Why People Are Freaking Out Over Destiny Microtransactions

Why People Are Freaking Out Over Destiny Microtransactions

The word "microtransaction" evokes a vivid picture: A board room full of suited executives, salivating over profit margins and pondering how they can become the next Clash of Clans. Pair this nasty term with other provocative buzzwords like "pay-to-win" and "Activision" and you've got a guaranteed way to get gamers angry.

That's for good reason, of course. With game development costs on a meteoric rise -- and the price of new games remaining at $100 despite inflation -- big publishers like EA and Ubisoft have devised all sorts of ways to make up that money, from fancy collector's editions to in-game purchases. One particularly devious plan, dreamed up by Konami for Metal Gear Solid V, actually lets you pay real money as insurance to prevent your bases from getting destroyed by enemy attacks -- attacks that are unavoidable, even in single-player, unless you're playing offline.

It's safe to say the climate is unfriendly.

Cut to this week. Yesterday, Destiny got its very own microtransaction store, where you can buy emotes and dance moves ranging from $US2 to $US5 a pop. All of these emotes are solely cosmetic, and while the idea of Destiny getting any sort of microtransactions raised some eyebrows, it was also hard to find a PVP match last night without people doing the Carlton.

But! Not long after the store launched, players discovered an odd message in the "returns" section of the interface: "Consumable Items are nonreturnable." The implication, of course, is that soon the Eververse Trading Company will expand beyond funny gestures and into more practical, consumable items. Items that affect gameplay, perhaps.

Then, word came out that intrepid Destiny database miners had discovered consumable buffs that aren't in the game yet -- stuff that boosts raid drops, levels up subclasses, etc. -- and suddenly the world was on fire, with commenters throwing around gems like "slippery slope" and "pay to win" and "lol you still play Destiny?"

Destiny creative lead Luke Smith was quick to shoot down part of what had become a suddenly substantial rumour, explaining that those raid drop buffs were cut from the game and will never be sold for real money. But he said nothing about the three other types of items that have been dug up:

1) A level booster, not unlike the one that came with The Taken King, that bumps a character up to experience level 25.

2) A booster that fully unlocks any subclass.

3) Temporary experience buffs from different types of enemies.

Now we're in an interesting place. Last week, when I broke the microtransaction news, I wrote that I'd heard they were sticking to cosmetics. I wrote that the developers at Bungie had changed their DLC plans for this year, and that the revenue from these microtransactions would allow them to dole out free globs of content until "Destiny 2" comes out next fall. A source who worked on Destiny told me this: "The requirement is to do only cosmetic shit. They don't wanna do pay for power or pay to win. That's absolutely the antithesis of what they're after."

That said, the sweet sweet fragrance of MTX profits can entice even the most resilient of noses. Maybe there was a change of plans. Maybe they don't consider level boosters to be "pay-to-win." Or maybe none of this is true and we're all speculating over nothing. (I've reached out both to Bungie and to other sources in hopes of getting clarification on this -- I'll keep you guys updated as I know more.)

A number of fans and gaming sites have made a big stink about this whole thing, but really, anyone who actually plays Destiny knows that these particular consumables would not have much of an effect on the game. Even if Bungie does start selling level and subclass boosters, all they're offering is a way for new players to hit the endgame faster or experiment with alternate characters. This is not uncommon in MMORPGs -- World of Warcraft, for example, sells instant character boosters that give you stacks of experience, gear, and food.

The bigger concern, fuelled by the current gaming climate, is that Bungie has now opened Pandora's Box. By launching a microtransaction store, the folks behind Destiny have signalled that all options are on the table. Right now it's just dances, but soon it could be level boosters. And what's next? High-light armour? Guns? Do we trust Activision to maintain sanctity and refuse to sell anything that could affect the balance of high-level play?

That's what this is about. Trust. When jumping into something like Destiny -- an all-encompassing, life-consuming game -- players need to be able to trust that they're not wasting their time. We need to know that the developers are as committed to this thing as we are. Players who have played Destiny since day one stuck with it because we recognised that Bungie built the foundation of something great, and we put faith in them to eventually fix what they'd gotten wrong. With The Taken King, Bungie rewarded that faith. And with the microtransaction store, they have got us uneasy again, evoking that malaise that's been slowly building thanks to a culture of Assassin's Creed treasure chests and FOB insurance and all the other bullshit that's become as much a fixture of gaming as Mario's overalls and Valve's hats.

Maybe -- hopefully! -- Destiny's microtransactions will stick to cosmetics and, sure, whatever, even experience boosts. But those of us who have stuck to the game will now have to trust that Activision and Bungie don't take things too much further. That's a lot to ask.


    I have a feeling this is the beginning of the end. Which sucks because I was actually just starting to enjoy Destiny again.

      The raid buff items were confirmed as NOT Eververse store items by Luke Smith (Creative Director of TTK).

      He said they are not planning to sell any loot buff items from Eververse.

