I Have Never, Ever Paid For Microtransactions

Image: Kotaku

I buy a lot more games than I play. SteamDB tells me that I haven’t played 121 of the 194 games on my main Steam account. But even though I’m more than happy to open my wallet, no matter how large my pile of shame grows, I have never bought DLC. And I haven't paid for any microtransactions.

Does this make me a bad gamer? Does it make me a bad person?

The second I brought up the fact that I was thinking about writing this, the office erupted. Questions about what constituted DLC, what constituted a microtransaction, and why I would cut myself off from extra content for the games that I like were thrown my way faster than I could think of rational answers.

This is controversial whether you're a hardcore fan and especially if you're a creator, but the fact remains that I just... haven't... spent any money on games that wasn't for the base game itself. Which is stupid, really, since I've bought entire games that I haven't played at all.

To be fair, I haven't played many games in the last five years, and I haven't been on Facebook — where microtransactions were originally born — for just as long. I kind of missed the whole... DLC... thing. And now that I'm playing a few more games than I was in the bleak expanse of time between then and now, DLC is everywhere.

It makes me feel uncomfortable.

Image: Counter-Strike

My brain knows that DLC is a good thing for games in 2016, and that it's a more effective way to support creators than just the initial purchase.

Here's the thing: I feel like I come from the old days of games. When I bought post-launch content, it was something called an expansion pack. When the internet was a little less mature, and games writing still lived mostly in monthly magazines, you bought boxed copies in A4 boxes at your local EB. You'd learn almost by luck or chance that your favourite game was getting a new chapter. You'd see it on a store shelf one day — and it'd have thousands of hours of effort thrown into it.

You'd buy it and holy shit, there's new canon for the security guard that you met once at the start of Half-Life and he actually has his own storyline, and oh my god this is amazing. Expansion packs were a good thing, and I have fond memories of them. I bought loads. But expansion packs became DLC and that changed.

That doesn't mean I haven't played any free-to-play, microtransaction-driven games though. I probably put a hundred hours into Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, I like Hearthstone, and I've wasted more Friday afternoons in CS:GO than I have actually pretending to be a productive employee. (Sorry, boss.)

But I just haven't bought anything in them. CS loot boxes? No, I'm fine with my gunmetal grey gun, thanks. Hearthstone packs? I'm not committed enough to play beyond the starter deck, sorry. Whatever the crystal meth was in the Kardashian game that made countdown timers go faster? It actually felt like more of a challenge to watch the clock and game the system to progress without spending money.

Cosmetic microtransactions? I just don't get it, sorry. Kotaku's Amanda Yeo is a DOTA fiend and has tried to explain to me more than a couple of times why someone would spend real, actual, normal-person-world money on some different coloured pixels for a digital avatar. But I can't wrap my brain around it.

Back in my day, graffiti sprays in CS were free. They're not any more.

What a waste of money, my brain says. Use that money for something real. I can understand contributing financially to a game that you love, but I'd almost prefer to donate cash and not get anything in return — it feels less exploitative, somehow. And the dollar value assigned to cosmetics has no basis in reality to me. Remember horse armour?

And season passes, man. Season passes should be more justifiable for me, rationally, because it's an upfront payment that is a commitment from developers to continue releasing new and hopefully exciting content well into the life of a game.

But when you charge money for a season pack, I have a problem to the haves and have-nots two-tiered system it builds. I stopped playing Destiny when the first DLC pack came out and everyone else — the people that are fine with it — left me behind.

The rational part of my brain knows that DLC is a good thing for games in 2016, and that it's a more effective way to support creators than the initial purchase of a game. The irrational side of my brain doesn't want to get nickel-and-dimed for something that might not be good.

At least if it's already in the game and it's not good, it's already in the game. You can take the bad with the good. It's me being cautious, it's me feeling like the world has passed me by, it's kind of being a cheapass, it's mostly just not understanding.

Part of the objection is I've been conditioned to think that when you buy a game, you get it for good. When you couldn't update a game over the 'net, that's when it was delivered to you through mail order in a 7-CD booklet and you had everything for your hundred-hour adventure laid out in front of you.

