The news came out this week that Shadow of War, the sequel to the excellent Shadow of Mordor, will have microtransactions. Players will be able to buy loot boxes containing more powerful weapon upgrades and followers for real money. This news was of course met with uproar in the gaming world, as is always the case when microtransactions are announced, but it was hardly the end of the world. I mean, if players want to make a single player game shorter for themselves by buying their way through it then that’s up to them. Since then though, it was announced that Shadow of War has a ranked online mode. Essentially players will be able to place their army and captains in a captured fortress or castle, buy upgrades for them, then other players can attack it. For a more in-depth explanation, go here.
It was one thing for the game to allow players to buy better captains when it was single player only, but when there is a ranked online mode people are able to buy themselves an advantage. What makes this move even worse though is the fact that Shadow of War is not a free-to-play game. It’s a triple-A title which will probably cost £50-60, and then there will be DLC later on, or the option of a season pass for another £40+. And now, on top of those costs people are expected to pay even more money if they want to succeed online. It could potentially harm the single player experience too. We obviously can’t tell until the game is released, but there is always the possibility that the loot system in game will be unbalanced to favour microtransactions, meaning it will take players an unreasonable amount of time to get things they could otherwise buy and get instantly. Assuming they actually get what they want, because like most ‘loot box’ type things, the items you get will be random.
I can’t really blame Monolith for this though, for two reasons. Firstly, with the game being published by Warner Bros. it is highly likely that they were the ones that insisted on the inclusion of microtransactions. Second, plenty of other games have come before Shadow of War with microtransactions and very few have ever been punished for it. Really, microtransactions are just a further evolution of the disgusting, money-grubbing DLC culture that has taken over gaming in the last decade. Publishers are just pushing players further and further, to see how far we’ll go before we say enough is enough, and stop paying for their overpriced additional content.
I remember a time when we got ‘expansion packs’, not DLC. Large amounts of content that would provide dozens, if not hundreds of hours of extra playtime for our favourite games. I’m thinking expansions like Shivering Isles for Oblivion and Awakening for Dragon Age Origins. They included entirely new story-lines, brand new areas to explore, new armours, weapons and characters and they cost no more than what we are now expected to pay for a map pack for Call of Duty. 30 extra hours of content or four multiplayer maps? I know which one I’ll pick. Except we don’t really get that choice anymore, because the vast majority of games don’t bother with big expansions. Instead we get bombarded with tiny bits of extra content that don’t actually add anything to the main game. An expansion should make you want to play a game again to experience all the new content.
What really rubs salt into the wound when it comes to DLC and microtransactions though, is how we are essentially expected to pay for an unfinished game. There is the obvious example of day-one DLC where developers have withheld content from a game as a way of extorting more money out of their customers, but I think most DLC falls under that category. There are numerous examples I can think of, but I’m going to look at one that particularly irritates me. Battlefield 1. Despite being based on the First World War, DICE decided that players would not be able to play as France or Russia in the base game. Why not? Because they were coming later, as DLC packages. So a game based on the First World War did not include two of the nations that suffered the most during the conflict. The game is missing an integral part of the conflict it is based on because it is being sold to the player later on. We are being sold an unfinished game then. This is what most DLC boils down to. We are sold games that are light on content, so that developers and publishers can then sell it to us later in little packages that cost far more than they are worth.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with post-release content being planned before a game is released. That is sensible. What I have a problem with is developers who have clearly planned out a game, then cut it up into chunks and released it as ‘DLC’. The Battlefield 1 example fits this perfect. No one in their right mind would create an outline or design a game set during the First World War and not include France and Russia. You’d have to be a colossal idiot to do that, and I don’t think the people running DICE are idiots. No, they’ve obviously designed an entire game then removed bits to be sold back to us later. They’ve probably done it with previous games too, but it was less noticeable because they were not based on real conflicts. I enjoyed Battlefield 1, but I refuse to pay for content that should have been in the game from the start.
And to bring us full circle, back to this original point, this is why microtransactions are so abhorrent in games that already cost a lot of money. There are millions of gamers out there who have to scrape and save every penny they can to afford new games that they are looking forward to. I’m on of them. Buying an expensive game is an investment, we need to get value for money, and microtransactions remove this value. I used to be of the belief that as long as the items you could purchase with real money were purely cosmetic, it didn’t matter. They weren’t giving people an unfair advantage over those of us who can’t or won’t pay for them. But the more I think about it, the more irritated I get. If I spend £50 on a game, I expect to get everything that game has to offer, cosmetic or not. If a developer decides they want more money, release content that is actually worth paying for.
But having said all that, I’m just one guy angrily shouting at the internet. As long as the vast majority keep buying DLC and spending a fortune on microtransactions, we’ll keep seeing them in games. I just want a proper expansion every now and then, is that so much to ask?