Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A sad day in gaming

I hate to be one of "those people" who complain endlessly about some supposed apocalyptic event that will surely destroy the games we love.  But I have to admit that the launch of this so-called Real Money Auction House has me feeling deeply disturbed.

I don't think it will kill Diablo 3.  I don't think it will signal the doom of the entire Diablo franchise or Blizzard as a whole.  I do think, however, that it signals a shift towards the whole microtransaction business model that more and more games are starting to adopt.

Whatever happened to the good old days where you bought a game for a fixed price, and you got to play as much or as little as you wanted?  Those of us who chose to invest more time in it reaped better rewards.  Did you know that in Final Fantasy 7 if you spend hours upon hours to breed a gold chocobo, use it to obtain the Knights of the Round materia, then max it out, you can easily beat both Ruby and Emerald weapons?  No gimmicks, no cheap work-arounds, and no need to purchase an additional "materia boost pack" from Square Enix for only $5.99.  All you have to do is just grind out the work for days.

I'm digressing a little here, I just get very nostalgic about FF7, perhaps the best single-player RPG ever made.

The point is, that microtransactions operate under the principle - "free to play, pay to win", which I despise.  It makes sense as a business model - the hardcore gamers these days are no longer teenagers who had to beg mom for $20 to buy the latest Mario game.  They're working professionals in their 20s or 30s who have disposable income but little time, and wouldn't hesitate to spend an extra $10 here and there to streamline their gaming process.

Think about it - when you're a broke teenager, you don't mind spending 6 hours on a Saturday to get some crazy good item.  When you're in your 20s those 6 hours on a Saturday are valuable, and you'd rather pay some extra cash to get that item rather than waste the day staring at the computer.  Come Sunday, both the teenager and the adult have equal items, both paid for it in some way or another.  But in the end, the teenager feels a little bit "cheated" out of the deal.  Because let's face it, $10 doesn't seem like very fair for something you had to work 6 hours for.  But as the adult sees it, it's as if he paid someone $10 to play video games for 6 hours, a task many happily do for free.

Does this make sense?  I'm starting to confuse myself a little here.  The point is that I see both sides of the argument.  I see that it makes sense to charge people with disposable income for a small advantage and let the other folks grind their way towards the same goal.

What Diablo 3 does with the RMAH, however, is taking it a little too far, if you ask me.  I know plenty of other games have the microtransaction model, but D3 takes it to a whole new level by giving players absolute control over the economy.  It's not a matter of Blizzard selling you a few things here and there, it's a bizarre system in which players have the power to inflate prices, hoard gold and goods, and effectively coerce the "average" player into participation.

I don't want to into all the thousand little ways in which this happens.  The big picture is that most people will eventually buy into it and end up buying a few things here and there for $10-20 rather than wait weeks, months, for a good drop they can actually use.  I know I probably will.

And this makes me very sad.  It's not that I can't afford it.  It's the fact that I know the value of a $20 is much greater than some pixels on a screen that will help me kill digital monsters in a digital world.  For $20 I can buy myself dinner somewhere, or go out to a movie with a friend, or treat myself to 5 smoothies at Jamba Juice, and as a rational adult I know that these things are just much more worthwhile activities/services/goods than an in-game frill.  I know it, yet I also know that we all have that impulse to get what we want, right when we want it, without any actual effort.

And so when I see an amazing upgrade, reasonably priced, I know I will probably click "buyout", even as some rational brain cell in my head is screaming "DON'T DO IT!  You could get half a tank of gas for that money!!!".  And I know that after I've bought myself all sorts of things, I will probably beat the game very easily rather than struggle through every champion and elite pack as I do now.  And after I've beaten the game, I will feel bored and sad.

Then I will probably go back to wow.

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