As the exponential growth of technology speeds ahead, so must the complexity of the gaming industry. Almost 60 years ago, the brown box console came out. The incursion of quarter slot arcades presented a market for at home consoles, and then five decades later, the endless myriad of freemium apps came to market. Some games along the way are most notable for their ground breaking achievements, presenting an aspect of gaming that left all other aspects inferior. Golden Eye 007 for the Nintendo 64 provided a local muliplayer first person shooter platform that revolutionized the industry. Games like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto pushed the limits of acceptable stimulus and forced companies to obey the newly founded ESRB rating system. When Halo: Combat Evolved came out, it single handedly was responsible for the successful launch of the XBOX, and it’s no surprise that an anniversary collection with Halo 5 muliplayer beta was released for the Xbox One.
Games like these and many more created a standard for gamers. The expectations of the gaming generation become exceedingly higher with each new franchise or published sequel. Once Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games hit the scene, like World of Warcraft and EVE, a subtle shift occurred. Multiplayer became the corner stone of gaming, and while many games stuck to very long solo campaigns, the replay value became rather stagnant. The cost of hosting the servers for these games was an unforeseeable challenge, but luckily, monthly subscriptions and expansion packs made the gaming industry billionaires.
Although the standards for the hardcore gamer were exceeding the limits of small time gaming publishers, a new marketable demographic came to the scene: the casual gamer. Previous generations who thought of the gaming world as too complicated found themselves increasingly addicted to Wii Sports, Sims, Solitaire, and Free Cell. Social media made this ever more prevalent. Games like Farmville and Candy Crush on Facebook have our parents forcefully entangled in competitive level completion.
So, why would this cause a problem? Just because micro-transactions in games exist for experience points or extra lives, doesn’t mean it can derail the evolution of gaming, right?
These micro-transactions add up, and like the ever entrapping addiction of a casino, these same aspects appeal to the most vulnerable of psyches and can be downloaded to any mobile device in the world. Lets do some math. Currently, the cost of all of the expansions to World of Warcraft is about $120. Initially, the original was $60 and each expansion $40. That includes vanilla World of Warcraft, Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, and now Warlords of Draenor. The monthly subscription of the game is $15 a month, and if you buy 6 months in advance, you can lower the cost per month to $12.99. Essentially over the 11 years of its existence, one out of the millions of players would have spent roughly $260 for all of the expansions and game, $1,980 for the total subscription, and this doesn’t even include the upkeep on the desktop or laptop computing needs to run the game.
Is this an acceptable amount of money to pay to play a game?
As long as the game is constantly updated with significant content, I am sure World of Warcraft players don’t mind. With the addition of each expansion, a new level cap was added, new areas and dungeons to explore, and new quests became available to grind for experience. That being said, games outside the MMO experience like console games are now in the digital pre-order era. That’s right folks! Back when the demands for games were so high that the publisher couldn’t ship them out fast enough, pre-ordering made sense. Those days are long gone. Now we have digital pre-order downloads, where gaming companies are receiving millions of dollars for pre-orders on games they don’t even release on the announced release date. Or to make matters worse, games are released that aren’t even ready. Games like Star Trek, released in 2013 had such a bad review, J.J. Abrams attributes the release of this game to hindering his box office sells in Star Trek: Into Darkness.
The Halo Anniversary for the XBOX one had to wait weeks — not days — but weeks for the servers to handle the amount of incoming information and the sheer demand. People spent $500 on the console, another $60 for the game, and couldn’t even play the announced feature that made the game in demand in the first place. Another recently released game, Evolve for PS4, XBOX One, and Desktop has over $135 dollars listed in downloaded content. Why spend $60 dollars on a game that isn’t fully completed? It’s one thing if the downloadable content is cosmetic or significant, but another thing if the released game only has eight hours of material and expects you to spend more out of pocket.
Freemium games that incorrectly exploit the DLC structure are by far the worst. These free to download apps are marketed in such a way that kids find them exceptionally entertaining. If the parent isn’t technology savvy, a credit card without parent lock can be established in the Google Play Store or iTunes and the child will spend hundreds of dollars without knowing the consequences. A freemium game called Clash of Clans had a story published about how a child was spending his father’s money to upgrade his fort and revive his minions. After spending more than 3,700 pounds, the family obviously was in shock. Because of the exculpatory clause listed at the bottom of the transactions, the family had no grounds to sue, and lost the case.
One of the worst DLC ever released was in 2007 on a game called Beautiful Katamari. The game was rather short, and a lot of players complained on how quickly they were able to beat the game. It turns out the publisher created a firewall on content already published on the game disc. The DLC was a release code for the content already created. Freemium gaming is rather devious and deceiving at first. It grabs your attention with a mildly entertaining flash of brilliant colors and actions. You get somewhat interested in the game, and then you realize you have to pay to win. Some of these games have timing allocation in which you cant play for 2 hours, or you could pay money to have an in game currency that you could exchange for more play time. With what we have already seen, these games demographic are largely represented by the younger generations, as their concept of “spending money” has no real ramifications until the family finds out.
We are partly to blame for the gaming industries business strategy. If we didn’t participate, it wouldn’t have worked. But now that everyone and their grandmother is hooked on Candy Crush, this digital age of instant gratification could be our financial downfall. Luckily, the effects of freemium gaming have spawned a new “Pay Once and Play” concept. Apple has taken the initiative to advertise games who specifically have no other hidden micro-transactions within them. As time goes on, it will be interesting to see the increased complexity of pay once and play games. Is it possible to market a MMO game on the pay once and play section without charging monthly subscription fees? Only time will tell.
Opinion articles published on PocketFullOfApps represent the view of the writer, not PocketFullOfApps as a whole.