* This was originally posted when the site was being migrated, so I'm just re-posting, as it got deleted.
Microtransactions in games have been around for a couple years now, and by the looks of it we'll only be seeing more of them in years to come. Xbox live was one of the first to popularize this model, selling t-shirts for your avatar and new themes for your dashboard. Facebook games and Apple's App Store have proven to be environments in which microtransactions flourish. While the model makes big bucks (just look at the consistent top earners on the App Store), to many of us it all feels a little dirty, perhaps even predatory. These companies are very good at getting our money, bit by bit. Frighteningly good.
There are, however, quite a few bright spots in the free-to-play space.More and more actual video games are using the model and allowing gamers to have really good, complete play experiences without having to spend any money on microtransactions, and without being constantly hounded to throw down some cash for a more complete experience. To name a couple - I was thoroughly impressed by Age of Empires Online's offerings, and over the summer I had a really good experience with Tribes: Ascend. I didn't drop a penny in either game. Even more impressive to me is the game Path of Exile, an action role playing game in the style of Diablo. Coming from New Zealand developer, Grinding Gear Games, the game just entered open beta a few weeks ago. For the legion of fans disappointed by Diablo 3 last summer, Path of Exile has provided much of what they've been looking for. The game caters to the hardcore player with its darker setting, gameplay designed for hours and hours loot-hoarding and leveling up, and its utterly insane passive skill tree. Personally, I can't say I love the game. I am not that hardcore action RPG fan, heartbroken by Diablo III and hungry for a more lasting experience. Still, we're here to talk about the microtransactions, and I think that's where I find POE setting itself apart from most other free-to-play games.
Here's the description straight from POE's website:
Completely free to download and play. Supported by ethical microtransactions.
Path of Exile is completely free to play - no upfront costs or monthly fees are required to enjoy 100% of the game content.
To fund the development and maintenance costs of the project, we plan to let players purchase aesthetic perks for their characters such as:
- Additional character animations (for example, taunts or PvP victory animations)
- Dyes and item skins
- Alternate spell effects
- Social pets
We will also offer some optional paid services such as:
- Inter-realm/inter-account character transfers
- Character renaming
You’ll notice nothing in the list above confers an actual gameplay advantage.
So there you have it - No gameplay advantage. Obviously this is a reaction to the “pay to win” reputation of many free-to-play games. I really respect this decision, and find it refreshing that they aren’t offering an easy way out ($) for overly challenging gameplay. They legitimately want a game with a level of integrity to each character. You can’t buy your way to double XP, better weapons, or a new character class. In this world your character and loot are products of your effort, time investment, and possibly skill, and there’s no way around it.That said, they still have to make money. So, if you feel like customizing some of the look of your character they give you some options, and when and if you spring for it they get paid. Sounds good, right? Personally, I think it mostly is good. Still, I have some concerns.
First off, I do wonder if they’ll make it. Will people spend enough money on these aesthetic changes to pay for the the development team, years of development, and ongoing support they need to provide?I suspect it’s possible.In 35 weeks of closed beta, the team made 2.5 million dollars off this stuff (granted, you had to pay $10 just to get into the closed beta).Secondly, I’m concerned about the price of these virtual goods. Since I really did appreciate the approach Grinding Gears was taking with this game, I wanted to pay them something to help contribute to their quality work. As I headed over to the store, however, I was pretty disappointed with the offerings. 5 dollars was enough for me to buy a lavender glow for one of my weapons (the cheapest color) and … that’s it. I’ve got 21 points left, which is about 2 bucks. The only thing that will buy me is the ability to rename and re-color two of the tabs in my “stash” or buy one simple spell effect (changes the look of a spell). Thanks, but no thanks. It’s easy to spend $20 dollars on a pet to follow you around, or a cool looking weapon effect. About $8 will buy you a new character animation. You get the point. I’ve enjoyed the game so far, and I want to give the developers my money, but I’m going to find it hard to spend much more when the return is so trivial. I suppose in a way, I’m treating my contribution as the virtual tip jar.“Fun game guys. Thanks for giving it away for free. Here’s a little something for the effort.”
I think it’s great that Grinding Gears is taking such an “ethical” (to use their word) approach to microtransactions. However, it seems that by making the items for sale so downright un-impactful, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Damned if you, damned if you don’t, I suppose. I do sincerely hope this game is a success for them and I hope this microtransaction model can work. It would also be great if others took note of what Grinding Gears is doing here and began to question the less ethical ways microtransactions are being implemented in games across the industry, from EA to Zynga.
To conclude, Path of Exile is a fine game that has already been satisfying the appetites of hardcore gamers as well as more casual passers-by like myself. If I sink a dozen hours more into the game I’ll likely drop another five or ten bucks to show my support. Again, I just wish that five or ten dollars was getting me something I actually wanted. Grinding Gears has come really close to nailing the microtransaction model, but there’s still room for improvement here.
Have any of you tried Path of Exile? What do you think of their microtransactions and "crowdfunding" model? Are there other games you think really get it right when it comes to microtransactions?