    You're damn right that's a lot to ask. I'm totally assuming here but I'd say Activision forced microtransactions into the game, and I'll bet it was mostly Bungies idea to give us a bit of free silver. I'd also assume Activision made sure that the 'enthusiastic dance' (The Charlton) was more than the free silver to be handed out. I'll admit, I bought it. I've spent more money on less. I mean, $10 for a drink (yes, I know there's normally cheaper options) at a nightclub or $7.95 for a dance I can use endlessly? Staying home and dancing online thanks.

    But I really do hope that it goes no further than EXP boosts. I can deal with EXP boosts. I'm chasing light gear for my Titan anyway. My Warlock is the only one left behind...still at lvl 34. But I won't be buying EXP boosts because there's literally hundreds of fast EXP givers.

      The free bit of silver is all marketing. People are more accepting of new behaviour once they've tried it. Once they bought one emote, free or not, they'll be more likely to buy another sooner or later.
      Activision/Bungie will make more money because of the free silver than they stood to lose from it. It seems generous, but isn't really.

    And all of a sudden I'm glad I skipped the Taken King again.

      TBH, you have skipped the best part of Destiny so far.

        If it's the best part in context of what the game used to be I'll wait for a few more iterations and a better track record with regards to price-gouging.

        Or.. I'll just wait till they release the last piece of content for Destiny, then buy the "comes with everything previously released plus this new DLC for only $10 more than the price of the base game!" version =D

    Microtransactions that are pay to win destroy experiences and will put me off playing any game. I really do hope Bungie keep these to cosmetic items and nothing more.

    Considering most people are already at the max level and there are currently no BUFF consumables in the game already. Pretty sure there's not going to be a way to 'pay to win' in this game. Who cares if someone can pay to auto unlock a level 40 blah blah blah... They've still gotta good to win, and as I said, most people already have a level 40 character that is still playing.

    Last edited 15/10/15 10:26 am

      Totally agree, its not that hard to get to 40 or fully unlock a subclass, and that doesn't instantly make you win. Unless they start selling things that increase your light level or damage/armor rating above what everyone else can gain normally then I don't consider it Paying to win.

      Was going to say similar. I only picked up Destiny last week, the day after I got around to buying a PS4, and it was only after a day or so I bothered putting my TTK code in. Which gave me the lvl 25 consumable.

      Great, it bumped the only toon I had up from 8 to 25, opened up a lot more missions on the maps, and a couple more planets, but really that was it. Oh, and some reasonable gear that has quickly been replaced. By getting to lvl 8 first though, I had a solid enough understanding of how the game played that it wasnt dumping me in unknown territory.

      I still have to get to 40 from there.

      I'm NOT a fan of pay to win, dont get me wrong, but really, after only a handful of levels you're going to know enough about the class that leaping ahead like this doesnt make you a terrible player. Perhaps put a level limit on it that you have to be lvl 5 to use it, or something like that so they have to take that toon through the basics, but thats about all I'd do.

      Its not a game destroyer, its just a way to get timepoor people to the endgame faster. Not everyone has the luxury of playing 2 or 3 hours a day and grinding through to lvl 40 in a couple of weeks. For some, that endgame content could be months away, which may not be what they want. This is still entertainment, and not everyone is entertained in the same way.

    I imagine consumables might refer to potions that temporarily alter your appearance. Like I've been a midget skeleton on wow due to consumables

    There were a lot of emotes on show in the tower last night. Good to see.

    Neutral about the micro-transactions. They can start with the best of intentions but if we start to discover that the grind is taking longer, the drops less frequent and the high value items ringfenced behind real money then it will make the jump to Destiny 2 much less enticing.

    Remember when these things were called "Expansion Packs" and you could buy them at about 50% of full retail? Or when special extra things were called "unlocks" which you earn in the game itself? Remember these things called "cheat codes" which "unlocked" features if you couldn't work out how to access them normally?

    Today, you get the "base game" at full price, but make sure you preorder for that special bonus skin or character! Then you have to buy the day one DLC! Then the ever increasing in price Season Pass to get all the content that they cut out of the game to release later! You play multiplayer? Then make sure you buy all these skins, gun loadouts and buffs to stay competitive! Now look back at what you've just spent.... Yep! You just spent enough money to buy a second copy of the game (or more than) on shit that used to come in the game for free, or would have been sold at half price in an expansion pack!

      Sure, its monetisation of the product, nothing more. Whats better for the consumer? Getting sluged $150 for the game and extras on day 1, or getting hit with half that at the start, and a few smaller hits some time later?

      Games were $100 new in the 80's. Which would be $250 - $300 in todays money, which people forget. As the article says, the number on the pricetag has largely remained stable over the years, which means the net price has dropped. And its dropped a lot.

      But if you charged $120 or $150 for the base game, you aint gonna sell jack. So they need to get back to that same profit margin somehow, and its microtransactions, collectors editions, and so on that let them get there.

      If you dont want them, embrace what is essentially a cheaper market than ever, and just play the game in front of you. Or buy some credit and embrace the carnage.

        I'd much rather be charged $120-$150 up front for a full game than $200+ over time. Honesty sells more than deception.

        Or buy some credit and embrace the carnage.

        But you're not embracing anything more than the slow death of the industry. The industry is cutting itself off at the knees more and more by pushing prices higher and higher while making less and less content.

