Micro-transactions and the Fallacy of Game Design Costs

There is an ever growing trend in the game industry at the moment of introducing micro-transactions into full priced retail releases. More often than not they are poorly implemented rubbish that only serve to make the overall game experience less enjoyable since often they impact the core design of the games.

While they are usually optional, this is deceptive as players cannot opt-out of mechanics created to cater to micro-transactions. Games have become more grindy, with certain items locked behind hours of repetitive collection or a quick real money payment.

But at heart I think that all gamers agree that micro-transactions aren’t great for anyone but I always see people defending it. The argument used by these people is hat the cost of producing games has risen while the price of the games to buy has stayed the same so micro-transactions offer a way for game companies to recoup some of this cost.

The core of this argument is true. The cost of producing games has on average increased over the years. It also misses the point completely though. I offer three main counter-points to this statement.

Firstly, anyone with any knowledge of business should know the term ‘economies of scale’. While the price of games may not have kept in line with the cost of producing them, gaming has become more mainstream and the actual number of games sold has increased massively. Even indie games now likely outsell AAA games from a decade ago because the number of consumers has risen so sharply. Each sale might still only fetch in £40/$60 but they are selling a lot more games and thus are making a lot more money.

Secondly, the prices of games are going up. This may not be true for every game in every store but I am definitely noticing more games releasing at the £45-£50 mark, especially your big-budget AAA games. Add that into the increased sales figures and these companies are making a fair profit. I mean, look at it logically. If game developers/publishers were not making money from their games then they wouldn’t be spending as much as they are producing them. It isn’t a viable business plan.

Finally, there is the point that modern AAA games are over-inflated and need to actually get a grip on their production costs. Brilliant quality games that can still dominate in the AAA space can be produced without breaking the bank. Compare the production/marketing costs of The Witcher 3 with its competitors and you will begin to see a huge difference in their budgets. The Witcher 3 is actually comparatively cheap in its production yet has beautiful graphics, a detailed world, great story and a strong vocal cast. For me it is one of the best games that I have ever played yet CD Projekt Red never went overboard on costs. Hell, look at Minecraft. That hardly cost anything and is now the biggest thing since sliced bread. Companies spend ludicrous amounts of money on games only to produce the frankly souless titles like Destiny, Call of Duty, Evolve and Titanfall.

At the end of the day, it isn’t about how much money is spend producing the game but how that money is used. Shiny graphics alone will not sell a game (*Order 1866*). Micro-transactions are a sign of greed and exploitation, not a lifeline for the industry. The only micro thing that I want to hear about is micro-pigs.

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