I think microtransactions can be done well yet they rarely are. I guess growing up in a time when home consoles and PC gaming was really taking over and arcades were dying, I really felt a sense of value when it came to buying a game. You got the whole thing, forever, well as long as the media and computer could last. Even with arcades there was a sense that if you were really skilled you could play with, “just one quarter,” all day long (I just watched this doco well worth a look). Sometimes arcade machines felt rigged and I knew about the difficulty settings that could be ramped up to make extra money. I guess it’s a symptom of growing up in capitalism but I feel that value is something I really want, especially out of entertainment as it is often viewed as frivolous. I am a big fan of Hearthstone by Blizzard and I have spent about $10 AUD on it and received a huge amount of value from it. So when I heard about Plants Vs. Zombies Heroes (Pop Cap’s attempt at a Hearthstone like game), I was pretty excited, especially being a fan of the original Plants Vs. Zombies (PvZ) game. The packs of cards are actually a little cheaper than Hearthstone’s yet the game does not represent good value to me, let’s take a look at why.
PvZ Heroes has 3 currencies, there are coins, represented by a H (presumably for heroin), there are gems, and Energy Points for crafting. 3 isn’t a lot but other things become like currencies too. Rather than all types of classes being opened to you immediately like in Hearthstone, you need to unlock the different characters in PvZ Heroes. Although you can buy new characters in Hearthstone they are purely cosmetic, in PvZ Heroes you need different characters for a different play style. This brings with it an uneven playing field for games too as you won’t have all of the characters (and they’ll probably add more constantly), to be able to test your own skills with. In Hearthstone you know what you will be up against if you are playing a Hunter deck, you may not own all the Hunter cards but you know the style of play, which is typically toward the aggressive. Of course add to this the different types of rarities of cards and card sets and you have a lot of different in game possessions you need to acquire to craft a strong deck.
The store is constantly having sales which also diminishes the value of these virtual cards. Even typing that makes me realise that these things are really worth nothing, they are totally virtual, what you own is stored in the cloud and will fade away when the game is no longer supported. This is not a good thing to expose your game to. Hearthstone has been a little more subtle in what it has done and those sales have lasted a long time, not 24 hours, the Welcome Bundle for example, has been available for a couple of months now. There have also been bugs with the limited deals disappearing and reappearing in the store. The whole experience has left me confused about what represents good value or not. You would be best to leave it till you see another deal pop up, which I guess is good as it may stop more impulsive people from splashing out.
Which brings me to the main issue around a lot of microtransaction gaming, I don’t like gambling anymore. I used to have a pretty neutral attitude towards it but I can now give you plenty of examples of the animal cruelty and corruption that surrounds it. I also hate that video games have become a big part of that, the term “whales,” that comes from gambling refers to those who spend big and compulsively too. They are generally the targets of games like PvZ Heroes. Rather than try to make good gameplay they simply want to make something that is confusing but most importantly habit forming. This is the low road in my mind, games should be fun and joyous, not a grind; a challenge maybe but in my most vulnerable moments I believe that video games are the highest form of art we can currently create. They mix music and sound, animation and graphics, maths and physics, story, writing, every art we can imagine into one package, don’t reduce it down to gambling and addiction.
Hearthstone has been a good example in my mind because it is fairly clear as to what you are getting when you make a purchase but there are plenty of other good examples out there too. Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol and just about anything by Telltale Games use the method of giving you a taste and if you like it you can buy the rest. I’ll admit at least Ace Patrol went a bit crazy with extra add ons in but you can get good solid value out of one purchase. I think it is frustrating enough trying to get those damn legendary cards let alone having to try and get other rare things out of packs and with a lot of this being aimed at kids as well as adults I think the gambling factor needs to be reduced. Then again maybe I am just old and stuck in my, buy a game own it for life mentality.