The episode of “The Jimquisition” published today focused on unpacking some statements made by Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick at the recent Cowen and Company 45th Annual Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. It has been noted many places in the past (including the third article on this very website), that these companies and CEOs are far more comfortable discussing topics that their consumers find distasteful among others in the industry, and Zelnick is no different. He delivered some odious words at this conference, which Mr. Sterling did a great job eviscerating, so I’m only going to mention it here, and recommend watching this week’s “Jimquisition” for more detail on that aspect (link: here). This article is more going to focus on a job posting from Bethesda, and the general direction of the industry toward a point where microtransactions, rather than dying, or staying by the wayside in games, are poised to become far more central in the industry’s plans to empty the wallets of every consumer they can drain.
Yesterday. at time of writing, PC Gamer published an article (Source: here) about a job posting on Zenimax’s website for a a “Game Performance Manager” (Link: here French language), while the article itself was just a short acknowledgement of the posting’s existence with some minor speculation, the posting itself bears some further examination. It seems that in this context, this role has nothing to do with ensuring the game performs well for the player, but everything to do with how well it pushes microtransactions. They are looking for an individual with at least five years experience in this type of work, with a Business degree. Taking a look at the job responsibilities, very little has to do with making the game, only making sure that “monetization” is implemented and optimized. Many of you will be saying at this point that I’m blowing this put of proportion, and I hope I am, but I also have a memory, and I haven’t forgotten Horse Armor in “Oblivion”. This is a company that is on the verge of taking another swing at draining it’s consumers, and this time, it’s setting out off the bat with a freemium title.
While microtransactions are often deemed acceptable for a free-to-play game, as it covers the lack of a cost of entry, one must step back and understand the reasoning for this move. When a consumer spends $60 on a game, they expect a complete experience out of the box, with additional content available if they so desire to purchase it to enhance their experience, and implemented in that way, I have come to grudgingly accept DLC, but it also puts in the that consumer’s mind the thought, “This game costs $60”. Any DLC or microtransactions are on top of that. Cutting out the price tag changes the thought process in the player’s mind from “This game costs $X”, to “Well, it was free, so $5 isn’t much”. While there is a portion of both audiences that won’t spend anything on these extras, a game with a selling price establishes an idea of the cost of the game. Freemium games don’t have this mental anchor, and are very easy to lose track of spending on. This makes them ideal for the market these companies wish to create. That is the main reason a major publisher would be looking to make a game like this. While the ethics of how this is handled in a game we haven’t even seen a trailer for can be debated until time ends, the reasoning behind a company like Bethesda making a game like this can’t.
For years now, the game industry has been scrambling to find a new monetization model to allow it to charge more for games. Budgets have been skyrocketing as each of these companies chase graphical fidelity, and with economic crises happening worldwide, the public is spending less and less on these games at the same time. While control could be exercised and limitations imposed to keep costs at a manageable level, the more attractive option to shareholders is to simply take more money from those who are left. You had John Riccitello wanting to charge players in EA’s first person shooters for reloads, Wargaming doing this for real in “World of Tanks” with their premium ammunition, Ubisoft defending the microtransactions in “For Honor” by saying that “We never had an intention for you to unlock everything in the game” (Source: VG247), Activision adding microtransactions into “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered”, and recently Strauss Zelnick’s statements, and that’s naming only a few examples. This industry has been leaning more and more on exploitative tactics over time to avoid cleaning its own house. There is now a backlash against almost everything done by a major gaming company, and while much of it is the histrionic behavior we have mentioned before, those outcries nearly always drown out the legitimate criticism. We as gamers have a house to clean ourselves if we ever intend to be treated with respect by these companies.
Let’s close by talking some numbers. According to the ESA (Source: here [pdf]), 63% of households contain at least one gamer, we are an average of 35 years old, and have been playing video games for 13 years. It’s time we as a community started cleaning our own ranks, getting rid of those who scream bloody murder at the first sign of any change to a game, and start aiming our backlash and outrage at the practices that are turning our games into little more than milking machines. We need to start calling out individuals and communicating clearly to them that their behavior is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated, rather than hiding behind the tired “not all gamers” mantra that gets trotted out every time this happens, because currently, even when there is a section of the community agitating for positive change, people who take the same side are often so hateful and vitriolic that it torpedoes any chance at getting something important the attention it desperately needs. It’s time we started acting like the adults that we are and not the children we act like when online, otherwise I’m just going to keep pushing this boulder, the industry will keep going the way it wants, and nothing will ever get better.