Screen Critics Sam explores why microtransactions in Shadow of War and NBA 2K18 are just the start of something far more dangerous for gaming’s future.
By now, it’s no secret that microtransactions are among the most despised practices in modern gaming. What began fairly innocently as a means to acquire cosmetic or otherwise mundane items that have no impact on the finished product has now become a means to finish the game. In light of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War’s extremely jarring implementation of microtransactions in its single-player campaign as well as 2K’s heavy-handed microtransactions in NBA 2K18 that practically downplays its progression system in order to lull players into buying upgrades, it’s reached a point now where it’s doing hazardous damage to the gaming industry.
Warner Bros. Interactive and developer Monolith Productions recently came under fire in the gaming community for not only implementing microtransactions to a randomly generated loot box system in Shadow of War, but also not being completely transparent about its charity DLC in the form of Forthog Orcslayer, a heartfelt piece of content made to memorialize executive producer Michael Forgey, who tragically lost his life to cancer. At $4,99, players could acquire the Orcslayer who would aid them in battle at their most dire times, and $3,50 would go to charity supporting Forgey’s family. However, the fine text at the bottom of the promotional video implied that this would only affect certain states of North America, leaving the rest of the world to naturally question where the money was going to. While it has blown over and Warner Bros. recently announced that the DLC would be freely accessible, the damage had already been done (if you want to find out about unjustified DLC, check out Shaun’s article on why Gamers Need to Start Saying No To Rip-Off DLC).
This isn’t the only example of extremely controversial microtransaction practices going on in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War either, as the game now dons a loot box system that lets players, through microtransactions, purchase these loot boxes that randomly generates items, orcs, and upgrades; a feature that doesn’t even guarantee you the satisfaction of acquiring what you actually want. It’s only a stone throw away from gambling.
The same can be said about NBA 2K18, which has drastically scaled down its progression system in favor of purchasing the in-game currency, VC (or virtual currency, which isn’t very subtle at all) in order to upgrade your character or purchase cosmetic items. The progression system was so fundamentally rigged to move at a snails pace, that it’s hard to actually play the game without excessive grinding for points and VC – or as 2K intends players to do, resort to microtransactions. 2K Games has made some improvements to this system since the backlash for a more balanced progression, but like in the case of Shadow of War, the damage had already been done.
We’ve reached the point now where microtransactions have gone beyond merely being additional purchases that don’t affect the finished product. In fact, slowly but surely, they are affecting the final products which is not a good sign for the rest of the gaming industry. In the same way microtransactions began (all it really took was one successful instance of it to create a snowball effect), it will surely continue to build more steam if these examples of microtransactions in AAA games actually begin to mirror fee-to-pay mobile games, an apt comparison for the kind of business models in place for these two examples. While it’s not as prominent in Shadow of War, NBA 2K18 is the first to really feel like it shouldn’t even exist as a full-priced retail videogame, but probably as a mobile game.
The storm has somewhat passed over NBA 2K18’s microtransaction controversy, which thankfully did not have any resounding impact on the gaming industry, but with Shadow of War coming up – a massive AAA title that could very well change the climate of the industry single-handedly – we should be very concerned about whether or not it succeeds in selling the idea that microtransactions and loot boxes have any place at all in single-player games. All it really takes is one domino to fall over before the rest of the industry follows suit, and that’s the terrifying, very hazardous reality about of microtransactions. The best way we, as a collective whole in the gaming community, can ensure this doesn’t happen is if we band together. I don’t condone buying Shadow of War when it comes out, especially if you were a fan of Shadow of Mordor, but I do urge caution being taken in spending any additional money as it might spell imminent disaster for the future of gaming.
If you’d like to show your support to the Forgey family and help battle cancer, please visit https://www.youcaring.com/michael-forgey-479259.