          See I dont buy into microtransactions. I rarely even buy into DLC. If the game isnt good enough on release, I'll usually give it the cursory one run through and its stuck on the shelf, probably never to be played again. Thats just how I am.

          So I'd rather pay the lower entry point, and when that game comes along that makes me WANT to pay more, I can. The various Borderlands games for example, where I happily paid for the extra content, because the base game was so fun. If it hadnt been, I wouldnt have bothered.

          Day one DLC pisses me off no end, and unless the game is a standout, is usually enough of a buzzkill for me to pass on it, but cosmetic or insignificant microtransactions dont bother me in the slightest.

          I've played MMO's on PC since the 90's (starting with UO), and have watched microstransactions dramatically change the game. But what are those studios to do? They cant compete with free, so need to adapt. And its become so prevalent, its now part of the business model at all levels of gaming.

          Issue here is whether it blocks people out from legitimate content (Destiny doesnt), or whether its effectively cosmetic. At the moment its cosmetic, the debate will be around whether insta levelling pots are cosmetic or pay to win. I dont think anything less than a jump to max level is such a gamer changer that people need to protest about it, thats all.

        On the other side of the coin, games in the 90s sold a fraction of what games today sell.

    Aaaaaand these are the kinds of transactions that are pure ass. They're awful. Hope they don't sell well.

      Oh they'll sell, and sell a lot. As more publishers notice that they can push more and more pointless content at high prices and the sheep will buy it, the more they are going to do it.

      The days of arcades are returning... They are just now on consoles.

        *With a 70-80 dollar entry fee attached prior to inserting your coin ;)

          $80 to $100 for the game
          $5 every time you want to press start
          $10 for every level you want to play
          $20 if you want an additional mode

          Make sure you pay these fees EVERY.SINGLE.TIME you begin the game.

    I see no issue with "short cuts" like the spark of light that takes you straight to level 25 or a consumable to fully unlock a subclass. As the game gains more content and more people come on board, they're going to want to access the contemporary content as soon as possible. It's no different to Battlefield offering a shortcut to you don't have to wait to unlock all the guns or WoW offering boosts to get people to max level faster. A new player starting Destiny today could potentially have three classes to level to 40 and 9 subclasses to max out before they can fully enjoy the game. This is a time consuming prospect, and I can understand people saying "I'd pay money to skip some of the grind".

    But enhanced weapon drop prospects, raid loot, etc.? Not ok, and I highly doubt bungie plan on it.

    I'm keeping hope, but have to admit they have me worried. As it said in the article, its about trust, and I really have none of that towards bungie... or any large game developer really.

    They're walking a very fine line, and need to watch how they proceed, as I can see them losing a large chunk of the player base if they take a step in the wrong direction

    I'm fine with cosmetics.
    I felt insticntively against the XP boosters at first, but a friend who plays a lot of MMO's gave m a good explaination as to why XP boosters won;t be detrimental, and will actually be beneficial (like how they're useless at end-game, where the 'real game' starts).
    The increased raid drop consumeable I don't like the sound of at all, but that link clarifies they have been scapped, and even before they were scrapped, they were going to be sold for motes of light and other in game resources, not silver (premium currency).
    So far I am happy with these changes, and I will probably buy a couple of emotes; I won't be touching the xp boosters/instant level ups personally when they are available.
    If anything like the item drop bonuses, or even worse actual p2w stuff starts appearing though, that's when I'm out.

    When will people realise that items bought in an ingame shop that increase xp, or make you skip ahead to some later content (level boost or the like), does not = 'Pay to Win'... The only time it will be pay to win, is if the items you get in the shop can't be obtained in normal play (or after a period of time) AND give you some kind of edge power wise than those who haven't paid. Getting stuff faster != 'Pay to Win', its 'Pay to get there faster',

    Correct me if I'm wrong, as i don't play destiny, but do you not already have to continue paying in some way just to keep playing the game. If so how do they justify charging you again for any aspect of the game. This isn't dlc for a buy to play.

    I get that feeling of two steps forward with TTK and one step backwards. If they take any more steps backwards there are a lot of players out there who will just drop it and walk away................'enthusiastically' no doubt.

    Then there is the problem with the update about the game handing out less Weapon Parts, less strange coins, less motes to players and adding yet another currency that Xur will sell. After we got rid of too many we had before, radiant/ascendant shards etc we are heading back.

    Admittedly my sample size is small but many players I touched base with last night are all on edge. Not pissed, not angry but just ....................... hoping it is not the start of the avalanche. Especially as we have come so far.

    thats true you can wait, and it will be still good when you eventually play it. but the fun is playing it whenever one else is. you can watch GoT in 2-3 years too, and it will be good, but you miss the social part of discussing it. Same goes with seeing movies at cinemas and not waiting 2 years. you pay extra to have it now with everyone else, thats half the fun. you're not 'sticking it to Activision' by waiting, you're just missing out on the great social aspect of the game, IMO...

    Expect things that can be bought in order to get a newcomer just short of being on par with a long time player. There is always a pool of people who didn't buy online multiplayer game x, but observe the game's post-release 'progress' from the sidelines and may possibly jump on board if the game/community becomes a hot chocolate.

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