Recently, Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick announced that, for the foreseeable future, all the company’s upcoming games would implement “recurrent consumer spending options,” i.e., microtransactions. I would be lying if I said this was unexpected, but that doesn’t change the unavoidable fact that trying to shoehorn microtransactions into every video game you plan on making is a very bad idea.
Microtransactions are commonly used as a means to speed up (or completely bypass) timers that lock out certain game features or levels. Another form of microtransactions is loot boxes that let players use real world money to buy a chance at obtaining a rare character skin or other digital, intangible reward. But, here’s the kicker: microtransactions are usually found in free to play games and are considered a necessary evil since microtransactions are the only way the developers will make any money with those games. Plus, free to play games are designed from the ground up to tempt gamers into purchasing microtransactions — free to play games are created with microtransactions in mind. But what happens when a publisher shoves microtransactions into games that aren’t designed for them? According to recent history, nothing good.
Lately, a lot of AAA games have released with microtransactions. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Star Wars Battlefront II are only a few in an ever-growing list, and microtransactions break the the gameplay balance in every single one of these games. Shadow of War‘s microtransactions consist of loot boxes that let gamers acquire powerful Uruk captains for their army instead of going out into the game world and searching for them, which removes the primary challenge of the game. All of Mankind Divided‘s microtransactions consist of ammo, in-game money, and skill points, which also ruins the game’s challenge since players can simply pay money for these much-needed items instead of scrounge around for them as intended. And lest we forget that players who buy Star Card loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II gain some of the most unfair advantages on the planet over those who don’t. Every single time, without fail, inserting a microtransaction into a game that wasn’t designed for it is like trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole: it simply doesn’t work, and merely trying to do so is just asking for something to break.
So, what can we expect from Take-Two’s microtransactions? Well, let’s look one of the company’s most popular franchises: Borderlands. For those of you who don’t know, Borderlands revolves around players traveling the game world and opening chests for a chance at finding powerful guns. In other words, Borderlands is all about opening loot boxes, ones gamers have to earn through skill and exploration instead of just buying with a credit card. In all likelihood, microtransactions in the upcoming/rumored Borderlands 3 would be in the form of loot boxes gamers have to pay for. Not only would this break the game, but it would be an admission from Take-Two Interactive that Borderlands 3 isn’t worth playing. Why would anyone bother working through the game’s meticulously crafted levels and fighting intriguing enemies for a shotgun that shoots acidic rockets when he or she can just spend $5 on the chance of obtaining that same weapon? It is for this very reason the producers of Monster Hunter: World will not include loot boxes (and hopefully other microtransactions) in their game: the game’s purpose is for players to gain loot as a reward for honing their skills and using that loot to obtain even more loot, and loot boxes defeat that purpose. A loot box gamers can pay for in a game about searching for free loot boxes is insulting, redundant, and indicative of a lack of understanding of the game’s core mechanics.
With any luck, Take-Two Interactive will abort its misguided microtransaction plans. The company is on shaky ground already, and placing microtransactions (something that pisses off gamers and makes games worse) in its upcoming games is an unfortunate business strategy that will likely destroy any remaining trust customers have for Take-Two Interactive.