One of the most anticipated games of 2013, Dead Space 3, continues to find itself shrouded in controversy. Some of the dedicated fanbase are still up in arms over the shifted focus towards action in the series and the inclusion of co-op gameplay.
The more recent example if displeasing fans was the unveil earlier this week that, like Mass Effect 3, Electronic Arts and developer Visceral Games have found a way to include microtransactions into the story campaign of Dead Space 3 by charging for additional resources within the game’s weapon crafting system. Rightfully, the reaction from media and gamers was on the negative side.
Visceral’s John Calhoun, producer on Dead Space 3, provided the following reasoning to CVG of the controversial microtransactions introduced with this installment:
“There’s a lot of players out there, especially players coming from mobile games, who are accustomed to micro-transactions. They’re like “I need this now, I want this now”. They need instant gratification. So we included that option in order to attract those players, so that if they’re 5000 Tungsten short of this upgrade, they can have it.”
But Dead Space 3 players are required to pay $60, no? That’s not the case for mobile games which – for the most part – are free, supported by microtransactions. Why is the cost of the video game higher for players who want what’s already in the game they purchased? Why should the developer and publisher get rewarded more financially because in-game items (in a game they already purchased) take time to acquire/earn/unlock? Does this not create a monetary incentive for EA in all of their games to make in-game rewards more difficult to acquire? Forcing players through a grind and slowing down progression equals more reason for gamers to feel forced to purchase “additional resources” to craft better items, right?
Since when does player progression become an acceptable second pay wall? It’s a dangerous precedent, even if at first glance it may not seem a big deal because it’s not entirely “pay to win” and it’s absolutely optional, EA is trying to open the gates to profiting off of player progress, which they control by game design. If the game were free and players could acquire items or customization options via microtransactions then it would be justifiable, but it’s not. It’s an already-expensive $60 game. And charging more on top of that (for non-cosmetic items) for what the game already should (and does include) is anti-consumer and sets a very, very bad precedent.
Horse armor in Oblivion led to companies like Capcom locking out content on disc and charging more for it later. It created an incentive that encouraged developers like Epic Games to hold back content in Gears of War 3 (see: stupidly expensive weapon skins and season’s pass) behind pay walls, from gamers who forked out the money to support that company and play that game. What will this form of microstransactions lead to for the next-generation consoles? When do publishers start charging real-life cash for ammo packs mid-mission?
The Dead Space 3 crafting system upgrades can all be acquired through resources in game so the microtransactions are a way for
EA to profit players to unlock them earlier. Calhoun continues, explaining that they’d never let microtransactions become a pay-to-win strategy and that providing options for players to pay more than $60 is somehow expanding their audience.
We would never make a game you have to pay to win. There are genres of games where that is the answer, and you know what? The world has spoken, they suck. We don’t want to make games that suck, we want to make games that people want to hold on to, to keep on their shelves. That is our mark of success.
But we need to make sure we’re expanding our audience as well. There are action game fans, and survival horror game fans, who are 19 and 20, and they’ve only played games on their smartphones, and micro-transactions are to them a standard part of gaming. It’s a different generation. So if we’re going to bring those people into our world, let’s speak their language, but let’s not alienate our fans at the same time.
Yes, the microstransactions are “optional.” That’s not the issue nor was it ever. Options are good. The issue is that another form of content is behind an pay wall and that EA (and the developers under them) have an incentive in their products to intentionally design games that encourage players into feeling they need to pay more real-life money to progress. The real problem, again, is the precedent it sets in how it affects game design in future titles.
The current generation of gamers don’t want more expensive games, John. This isn’t a good thing. I wonder if the next bit of news for the game involves an Online Pass for the co-op gameplay…
Dead Space 3 releases February 5, 2013 for the PC PS3, and Xbox 360.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.