Gaming PayWalls: Birth of a New Age of Gaming or Death of Gaming as a primary source of entertainmen
Remember the days when you just bought a game and received 100 percent of what you paid for? The gaming industry, like many other things in our society, is not immune to change. Over the past few years online gaming has skyrocketed in participation and amount. However, the one factor that has become a rising problem in the gaming community is the unexpected rise in the “paywalls” in games. There are two different ways we can look at this phenomenon...a blessing and growth of gaming or the end of gaming as a popular source of entertainment. Let’s look back at where this all began. There are two terms in gaming access that need to be discussed. Free-To-Play are video games that allow players access to a significant portions of the content without paying. There are several kinds of free-to-play games, but the most common is based on the freemium software model, thus free-to-play games are oftentimes not entirely free. The freemium model is designed to offer tier levels of access to these Free-To-Play games designed to entice gamers to willingly pay for further access to said game. Examples for these types of games include Sony’s DC Universe Online Bungie and Activision’s Destiny Franchise.
The counterpart to the popular Free-To-Play is Pay to play. Pay to Play, sometimes pay for play, is a phrase used for a variety of situations in which money is exchanged for services or the privilege to engage in certain activities. The common denominator, as far as the gaming community is concerned is that all forms of pay to play, is that one must pay to "get in the game". This mostly applies to PC games such as World of WarCraft. Around the beginning of the new millennium, earlier development of online interactions introduced by the Sega Dreamcast and original XBOX console laid the framework for online interactions through a console. Once gaming consoles completely integrated online interaction through more developed services such as XBOX LIVE, PlayStation Network and Nintendo’s EShop, this opened the once closed and paid for content of games to the open world of updates and additional content, what we know today as “Downloadable Content” or “DLC” for short. In 2005, Microsoft integrated downloadable content more fully into their console, dedicating an entire section of the console's user interface to the Xbox Live Marketplace. Microsoft also partially removed the need for credit cards by implementing their own Microsoft Points currency, which could be bought either with a credit card online or as redeemable codes in game stores to avoid the banking fees. This is a strategy that would be adopted by Nintendo with Nintendo Points and Sony with the PlayStation Network Card. Once payments to the company had been made, they were able to send signals to the product to allow the system to access the “locked” content. This was an acceptable time for companies to prosper on additional financial gain after the initial service prices had been paid for released games. With all of this being said, we are halfway into the conversation regarding “paywalls” and online console gaming. Now that we have discussed the different forms of online gaming and integration of leading console payment systems to access more online services, let us get into the meat of the discussion...gamers feeling “blindsided” by absurd and unexpected “in game paywalls”.
One more term I w ant to drop before I get into the comparison of what has happened lately....and this term is called “micro-transactions”. Microtransaction (sometimes abbreviated as MTX) is a business model where users can purchase virtual goods via micropayments. Microtransactions are often used in free-to-play games to provide a revenue source for the developers. While microtransactions are a staple of the mobile app market, they are also available on traditional computer platforms such as Valve's Steam platform as well as console gaming. Free-to-play games that include a microtransaction model are sometimes referred to as "freemium". "Pay-to-win" is sometimes used as a derogatory term to refer to games where paying for in-game items can give the player an advantage over other players, particularly if the items cannot be obtained by free means. The objective with a free-to-play microtransaction model is to get more players into the game and provide desirable items or features that players can purchase if they are interested in them - it is hoped that in the long term the profits from a microtransaction system will outweigh the profits from a one-time-purchase game (keep this in mind overall).
Let’s be frank, we’ve been paying for “in-game” content since the dawn of DLC. With each promotion for a new game release, there is always the coveted “pre-order now and get the exclusive (insert desired rare item/extended content here)”. Hardcore gamers fall for it, hook, line and sinker. I’ll be honest, I also pre-ordered games not only because I loved what I was being sold from a PR standpoint but also that “special content” that would give me an edge against the computer or more area to explore with my adventure. The fact is that the “DLC” is already in the game, and we’re just adding that extra $5 or $10 at purchase to be given a code for the game to recognize “oh, this buyer has access to this area...please proceed”. It’s like VIP at a club, you paid to get in but if you paid extra you could sit over in the red velvet area with the chilled champagne bottles at each table. Now that microtransactions have become console main stream in more than its fair share of games, the community is now at odds. No longer is it “buy this DLC and get ONE ITEM better than everyone else’s”, it is now “in this in-game store, for the right price you can stomp out the competition with these items that pack a little more punch than the standard issue item”, the “Pay-to-Win” technique (as mentioned in the previous paragraph). The most recent issue that microtransactions have run into comes from its applications in the recent games “Destiny 2” and “Star Wars: Battlefront 2”. Destiny 2, created from the combined efforts of Bungie and Activision and sequel to “Destiny”, carried its microtransaction Store “Eververse” over from its predecessor and, quite frankly, is more prominent in the sequel . “Eververse” offers purely cosmetic items to the franchise, which isn’t so bad...until the players felt like most of the game development team’s time went more into the cosmetic “Eververse” and LESS into playable gaming content. Ofcourse players want to look “fancy” grinding it out in Destiny’s PVE universe or the PvP content called “The Crucible”, but each of these areas are lacking the special value that these same areas in the previous game held. Star Wars: Battlefront II (Not to be confused with Battlefront 2), created by EA (Electronic Arts) and game developer DICE, was held in high hopes to fill the gaps where it’s predecessor, Star Wars: Battlefront (2015 reboot), was not able to fill. Upon beta test of the game, players discovered that in order to gain access to all of the online unlockable content via “loot boxes”, players had a choice of either A). playing the game to log a game time total of six months (I still don’t have that total amount of time combining Destiny 1 & 2...and I have invested a LOT of time...trust me) or B).... “Pay-To-Win”. The gaming community did all but throw the kitchen sink at the company for this action, which caused the game developer DICE to remove the microtransaction store from the game ENTIRELY until they and EA could work on an acceptable solution.
The one console game that holds the crown for in game microtransactions with its own fair share of push back is the Online World of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto 5. “Cash Cards” (the game’s microtransaction content name) were introduced with the game in 2013 and come in a variety of purchase levels. Options range from their Red Shark Card (at $2.99 USD) which grants you $100,000 in game dollars, to their Megalodon Shark Card ( at $99.99 USD) which grants you $8,000,000 in game dollars. Although the difference is quite grand in values, these Cash Cards are not pivotal to the gaming experience, nor does refusal to purchase one inhibit a player’s progress, they are there as a boost...IF YOU WANT IT. All of the DLC playable content is FREE, on the other hand it will take a lot of hours and team work to get the amount of in game dollars necessary to purchase any of their must have special vehicles. Although many players complain that “noobs” and children have taken advantage of Cash Cards and ruined their experience in the game, others have worked tirelessly to build a network of other players to game with and generate consistent in-game money to purchase any vehicles of necessity. At the end of the day, people make time for what they make time for and spend their hard earned money how they see fit. There has to be an agreeable middle ground for micro-transactions to work in console games. A lot of great content with the initial purchase of the game, with microtransactions to OFFER aid and exceptional advantages (with a bit of style too) to a player’s gaming experience. We can all get along in this crazy world of rising costs of living to worker payouts...PC games have figured it out, so it’s beyond the time to “get on the ball”.