Opinion: Manipulative monetisation and what it spells for the future

The gaming industry has made me worried more times than I could count. Whenever a new trend emerges, the only thought I have is how this can be corrupted since history taught me that no matter how pure an idea is, the gaming industry always finds ways to exploit it for their own personal gain. It’s been tough trying to fight against these practices since this is just the natural path of capitalism. To believe that games would only cost $60 forever is a fool’s dream, especially with the rising cost of production and the corporations responsible for our hobby being filled with shrewd businessmen instead of passionate gamers that have, you know, empathy.

The industry has been in this money-hazed flux for a good long while now as everybody stumbled around looking for the best way to extract that almighty dollar from the hands of us consumers. There has been lots of outrage, lots of screaming, but the industry seems to have selective hearing and just continues on their path without any remorse for their actions. It’s business at its finest. The talking heads fighting for consumer rights are usually a faint blip on the radar of some airconditioned executive boardroom and the poor people in the HR department are left to justify these actions to angry gamers. It’s a total circus.

However, it’s pretty eye-opening when a publisher does something so disgustingly transparent that you can see the arrogance steaming out of the heads of these executives. I’m talking about Activision’s decision to add microtransactions to their games post-launch. The thing about this whole situation is just the extent of how painfully obvious this manipulation is. Crash Team Racing, a remaster of a game originally released in 1999, recently received microtransactions a couple of months after the game’s release. It’s so obvious you can make a recipe out of it:

  • Announce game to have no microtransactions
  • Release game to much fanfare, praise and hope
  • Let the gamers have their fun
  • Implement microtransactions when the game is away from the press spotlight
  • Profit

It’s so exceedingly scummy and like many industry pundits have already said, it’s the epitome of anti-consumer practices. This is Activision deliberately and almost unapologetically deceiving us. You can just see the business room meeting in your mind’s eye when this was decided. This wasn’t conjured up from thin air or just some accident, this was deliberate and planned.

However, this is the least of our problems.

Activision also did this with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and it was just as unapologetic back then. But these things, egregious as they may be, doesn’t really surprise me. It’s what Activision does, it’s a scummy publisher that makes billions with millions of that revenue being shared among a top 10 of out of touch white men that do business seminars on their off days to tell people how successful they are the day before they fire 800 people.

Everyone’s mad at Activision, but at the moment, Bethesda is the one that’s making me the maddest. The practices we saw in Crash Team Racing were deceiving, but the base game remains largely the same. I won’t ever call these microtransactions “harmless”, but they at least don’t destroy the very fabric of the games they’re implemented into.

I began feeling some strong distaste for Bethesda with the entirety of Fallout 76 and I made my distaste known publically. The game has been a massive disappointment and a broken mess and even though some people might proclaim it’s “not that bad” or some people enjoy it enough to loudly scream at a Bethesda conference when they announced NPCs are coming to the game, nothing will change the fact that this was the obliteration of Fallout‘s soul.

I want so desperately to believe that the actual developers of this game were passionate about what they were doing like how Todd Howard proclaimed in the now infamous announcement of this game. But from a studio that worked tirelessly to provide some of the best single-player experiences out there, this was a gigantic and sudden change of tone. I don’t think anyone on the development team wanted a “Fallout MMO”. If they truly did, I think they would have done much better than this.

It was the monetisation that was the fuel for this corrupt engine. It was the reason why we got a persistently online game from a studio that’s never even done a team deathmatch mode. Lest we forget, Fallout 76 also added in various microtransactions post-launch, but this wasn’t really a huge deal considering it was a persistent game. Call me old-fashioned, but I think maybe mending the relationship between you and the fans should have been a higher priority than immediately exploiting them in even more ways.

But the big one I want to talk about is Wolfenstein: Youngblood. I love the modern Wolfenstein series so much since they just tapped into that pure adrenaline-fueled classic FPS mindset so seamlessly within a purely single-player package. It was this beautiful merging of the old-school and new-school that made Nazi killing more fun than ever before. But Youngblood suddenly abandoned that core philosophy entirely.

While the game still got a good rating from me (7 is a very high score and anyone that thinks that’s “bad” needs to reevaluate their life) throughout the whole experience I felt increasingly uneasy. Like something was very, very wrong with this whole operation. We knew well ahead of time that the game would have microtransactions, but “thankfully” they are just for cosmetic items and you can’t spend real money to speed up progression.

Then I ran into bullet sponge Nazis. I ran into “persistent” gameplay which amounted to little more than fetch quests. I ran into an entire 15-hour section of gameplay that wasn’t interrupted by a single cutscene. Then it struck me. They’re trying to keep me here, playing this game that has little substance outside of shooting just so that I get invested enough to spend my real money on skins for the guns I’m using. I am, simply put, being manipulated. In a Wolfenstein game.

Then I heard that DOOM: Eternal will have a hub world. It may be an innocuous headline in the ever-flowing sea of gaming news, but this made me extremely worried. When the original DOOM reboot came out, everyone was so hyped about the game’s relentless pace. The demon slayer doesn’t have time for silly machinations and the reasons for all of this going down, he’s just here to murder demons. Now you’re telling me we’re going to take a break in a hub world? Why? Just why was this even something to consider? Are we not going to just murder demons?

Make no mistake, we’ve been manipulated for a while now and we’ve seen the tragedies that come from it. The overbearing crunch in Anthem probably immediately comes to mind. However, monetisation is fast becoming the catalyst for change in the entire gaming landscape. Games are already being touted as “live services” and the entire philosophy of many franchises have already drastically changed. The modern Assassin’s Creed games, good as they are, showed us the huge departure that many of our franchises are now going to go through.

Everything is changing and the reason for that change is cold, hard cash and nothing else. We’ll start seeing more bullet sponges, more post-launch microtransactions, more Battle Passes in games that don’t even warrant a Battle Pass and games that intend to keep you inside them for as long as humanly possible to try and extract money from you. I haven’t even mentioned EA in all this since they’re already universally hated, but they’re probably the biggest offender. Their whole E3 showcase was about annual microtransaction-laden sport releases and updates for their live games. They’re probably the best indication of where this is going. And just as a side note, don’t think that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was made a single-player experience out of the blue. That whole game is manipulation to make us think that EA might not be so bad after all.

The thing that’s the unfortunate bystander in this capitalist crossfire, is fun. Fun and fulfilment in games have now officially become the second priority in making games.

Activision’s predatory microtransactions are but a start. Fallout 76 and Wolfenstein: Youngblood was the start of the fall of Bethesda. Anthem’s crunch and employee mistreatment was just the start. It’s all starting and good heavens is it difficult to remain hopeful of the future.

I am way too tall, played way too many games and I love to write about what we love about games. In the end, I'm just being #Thabolicious

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