Thoughts on Grinding and Microtransactions

Posted by Unequivocable (232 posts) -

So as I've been playing through Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch in the past couple of weeks there have been a few discussions on the Bombcast and forums about the microtransactions in Dead Space 3 and how they impact the gameplay. The question that keeps coming up is that if a game is properly balanced and can be enjoyed without buying anything extra, does it impact your play experience if the game also has microtransactions.

Ni No Kuni is a nicely streamlined JRPG experience that still has the need for some degree of grinding in order to progress. I'll admit that when its properly done, I actually enjoy grinding. It does need to be balanced with fun gameplay and there needs to be a solid reward at the end of the tunnel, but I don't think there's anything intrinsically bad about a game that requires some amount of grinding.

However, as I was happily grinding away in Ni No Kuni while listening to the Bombcast, the Dead Space 3 discussions came up and I had to stop and think, how would it affect me if Ni No Kuni was exactly the same game it is now, but it also had microtransactions that would double my experience or give me new leveled up familiars. What if I could pay a buck or two to remove the need to grind?

Traditionally within a game optional activities are flagged as such and will yield optional rewards if you decide to do them. If the game is a good game, it will give you a solid reason within the world of the game why you might want to go for optional stuff. The choice you are left to make is "Do I want to do X (grind) in order to get Y?" and it's a yes or no response. What microtransactions do is give you an optional method to get Y. So now instead of just deciding if you want to go for the extra stuff, you also get to choose how you want to get there--and the kicker is that now one of your options exists outside the game world. It's not a question of "do I want to grind to level up my fighter or grind level up my wizard in order to beat the optional boss" it's now a question of "Do I want to grind level up my fighter or pay two dollars to beat the optional boss". And what that does is that now in order to decide the value of the choice, you have to convert both options into the same world. And so in order to compare you have to convert "grind to level my fighter" into real-world units, which usually ends up being time. So now you're asking, is two hours of my real-world time worth two dollars of my real-world money. And the problem with that is that even before you can answer that question, you've already lost. You are no longer playing and enjoying a game, you are now thinking about time and money and effort and what worth anything has, and you've just ruined your entire play experience.

I remember a professor telling me once that you can dissect and dismember a horse and lay out every piece on a giant tarp and study and catalog every bit so that you can truly understand how a horse works--but the irony is that that horse itself is no longer a horse. You cannot ride it. Gaming can also exist I that precarious place that there is always a danger that if you allow yourself to think about some aspects of it too much, you can break the enjoyment of the game. To continue with the horse analogy, you can pay real money to buy that Horse Armor, but the moment you do you will realize that it doesn't do anything, and no one else can see it because it's a single player game, and oh my god what have I done! The horror, the horror.

#1 Posted by Devil240Z (3793 posts) -

Damn it I thought you were going to bitch about there being microtransactions in Ni No Kuni and then I was going to totally go buy some cause I'm tired of grinding right now.

#2 Posted by Aarglefarg (27 posts) -

I haven't bought any inconvenience-skipping DLC for anything. I think of doing so as losing (just in terms of me; not if others do it), as I think of it as an adversarial relationship when they make something inconvenient (make the game worse) in order to get more money in a way I don't want to encourage. I'll probably just not play a game if it comes to the point I'd be compelled to do that.

Tales of Graces f is a comparable game to Ni no Kuni and it has microtransactions, such as one to raise your levels by 10 if I remember correctly. It didn't make me feel like they were pressuring me to buy it, unlike Rainbow Moon.

#3 Edited by ArtisanBreads (4374 posts) -

Good post OP. You get to the heart of the issue: microtransactions really destroy the illusion of the game. Once you have something like that laid bare, even if it wasn't the case, you would begin wondering things like "is this game balanced to force me to buy this XP doubler?" and things like that. You begin to look at the business model very plainly.

It's a difficult issue to figure out how microtransactions of this sort affect game design, but the fact that playing a game with these kind of transactions brings the issue up like that is a big problem in itself.

#4 Edited by PenguinDust (12729 posts) -

This game has DQ8-like grinding needs which is significantly more than the DS versions of DQ4 and DQ5. Probably more than DQ9 but I can't recall for certain. Either way, I've found I've needed to grind a lot more than I was hoping for. I guess at anytime I could dial down the difficulty, but hey, I'm not doing that. So, I spend an hour or more grinding away so I don't get my ass handed to me at a boss encounter every time. I hate having to replay battles, so I ironically grind up in preparation.

If Level-5 had a micro-transaction option to earn extra XP or something, I'd consider it out of frustration. What I would prefer is content that when completed awards big wads of XP. For example, if the bounty hunts paid a full level increase or perhaps even gave timed bonuses to everyone in the party equal to a level or two. That would be more creative. I am against paying to speed your way up, but that doesn't mean I approve of artificially lengthening a game by requiring tedious grinding to level.

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