Image: Bungie/Destiny

I feel like I come from the old days of games. When I bought post-launch content, it was something called an expansion pack.

That's changed in the past few years. Persistent online multiplayer means the game you paid $110 for doesn't exist after the servers are gone. Season passes means the game you bought isn't the full game and studio intrigue might mean you never get to play it.

I like the look of DLC, a lot. The Death Star DLC for Battlefront looks fucking amazing. Far Cry 3's Blood Dragon was technically DLC, I guess, wasn't it? But I didn't play it because I'd already bought Far Cry 3 and my stubborn-ass wallet wasn't going to open again.

I know this is an irrational position to hold. And I want to change my mind. I want to be normal. These days, I probably play more mobile games than any other platform, so it's just a matter of time until I pay for a microtransaction there. I was very close to dropping a stack of cash on lunchboxes during my brief Fallout Shelter addiction.

At least my problem isn't genetic.

At my last check, Steam says my brother has spent upwards of two thousand hours in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. He's bought every piece of downloadable content and played through them all innumerable times. By his estimate, he's spent about $150 on DLC for the two games, which is a pretty significant proportion of the cost of the two collector's edition versions of the base games he bought.

Me? I've played through Fallout 1 and 2 probably just as much, but ain't no way I'd be able to convince myself that $150 for some extra gameplay is worth it. Which is stupid, right? Based on the fact that my brother has spent more time in two games than I've put into games at all in the last decade.

Maybe I'm just an old grumpy man. I bought Fallout 4, got about half an hour into it, walked into a fence and died, quit and uninstalled the game and threw the disc across the room and I haven't touched it since.

Maybe I just shouldn't play games at all. That would solve this whole moral quandary.

I'm acutely, painfully aware that I don't know nearly anywhere near enough about the industry for this to be a morally justifiable position. In the last few hours of writing this, I've changed my mind back and forth half a dozen times.

Think of the new canon that devs can add post-launch in response to fan demand. Why didn't they build it in the first place. DLC supports creators. Charge me more upfront — and don't call it a season pass — and I'm probably good. Shit, I don't know. It's easier to not think about it.

This piece was originally going to be called I Will Never Buy A Video Game Microtransaction. I'm not discounting that possibility, because there's something stubborn and old-school hard-wired into my brain about getting all of something when you buy it for the first time, but at the same time I've opened my eyes to the fact that DLC and microtransactions are perfectly normal and perfectly fine.

But sorry, Amanda, I'm probably never buying horse armour.


    Stronger than me. I've dabbled with microtransactions. The current example is Pokemon Go. I'm always rocking a couple incubators at any time so more fool me #partoftheproblem

      I think Pokemon GO was one of my first microtransactions, just once.

      Depends, I also sunk $30 in to Warframe, just once also.
      I had gotten so much out of the game, I wanted to put a little back in to the player economy, making it feel less like a microtransaction.
      Guess that makes two in my life

      Last edited 10/10/16 8:11 pm

        Yep warframe for me too :)

        Never NEVER paid for mictrotransactions before, for anything, but I thought the Warframe devs deserved some cash for what is actually a pretty top game that i'd got a lot of enjoyment from.

        Probably important to separate microtransactions from dlc in this discussion... but that's a whole other post!

    I don't really see anything wrong with microtransactions or DLC as a concept, in the right sort of game. Free-to-play style microtransactions have no business being in AAA games though.

    I had only ever paid for DLC that substantially added to the game, i.e.: story content. I never bought weapon/car/cosmetic packs or in-game currencies of any kind.

    I say "had" because I can think of one significant rule break, when I bought silver in Destiny. They gave us some silver for free, enough to buy one of the cheaper "premium" emotes. But I had to have the Carlton dance. So my wife and I each bought a small amount of silver in order to afford it. We were satisfied with our decision and felt putting a few more bucks into Destiny's coffers was more than offset by the hours upon hours we poured into playing it, night after night.

    Then like, a month later, we stopped playing and haven't gone back. I quit after finishing The Taken King to make time for Fallout 4 and told myself I'd go back when there was more actual story content. Rise of Iron has been out for a few weeks now, and my interest in returning has not even twitched. That makes me a little sad. I may never Carlton again.

