The Scary Reality of Dead Space 3's Microtransactions
Written Friday, February 01, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
“There's a lot of players out there, especially players coming from mobile games, who are accustomed to microtransactions. They're like ‘I need this now, I want this now’. They need instant gratification.”
Last week, Visceral Games Producer John Calhoun confirmed that Dead Space 3 will include microtransactions, offering players a way to bypass the game’s scavenging system. Put simply, they will allow you to build better weapons and equipment more quickly, for a price.
Predictably, the community response has been largely negative, with many gamers responding angrily to what they feel is further nickel and dime tactics from Dead Space 3’s publisher, EA. Others pointed out that the microtransactions are optional, so you don’t have to buy them.
What nobody said, however, is that they actually want them. So why do they exist?
Addressing that very question, Calhoun said, “There are action game fans, and survival horror game fans, who are 19 and 20, and they've only played games on their smartphones, and micro-transactions are to them a standard part of gaming. It's a different generation.”
In some regards, he’s right. Microtransactions in mobile games (where they’re called in-app purchases or IAP) are indeed standard. It’s a business model that has made a lot of developers and publishers a lot of money, and EA knows this better than anyone.
In the publisher’s latest financial report it was revealed that The Simpsons: Tapped Out made $23 million net revenue in the last 3 months, entirely from IAP. And that’s just one game. Clearly, it’s a model that a lot of people are happy to invest in, despite some of free-to-play’s more questionable tactics.
So perhaps mobile consumers are accustomed to microstransactions. But what Calhoun failed to acknowledge is that by far the most successful of these games, including The Simpsons: Tapped Out, are free-to-play. They cost absolutely nothing to download. Dead Space 3, meanwhile, is a full retail release coming in at $59.99/£39.99.
For many gamers this price tag makes the presence of microtransactions hard to swallow. It may be standard in free mobile games, but the world of consoles is a different matter.
Of course, Dead Space 3 isn’t the only EA console title to include microtransactions. The publisher has been doing it for years, most recently with Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3 and Tiger Woods 13. All of these games allow players to buy in-game currency or experience with real cash in order to unlock content and items that would otherwise take hours to earn.
This type of microtransaction implementation raises the question of whether it allows players to simply “pay to win.” For Calhoun, that’s something that Dead Space 3 is trying to avoid. “We would never make a game where you have to pay to win,” he said. “There are genres of games where that is the answer, and you know what? The world has spoken, they suck.
“We don't want to make games that suck, we want to make games that people want to hold on to, to keep on their shelves. That is our mark of success.”
Meanwhile, EA’s notion of success is slightly different. The publisher is less interested in how long titles remain on gamers’ shelves and more interested in rocketing profits and happy investors. The real reason for the inclusion of microtransactions in Dead Space 3 is rather obvious: It’s an extra revenue stream, designed to make more money.
Now, both Visceral Games and EA are businesses, so the fact that they would like to make money is hardly a shock. And, it has to be remembered that Dead Space 3’s microtransactions are optional, no matter how distasteful we find them. But there’s another problem.
From the very first game in the series, Dead Space has excelled in immersion. Unlike many other games, every piece of information - from the health displayed on your suit’s spine, to the ammo levels on your gun - exists within the world of the game. Even the menus are shown as holographic projections from your communication device.
All of this combined makes Dead Space a believable, immersive experience unlike any other. Now, however, every time you visit a crafting bench you’ll be presented with the option to buy more scrap to make weapons or upgrade your RIG. All you have to do is hit Y, buy some Microsoft Points, confirm your purchase and it’s yours.
Suddenly, immersion goes out of the window. You’re no longer in Tau Volantis, you’re in your console’s store front, being flogged items for real cash. Immersion, the cornerstone of the entire franchise, is abandoned in the hope that you’ll spend a bit more money. In Dead Space 3, a game where survival horror chills have been abandoned in favour of populist action thrills, that’s probably the scariest thing of all.
Keep an eye out for our Dead Space 3 review early next week.