible to craft.
The aforementioned games are just two examples in EA’s long-running bid to monetize every IP they own far beyond initial game sales. It isn’t enough anymore to spend $60US (or $80CAD) on a full-priced AAA release – they would really like to keep sucking money out of gamers’ pockets for as long as possible. One only has to look at every game EA currently offers, and you’ll undoubtedly find premium currency in at least 90% of the range. It no longer matters who makes the game, whether it’s DICE, Respawn or BioWare – they’re all required to throw in microtransactions into every game, while development times are frequently rushed. This plague has found its way into beloved series like Dragon Age and Mass Effect from BioWare, which ship with arbitrary multiplayer modes nobody asked for, at expense of the overall quality in each respective single-player experience. You’d be fooled to think something like Battlefield V would ditch microtransactions altogether, though their absence from the game in a three-month period indicates EA tried to do some serious damage control after Battlefront 2. That said, they just couldn’t resist to throw them into BF5 at a later time anyways.
From this outlook, one can clearly see EA’s support of extensive microtransactions across the board, which they’re known to admit every now and then. This concerns me in regard to BioWare’s upcoming Anthem, as EA’s practices seemingly have no bounds in pricing their premium currency packs. With each new game, requirements for premium cosmetics grow exponentially. I’m already seeing YouTubers discuss Anthem’s microtransactions, and the game isn’t even out yet. Some premium cosmetics were found to equate to roughly $20 in real-world money, which is outrageous even by modern gaming standards. If you really want to stand apart in Anthem, a few visual options don’t hurt, but one shouldn’t have to pay as high as 30% of the outright game cost. Further on, the rather unstable demo performance reported by many raises concern about the state EA intends to release the game in. We’ve already seen numerous disasters from their online-only games in the past (remember SimCity 2013?), and Anthem’s rocky testing leaves me with little faith to see a stable release on February 15th. You can bet their microtransactions store will work flawlessly at launch, though.
What are your thoughts on this discussion? Is it about time they tone it down a couple notches or is it the gamers’ habits that keep EA’s greed going further? Let me know in the comments below.
YouTuber Angry Joe has a video about Anthem’s ridiculous microtransactions. A statement from BioWare hinted the prices may not be final, though I have no doubt they’ll easily charge $20 worth of currency for a costume.
I enjoyed this, a well researched and written piece. Having studied economics for a number of years, I’m yet to be convinced of the evils of these items to the same extent, as long as they don’t break the game and are for largely cosmetic reasons their inclusion only provides a greater choice. My perspective largely comes where a game is still fundamentally broken or unfinished with a perfectly working store front on launch day. On that I agree entirely with what you said.
Presuming the game is in a finished state, if you have the option to purchase new outfits or weapons skins then all is good for me, how and what you choose to spend your money on is your own business and whilst there isn’t a tangible physical object to appreciate, purchase value and worth is entirely subjective.