Whenever microtransactions, loot boxes or other monetization methods implemented in video games – especially in multiplayer games – are discussed, sooner or later the same argument comes up:
"As long as it's only about cosmetic items that don't influence gameplay, that's perfectly legitimate. You can pay an extra charge for the feature of decorating your character, because someone has to create the additional assets and that costs money. It's completely optional and doesn't give anyone an unfair advantage. "
I have a problem not only with this argumentation, but above all with the general assumption that cosmetic items would not influence the gameplay, or are not in themselves an essential part of the gameplay, which resonates in this statement.
Cosmetics or the cosmetic change in the game world and the individualization of game characters is absolute gameplay.
In some games, design is even one of the central mechanics. Possibly not in Call Of Duty or Counter Strike, but that doesn't mean that a huge part of the gaming community doesn't feel the urge to individualize these games. It is not for nothing that trading in skins and co. Is such a lucrative business for Valve and its competitors.
Free-to-play: The bag is free, but the fries cost
Publishers like to pretend that their latest game does not rely on pay-to-win and does not have loot boxes to garner cheap applause at fan conventions and in internet forums. As if that fact was enough to justify enthusiasm. In the same games, however, all the cool looks and assets are often hidden behind a paywall.
Of course, free-to-play games in particular have to finance themselves somehow. But if the base game looks bland and colorless and you can only add variety to the boring design with the help of a real credit card, that's absolutely the wrong approach. Then you'd better develop a full price title that comes up with a stylish and harmonious look from the start and allows the freedom to choose, for example, individual weapon or character skins without hidden costs.
FOMO: Because they know exactly what they're doing
In multiplayer games, such expensive premium looks generate a lot of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, i.e. the fear of missing out on something / not having as much fun as everyone else) because this is exactly why they are in the game. The more gamers running around with individual skins, the more jealous the rest becomes. Victory dances, your own music, mounts, hats and other ways of expressing yourself individually are such a blockbuster because they satisfy an absolutely fundamental human desire.
The urge for personal expression is in some form in all of us. Children have fun putting on and undressing Barbie dolls and giving them different, self-made looks. In tabletop games like Warhammer, the design of the individual figurines is an elementary part of the hobby and fans of model railways also invest a lot of time and effort in individually decorating the landscapes next to the track.
For each of these examples, it is generally accepted that individual parts are expensive to purchase. And the video game industry is now trying to establish this as a matter of course with virtual objects.
I generally have no problem with addons or DLC packages that contain new items or designs. It only bothers me when a separate price has to be paid for each individual part, which at first glance appears moderate, but in total with all other available additional content quickly exceeds the limits of good taste.
Instead of confronting users with the decision of whether the expansion pack is really worth 30 euros to them, they are gradually pulled out of their pockets with microtransactions a lot more money for less content. One publisher who, unsurprisingly, has mastered this technique is Electronic Arts.
It is no secret that EA likes to go overboard when it comes to microtransactions, but what the US company allows itself with the additional content for The Sims 4, completely blows the bird. If you want to purchase all available DLC packages and accessory packs for the life simulation, you have to pay around 800 euros including the main game (source: Steam).
Speaking of routes: The undisputed king of microtransactions is, by the way, the train simulator from Dovetail Games, the additional content of which costs around 10,000 euros.
Insert Coin To Create Character
But nowadays there are also microtransactions, loot boxes and premium accessories outside of simulations. For the EA RPG series Mass Effect and Dragon Age, DLC packages with additional armor or quests were often available shortly after the release, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion caused a sensation at the time with the option of buying virtual horse armor for real money and in the games of the NBA 2K series, hairstyles, tattoos, clothes, special movements and actually everything else that is fun can be activated comfortably with the handle of the wallet. In addition to the purchase price of mostly over 50 euros, mind you.
For me it's like hiring a professional game master for a round of Dungeons & Dragons with friends, who will guide us through the evening for 60 euros. If I want to put a scar on the face of my battle-tested character when creating the character, the game master asks me for an additional five euros for this optical detail. Because I still want chic Rastas, an arm tattoo, heterochrome eyes and a special pet, I have to go to the bank before the adventure starts.
Game looks great and beauty pays
I also know that this comparison lags a bit in some places. But it illustrates well my frustrations with this model. Cosmetic or "non-gameplay-relevant" content and the general look are absolutely essential for a good game. To claim the opposite would mean that the work of the design team is not essential and can therefore be left out or patched with optional DLC. The trend in video games has been towards strong aesthetics and a cinematic presentation, with which AAA games are also advertised and sold for decades.
In addition, a healthy modding scene, whose members usually provide skins and adaptations for free, contributes significantly to the longevity of a game and thus acts in the interests of the developers. Skyrim would certainly not still be so popular on the PC if there weren't a number of videos on Youtube in which people walk around as samurai, cowboy, robot or Alf, for example.
So we have to get away from making such a strong distinction between cosmetic and other additional content. It may be that for some in a video game only the bare mechanics count and for an item only the stats count. However, everyone who has ever missed a better weapon or armor in Diablo, Gothic, Skyrim or a comparable RPG because the weaker equipment simply looks cooler knows that this setting is by no means universally applicable.
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