Allowing players to design their own weaponry piece-by-piece, Dead Space 3’s weapons crafting system made the game pliable for an arsenal wider — and crazier — than any in the series. Adding an electric machete or flamethrower attachment to Issac Clarke’s (or John Carver’s) conventional hardware was simply a matter of ingenuity, matching, and prudent resource management.
Or wiring real-world cash to the game. A major source of controversy surrounding Dead Space 3’s crafting interface was its evergreen option to purchase resources through microtransactions. Essentially, anyone who craved the game’s most advanced and, normally, most elusive firepower had the ability to acquire it financially from the get-go.
It’s an underlying gameplay model that publisher Electronic Arts now plans to build into each of its future titles. Speaking this week at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen announced that microtransactions were going to be “the next and much bigger piece” of the company’s business.
“We’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be.
“Consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business.”
According to Jorgenson, EA has outsourced the design duties for microtransaction systems to outside companies in the past. As the model becomes a unified staple of the publisher, however, EA will be handling it all “in-house” going forward — a decision made easier by the continual evolution of digital downloading:
“Without a doubt, you’re going to see more digital business and particularly more digital components of the gameplay allowed because the ease of it will be much better and the storage capability better.”
Dead Space 3 was hardly EA’s first foray into microtransactions; between purchasing credits in Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, unlocking every weapon in Battlefield 3 and assembling a squad of Hall of Fame talent in Madden’s Ultimate Team, the publisher hasn’t been shy about tethering gameplay incentives to real-money purchases. The game was rare, however, in the sense that payments became a potential driver of the core experience. Forget co-op, combat rolls and high-octane action tarnishing the Dead Spaceseries’s survival-horror sanctity. The Necromorph threat could be defused by cold hard cash.
Despite their presence, though, microtransactions didn’t diminish the Dead Space 3 experience for gamers who chose to ignore them. Our own Anthony Taormina was able to enjoy the weapons crafting system on its own merits in his Dead Space 3 review, and the game never featured any insurmountable obstacle that would have pressured players into feeding it more funds.
But just how light will their gaming footprint be in five years? On next-generation platforms that, as Jorgenson alluded to, are liable to make digital transactions more seamless than ever? It’s hard to imagine that EA would adopt the microtransaction schema as company policy only to limit its use to side-features, to every game’s weapon-crafting equivalent. How far should games go in rewarding advantages — the perks and skills and unlocks once exclusively acquired through grit and gumption — to high-paying customers?
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.