Opinion: Play & Pay

Love it or hate it, the micro-transaction model in Dead Space 3 is a fascinating move for one of 2013’s biggest releases,  and while it’s not the first console title to adopt such a model, it’s the first time its been allowed to have such a direct impact on the overall experience.

Honestly, that’s not as bad as it might sound.

By now, you’ll know a bit about the workbench, and it’s fair to say that it plays a significant role in Dead Space 3. The gathering of resources to build new weapons, improve existing ones and add modifications to the player’s suit requires a lot of fighting, exploring and taking advantage of Scavenger Droids. These Droids gather various materials – providing they’re dropped off in the right spot – and then obediently transport wares back to the workbench so Clarke can do his work.

The thing is, droids are not constantly available to the player and one usually works alone and on a time-delay. This presents one instance where the micro-transaction model can prove useful. Players may decide to buy a capacity upgrade for their bot, allowing it to gather more resources than normal, or even invest in additional resources tailored to a specific weapon. No matter which way you look at it, that’ll certainly speed things up.

The micro-transaction model is in-place for the impatient gamer. The one who downloads a £0.69 mobile game, then might splurge £50 on extra coins to access super-cool characters, overpowered weapons and fancy armor. These gamers don’t want to play and wait to get stuck. They’re on the clock and want constant progression throughout. So they’ll probably invest £5 to ensure that Isaac starts the game with full-health and nigh-on-impenetrable armor. Then if things are still a bit hairy, plop down another £5 and get a few top-of-the-range weapons, fully upgraded with stacks of ammo.

I can’t confirm £10 is a game-winning amount, but you get my point. Click here to see the full range of prices.

Whether we choose to ignore it or not, there’s a new type of gamer out there. Neither casual or hardcore, they sit somewhere in the middle and spend their entertainment time regularly investing money in games to merit results. They may have migrated from Facebook or Google Plus, or they may be wholly mobile gamers. Regardless, they’re a gaming audience, and they’re just as hungry for new experiences as any of you.

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Essentially, a proven and established gaming model is being applied to one of the biggest games of the year, and as you might expect, it does feel like something of an experiment. Yes, it’s potentially a precursor to the future and does give an idea of how most games could run on the next-generation of systems, but the model is embedded relatively intelligently. It doesn’t infringe on your game-time, it constantly remains in the background and can be used entirely optionally. Tact plays a large part in winning people over, and Visceral have done a decent job with that.

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Enemies will grow in competency the deeper into the game you get. However, if a player decides to go all out and spend lots of money on resources, not only will they develop slightly ahead of the intended path the game has set out, but they’ll also be that little bit more prepared when facing any forthcoming challenges. That said, certain weapons can only be purchased at certain times in the game, so you won’t be able to buy ‘the best gun’ from the very beginning.

In a nutshell, what we’re seeing here is the 21st Century equivalent of the Game Genie.

Gone are the need for cheat codes and mini-hacks to gain unlimited lives. Not all developers and publishers want gamers meddling with their games, but they have identified opportunities to profit from players wanting to ‘beat the system’ , and providing Dead Space 3 does well, and even earns a little bit from its micro-transaction element (which, I strongly believe will happen) this  model could be here to stay. Granted, it won’t work in all games, and trying to shoehorn it into every franchise will alienate people rather than win them over. Just don’t be surprised if Gears of War eventually allows players to buy a Hammer of Dawn from the very first second of play, or Uncharted decides Nathan Drake can equip a rocket launcher the moment he catches the first whiff of trouble.

228548-gameAs painful as it might be to hear, the micro-transaction model makes sense and works quite well. It may even be the bridge needed to bring core console games to new audiences.

Yet, there is still confusion as to who this model is actually intended for, especially considering players still have to progress through certain checkpoints of the game in order to gain access to the more advanced arsenal. What demographic of people do EA and Visceral think are going to invest in this? Whether the model works within context of the game or not, is the Dead Space franchise really an appropriate ambassador?

It’s clear many developers are going to watch Dead Space 3 like a hawk during its launch window. Many have already admitted as much, but should this become another unsuccessful experiment, what then? Will teams still try to adopt this model in the hopes that their variation will be successful? Will it be forgotten about altogether?

What if it does take off? What does that mean for the video-games market?

Right now, as long as this model remains the way it is, I genuinely don’t see a problem. As we mentioned in our last opinion piece, the value of video games is drastically dropping and developers need a way to recoup those losses. This is one way to offset that.

As always, however, the danger is with publishers and how far they intend to take things. We’ve already seen blatant advertising campaigns  and crafty ways to siphon money from the unsuspecting on the mobile market. That won’t be allowed to happen here.

However, I believe that, providing gamers aren’t required to spend extra money to complete a game they’ve already paid for, and providing the game isn’t trying to indoctrinate or trick them into spending money, I’m comfortable with this model existing in Dead Space 3 and any future games. Would I personally use it? No, but others might, and if that helps them enjoy their purchase all the more, I’d be glad to see more of it.

What are your thoughts on the micro-transaction model? Are you concerned? Has it put you off buying Dead Space 3?

Maybe you think differently. Will you be spending any money on resources when the game releases this week?


About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,