Press X to Join: Anti-consumer practices are plaguing the gaming industry

In Arts & Entertainment, Gaming and Tech, Lifestyle
(Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment)

‘Tis the season of big game releases – what should be a time of joy and excitement will be replaced by a dreadful decision between the lesser of two evils. Instead of enjoying a myriad of content, players on budgets must navigate the often gratuitous, anti-consumer methods of selling post-release game content used by many of the industry’s big hitters.

This practice dates back to PC games of the ‘90s like the original “Warcraft” series, but in the last five years it has devolved into little more than a scummy cash grab.

Expansion packs and updates used to be a means of contributing to a game’s longevity, but they have become a blight upon the gaming industry. Instead of players getting hours of content from entirely new campaigns, areas or items, they are usually given a handful of multiplayer maps, a few new quests or a negligible amount of in-game currency.

More often than not, $60 games now launch with extra expenses: Day-one downloadable content (DLC), microtransactions, a season pass or a combination of the three.

Conceived in 2011 by Rockstar Games for “LA Noire,” the season pass was originally intended to present a blueprint of exclusive access for future content to consumers who wanted to directly support a game. Now, season passes launch alongside games at release with limited information about what they entail, spiking the price of a release from $60 to $90 or more and forcing players into an unnecessary, unknown commitment.

The ubiquity of these mysterious season passes has transformed games into a long-term attempt to nickel and dime players for all they’re worth.

Capcom oversimplified “Street Fighter V” by replacing much of the series’ renowned mechanical challenge and variety with two new obstacles for players: A paywall and season passes. New characters are technically free, but they require an egregious amount of in-game currency that takes far too long to acquire. For context, I have 160 hours logged on the game, and I’m still missing five of the game’s 11 (soon to be 12) downloadable characters. The only alternative to laboriously grinding away to get these characters is to buy the two available season passes for $50.

If it’s not a season pass or paywall, it’s microtransactions for in-game items or currency. While they may be an effective means of funding a free-to-play game, microtransactions have seeped into all genres, taking advantage of consumers’ tendency to want immediate results. Players can spend hundreds of dollars on virtual currency or loot boxes with randomized items for a chance to expedite their progress in a game.

Microtransactions have absolutely no place in big game releases. If there is a portion of a game that drags on long enough to entice players to spend money just to get it over with, the development team’s priority was not to create a pleasant experience. Games may be a business, but there’s more long-term profit to be made by cultivating consumers’ loyalty through experiences that are enjoyable rather than expensive.

“Middle Earth: Shadow of War” sported loot boxes at its launch this October. Instead of actually playing the game, players can forego the struggle and fun of it all by purchasing loot boxes to bolster their ranks. The feature was met with massive backlash from consumers, and rightfully so.

Other publishers use even more underhanded techniques to compel players to make needless purchases.

Activision went so far as to file a patent in 2015 that was granted Oct. 17, titled “System and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games.” Buried in verbose jargon, the patent effectively established a system that matches new, inexperienced players against skilled veterans, increasing new players’ odds of losing matches and pushing them to either quit the game or make microtransactions for immediate improvement.

This blatant disrespect of players is unacceptable and must be brought to a halt.

Thankfully, some agencies have already taken steps toward reforming such unsavory practices. China passed a law in December 2016 limiting the practice of loot box sales, forcing developers to present players with the probabilities involved in the purchases.

The United States may be a little further away from such a useful deterrent, but it’s not out of people’s control. Money speaks volumes to companies, and players need to realize their power in the situation. If consumers keep falling into these scams, developers will continue to exploit their impulses. No matter how many angry players there are on message boards, companies will roll out microtransactions as long as consumers continue buying.

The only solution to these harsh anti-consumer practices is for players to speak with their wallets instead of their keyboards. While the exploitative practices outnumber the benevolent ones, some DLC remains worthy of support. For example, the “Dark Souls” and “XCOM” series have both had tremendously successful campaign expansions; praised by fans and critics alike for their innovation and extensive amount of content at fair prices.

Thanks to their consumer-focused content emphasizing enjoyment over profit, these games have been showered with nominations, awards and sales over the years.

It’s time for consumers to advocate for the change they want to see in the industry. The sooner players realize the power they have to make or break a game’s sales and a developer’s reputation, the sooner we may see similar downloadable content worthy of our time and money.

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