Gaming, OldVenue

The rise of downloadable content and microtransactions

It’s widely held that microtransactions are the Mecha-Hitler of gaming. Usually the scourge of mobile apps, they lurk in the background of every screen, dully flashing, tempting your eye, waiting for your patience to run thin. Running out of lives on Candy Crush? No matter; for a small fee, you can spend another twenty minutes mindlessly scrolling through confectionary. Sick of waiting twelve hours to cook tacos on the Sims Freeplay? No problem; for a small fee, you can have this rather basic foodstuff in seconds! Pointlessly relevant, microtransactions force their way into many simple gaming experiences, soiling the most basic of game mechanics with arbitrary waiting.

The question is this: when do they become justified?

It’s widely understood that microtransactions in games are a blemish on the amorphous glob of the industry. Let’s not forget the laughable horse armour mod that tainted the experience of Oblivion for many long-time fans of the Elder Scrolls series, nor the cringe-worthy pay-to-win barriers dotted throughout Dead Space 3. The blood-boiling reasoning of Shuhei Yoshida when asked about the presence of microtransactions in Gran Turismo 6 that it was just ‘an alternative path for busy people’ was frankly patronising to the fan-base. The implication seems to be that one can buy a full priced £45 game, and then pay incrementally to complete said game, if you’re ‘too busy’ to play it. I have games that I’m too busy to play (*cough* Persona 4 *cough*) but no force on this planet could convince me of the merits of paying to have it completed for me. Everyone is too busy to play all of the games that they own. The solution is never to pay for it to be completed – that defeats the quite simple premise of buying a game in the first place – but rather to let it gather dust on the shelf until you do have time to play it.

The bottom line is this: paying £50 for a game and then being bombarded by requests for more money is a shameless and disgusting business practice. If I spend £50 on a gaming experience, I expect the full experience. £50 is a lot of money for the average person to invest in a gaming experience, and nothing is more insulting than having aspects of that experience cordoned off in order to hassle the customer for more of their money. No, your average consumer does not want to pay double the price in order to unlock content they would receive anyway later in the game. No, they don’t want to pay full price and then sit peering wistfully at those few weapons or outfits that would totally improve their gaming experience but cost several pounds each to acquire. Moreover, advertising DLC within games is ridiculous. I draw your attention to Dying Light. During the loading screens throughout the game, they had the fantastic idea of advertising The Following, the next overpriced chunk of DLC for the game, and in doing so spoilt the ending of the original game! Which moron in marketing thought that was a good idea?

That’s not to say that paying for aspects of the gaming experience cannot be justified. DLC, for example, is a fantastic way for video game companies to generate more money whilst giving the consumer something extra to enjoy on top of their original gaming experience. To return to Oblivion, the Shivering Isles expansion pack was legendary in terms of building upon the original experience, so much so that it offered an arguably more interesting experience than the original game. After the ‘meh’ experience that was Bioshock 2, the modestly priced Minerva’s Den DLC added a fantastic angle to the game, offering several more hours of decent gameplay, and containing a fascinating self-contained story.

In such a competitive industry as gaming, companies are well within their rights to offer options in order to generate income. When that ‘option’ becomes ‘spend several pounds on an arbitrary in-game currency in order to bypass an arbitrary wait time in order to access an arbitrary game mechanic’ I fail to understand the reasoning behind this.


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March 2021
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