The hoopla regarding Electronic Arts and its microtransactions business is worth discussion. However, we forget what EA is–a business–and they’ve proven the system successful with a certain notorious title. Taking that into account would blast some knowledge into this debate.

To understand just what the heck I’m ranting about, click this link for details.

Around this time last year, the Internet decried Mass Effect 3 for its supposedly terrible ending. Also known as the most childish argument over primary colours in history. I never had the pleasure to write any material for Holygrenade then, though the collective anger quickly turned elsewhere. Lost in the chaos last March, sadly, was the game’s multiplayer mode and its small successes in transforming a perceivably forced multiplayer component into an enjoyable time-waster.

Just this week, BioWare bookended its DLC offerings in timely fashion, with a final content package named Reckoning and expanding single-player (with new areas, new chances to connect with crew members, and more fighting) in Citadel. The fifth multiplayer package ends a year of free additions, anything from characters to weapons to locations, presumably supported by what is now a dirty word when associated with Electronic Arts: microtransactions. In a lottery system, multiplayer content is unlocked by purchasing packs, and EA gave players a paid shortcut.

It’s an entirely optional system that benefits everyone. If people desired to nab credits quickly, they could do so without destroying balance because of the game’s cooperative nature. That led to a convenient cycle: free added content brought players back who then spent cash to acquire new weaponry and characters (if they so chose), giving BioWare the option to exhibit another episode. As an added bonus, the studio also advertised paid DLC expansions as players reengaged with the game. In short, it’s a masterful business plan only affecting those who wanted to pay, leaving a majority of the community alone, and keeping fans happy and playing.

Electronic Arts, as a billion-dollar conglomerate with eager shareholders, has the right to include microtransactions if they please. The purpose of a business is to make profit margins and game enthusiasts are blinded by the “EA is the bad guy” idea to understand. The firm is acting in its self-interest to maximize revenue with a proven formula. As well, games are about unlimited freedom, so if willing consumers want to spend to customize their experience, they should be able to candidly.

Cliff Bleszinski, ex-chief of Gears of War, wrote a well-travelled blog post which made headlines and corresponding articles from various sites. On his blog Dude Huge Speaks, he summarizes the debate in a few eloquent sentences:

The video game industry is just that.

An industry.

Which means that it exists in a capitalistic world. You know, a free market. A place where you’re welcome to spend your money on whatever you please… or to refrain from spending that money.

Those companies that put these products out? They’re for profit businesses. They exist to produce, market, and ship great games ultimately for one purpose. First, for money, then, for acclaim.

Current controversy aside, it shows a fantastic amount of ignorance if people are getting angry now over this time last year. The muted response to Mass Effect 3‘s rather tremendous multiplayer may be a cause, but in this context, to sell anger without realizing it has been happening (and successfully) for a year means this crowd is angry purely because it’s something EA. Not the action of including micro-payments in all titles henceforth, the brand itself. Like a reflex.

Deeper in the conversation, though, the questions remains as to how EA handles titles with competitive multiplayer. Battlefield 3 had a store where players could pay for weapons and weapon skins, but due to DICE’s expert balancing it slowly became a non-issue. All weapons were unlocked through level progression anyway; after a month things evened out. But in that first month, some players had immediate access to weapons and devices that others didn’t. It created a fragmented system.

The difficulty comes from Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3 being isolated cases. Utterly dissimilar multiplayer modes where the process worked originally or was self-corrected by the community. While the concern is valid, until Electronic Arts fully standardizes microtransactions as a form of payment and inevitably oversteps certain boundaries, nobody can know the true effect. They may, dare I say it, have their audience’s wallets in mind.

To the readers: How do you feel about this topic? Do you believe EA could act in good faith with these payments and not make every game pay-to-win?

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  • Matt S

    I like Cliff, saying it like it is. The sooner the entitled gamers either get the heck out of the hobby of understand that game developers and publishers are not charities, the happier everyone will be. This assumption that certain gamers have that developers need them, want them, or owe them anything is ridiculous. The people complaining about EA’s microtransactions the most, from what I’ve seen, are the ones who buy games second hand or on sale and rant and rave that retail games are “too expensive.” They contribute nothing of worth to the games industry, whatsoever, and yet they’re the ones that think EA should be publishing games at significant loss for their benefit.

    Good on EA for taking a stand here and saying “yes, kids, you need to pay for our stuff.” The customers EA is driving away with this strategy at the customers that weren’t really contributing to EA’s bottom line anyway.

  • Chalgyr

    I have no problems with Cliff’s statements either.

    I don’t usually buy a lot of DLC, and the few times a year I do, it’s for games I REALLY like. However, I think it will be interesting to see how it is handled. I know I have read on some forums that gamers worry that games may limit their online features, or give you short, almost incomplete experiences that EA will then try to charge for later, raising up the ‘base price’ of a game. My thought is if that happens, people are going to be down on the game for sure – though it’s on the media to then make sure they mention these things in their reviews and so on.

  • Rik Dizl Ricker

    I always said thank you to my buddy who would constantly talking about spending allards for packs. In turn I knew people like him are the reason people like me(who didnt spend 1 dollar on packs) kept recieving free DLC. It’s a win/win, plus it was fun.

    • Jeff

      Yeah, the same with me actually. Early on I had a friend who spent boatloads of MS Points on boxes, while I earned the same content after DLC only a couple of days after he did. It’s quite funny.

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