Exploitative Economics Emergence Exposed in E-Game Industry

Photo+Courtesy%3A+Pixabay
Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

Bryan Grady, Staff Writer

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Video games are a popular art medium around the world, played by millions of people, in one form or another, every day. They’re also an extremely profitable industry, with total revenue in the US alone totalling 23.5 billion in 2015. At this point, it’s frequently more profitable than movies, music, and other products.

However, there’s increasing problems with in-game transactions with real money and the concept of “games-as-a-service.”

I asked Associate Editor Matt Miller at Gameinformer magazine about the situation:

“Increasingly, large publishers are exploring new avenues to monetize their games to offset the tremendous costs involved in producing big releases, and often in pursuit of higher return for investors. Unfortunately, some of those practices, in particular the use of blind-drop loot boxes, come with a host of problems.

These microtransaction-fueled items often come dangerously close to gambling, bringing up ethical questions around their presence in an entertainment product. But many also impinge on the quality of a game, offloading significant rewards into the purchases, sapping the fun of those rewards from the natural loop of gameplay.”

Now publishers all around the world are slipping these payment systems into full priced games, such as companies like Activision-Blizzard, Ubisoft, WB Interactive, Square Enix, and Electronic Arts. Some writers in the know point to general acceptance of paywalls or cosmetic purchases in free or multiplayer games as the key tipping point that allowed publishers to begin pressuring their developers to put these increasingly intrusive and gambling-esque systems into big-budget video games.

Companies wouldn’t do this if no one purchased these in-game goods or random boxes though. In many ways, the player base only has itself to blame for the further proliferation of these microtransactions.

For example, Evan Keller, ‘18, and Eric Cahill,  ‘18, both students in the Video Game Design class at the school, have differing opinions on the topic.

Keller rails against Electronic Arts and their debacle with the recently released and microtransaction heavy Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (EA’s press release defending the long wait-times and rarity of unlocks, even if the player pays money, became the most downvoted Reddit comment in history).

Meanwhile, his cousin, Cahill, defended the incident as “not an issue if you just don’t buy anything; it’s still a good game.”

The main problem is, almost all publishers are increasingly moving towards pushing games that are geared for long-term play and draw in continuous income from purchases. This isn’t just one game; it’s a shift across the entire industry.

Meanwhile, children or people prone to gambling addictions can end up spending thousands of dollars in games for goods that are intangible and randomly distributed.

Some could defend the publishers, saying that it’s the fault of the player or the player’s parents for not being more careful. But the fact of the matter is, there is practically no way microtransactions improve the games they are in. All they do is make things potentially unfair, encourage unhealthy spending, and bury elements that would normally be unlocked through normal play.

Players especially need to check themselves. The game industry is built to turn a profit, not support fans. While the focus has always been on selling a product, publishers have increasingly begun selling players a service that will will continue to ask for money. Don’t give companies a free pass to behave in a way that doesn’t profit players and actively abuses those who struggle with gambling addictions and judgment.

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