    I definitely come from the old days of games, I don't expect everything to be free and easily pirate-able.

    I'm looking at my Steam library and I have real trouble ascribing value to stuff like Shadow of Mordor or Phantom Pain, because I gamed the system and managed to grab both of those titles for absolute dirt cheap.

    Other games, like Witcher 3 or Arkham Knight, which I have loved playing, and bought because I *wanted* them, are bloody long.

    A micro-transaction here or there in either of those games could actually help someone time poor like me.

    I have come to loath the creeping RPG-ness in many games, I have unused skill points and weird looking skill trees I haven't bothered to learn yet because they themselves ask you to invest more time and care than I have these days.

    I'll be over here being in-game pretty. You can stay over there with your boring default face.

      That's it. I'm *used* to being boring default human already. Why mess with something that works?

        "I'm used to mediocrity so I won't strive for something better."

          As an aside, have you bought the Boston compendium yet? That Bounty Hunter skin looks mighty pretty.

          Last edited 10/10/16 11:26 am

            Actually, I'm thinking I might skip this one. There hasn't been much in it that particularly appeals so far (except maybe the scarecrow ward) and I got seriously burnt out on the last one.

          I'm more like "Striving to achieve the dizzying heights of mediocrity, and falling short".

          Strive for something better? For micro transaction skins? In good games of the past, something that looked good was default and then looking even better was unlockable for free in gameplay.

          Last edited 11/10/16 1:03 pm

    I'm in the same boat as you Campbell, I don't pay for microtransactions. The only times I actually spend money within a game is to purchase DLC, if it's good quality content. New episodes in the game, new characters, new stages. Content I can clearly see has had love and work put into it, AFTER the game has launched, that enhances the overall game experience, I'll happily pay for.

    But the kind of microtransactions you're forced to pay for if you don't want to wait x time, or the "pay to win" kind? Or the kind that intentionally lock out a section of the game? Forget that crap.

    I'm definitely of the "pay once, get the whole game" old school line of thinking. Not "Pay little bits and pieces to gradually unlock the whole game".

    Last edited 10/10/16 11:06 am

    I have never before felt so compelled to buy a whole bunch of microtransactions than I have with Path of Exile. That game is so good, nearing 500 hours play time, completely 100% free. Looking at all my other Steam games that I paid money for with less than an hour playtime, Ive been compelled to give the PoE devs some of that. I've expanded my stash and bought a handful of armour and weapon effects. Not much really for how much fun Ive had with the game.

    I totally understand and agree with Campbell. I have never paid for any microtransactions and will never will. I bought Destiny's DLC but that's about it, no dance emotes or other cosmetics. I do not see the point at all in buying cosmetics or in-game currency in any video games. Those who do, good for them.

    Apart from Destiny, I never bought any DLC for any other games. Now a days, video games are just too long with too much to do. So, unless you have quite alot of free time and no other hobby or duties to handle, it is hard to finish one single game (Just bought Borderlands 2 and I am regretting it).

    You missed out with the New Vegas DLC, It was all quite good with some of it being fantastic.

    But I agree with cosmetic DLC items, why pay money for useless item.

    I'm shocked to learn you can't make your own sprays any more, I used to enjoy making my own and would spend considerable amounts of time getting them just right and looking classy.

    Maybe I’m just an old grumpy man. I bought Fallout 4, got about half an hour into it, walked into a fence and died, quit and uninstalled the game and threw the disc across the room and I haven’t touched it since.

    rage issues??

    There's been some truly fantastic DLC, I wouldn't lump DLC in with micro transactions at all. The Last of Us is probably the peak for me for how to do DLC properly.

      TLOU is on the top of my pile of shame, I'll get into it soon enough.

      And no rage issues, just a deep-seated love of the Fallout franchise from earlier years that I haven't been able to repeat with the newer games. My standards are probably too high.

        Have you played New Vegas? Its the most Fallout-y of the new games and is a perfect example of DLC for a game done right.

        Last edited 10/10/16 1:00 pm

    begs the question what was the first microtransaction..? I seem to remember it being buying a car in a car game? turismo or an old forza perhaps?..... Entropia universe was the first with an economy I know that... also one of the first MMOs to do f2p and shop was Runes of Magic
    so long ago the first microtransaction its all a blur

    Last edited 10/10/16 11:28 am

      I feel like you're probably right, you could pay to unlock cars quite early on in racing games, maybe even PS2 era which had very limited online. There were definitely extra map packs purchasable in games like Halo 2.

    I'm in the same boat. I find microtransactions and DLC range from pointless to distasteful, never appealing. Particularly the extra BS that Ubisoft etc. attempt with "we filled your game with pointless grinding, but pay us $5 and we'll let you skip it".

    If I know a game is going to have a tonne of DLC, particularly story DLC, I just wait for the inevitable half-price complete pack to come out. I have more than enough games on my to-play list. I don't need to be paying a premium price for half an experience the day that it's released.

    Microtransactions fundamentally change the way you design games. It goes from "here's the best experience I can give you" to "here's the most I can annoy you without turning you off... give me a couple of bucks and I promise to make it better".

    Could this not also be compared to other real world Microtransactions such as;
    Price Tiered seating at events
    Merchandise at Football Games
    Posters from Concerts
    Better seats when Flying
    Buying Branded clothes
    Fancy Keyboards and Mice

    How many people would look over at those people waving the blowup hands at a sporting event.
    Or those that buy a poster or album from a concert that can be bought at a store tomorrow for $10 less.
    Or those that pay $200 for a pair of shoes that you can buy from the Factory outlet for $100

    Microtransactions are about paying a little bit extra to have a slightly more enjoyable experience.
    Whether that experience be Comfort, or Vision, or Emotional, or Socially.

    The same applies when playing games.
    The extra enjoyment you get when your team mates compliment you on your cool skin.
    Or the extra trolliness you portray when you use a custom T-Bagging animation taunt on an opponent.
    Or the more effecient use of your limited gaming time when you pay to speed up that level timer.
    Or the more relaxed playstyle you can enjoy because you paid for Highlevel Dragon armor instead of grinding for days.
    Or the Awesome Screenshot you put as your Desktop Background showing your Emerald Armored Horse jumping off a cliff into the moon.

    Too often people see Microtransactions as a way to cheat against all others playing the same game. However they often forget that Microtransactions are also intended to give each and every person greater opportunity to enjoy the game THEIR WAY.

      I would say that a better analogy for micro transactions would be something like airline fees.

      You used to pay for a flight and have everything included and now after you buy your ticket there are all these different fees you have to look out for.

      Yeah you can compare them to all those other things and I'll hate them all just the same.

    I once bought a cool outfit for Ryu in NinjaGaiden 2 for like $3. I still feel guilty about it.

    I'll happily pay for DLC that adds to the story or the gameworld. Map packs? No, thanks, but I'm not really that into PvP. Cosmetics? Still don't really understand that... but then I tend to attach how cool something is to what people had to do to get it. It's where I feel Destiny simultaneously got things absolutely right and colossally wrong with their ornament system in RoI.

    "Wow, that molten Invective looks amazing! Where'd you get the ornament?"
    "Random drop from a weekly package."
    "Oh. It's still neat, I guess. Maybe RNG will grace me with one, too... one day."

    "Wow, that guy has flames coming out of his armour!"
    "Yea, you can buy that for a bit of silver."
    "Oh. Well, he must like the game a hell of a lot more than I do."

    "Wow, that guy has pink angel wings coming out of his armour!"
    "You only get that from the chest on Mercury... he's been flawless in Trials."
    "Wow... I'd better be wary of him in the Crucible."

    I'm far less interested in the aesthetic as I am with what that cosmetic says about you. Sporting the trials ornaments? I'll know to steer clear of you in the Crucible. Rocking the HM raid ornaments? I'll know you're a good team player and know how to handle yourself in endgame PvE content. Rocking a full set of flaming armour in week 2 of the expansion? I'll know you have little issue paying for random virtual cosmetics, and hope you really like the rolls you got on that Iron Lord gear. Me, I'll stick to my furs and the little raid armour that will drop for me. :P

    Only ever brought one DLC and that was for Fallout New Vegas. Everything since seems to lack depth and is more tacked on rather than having any real teeth in it. As for microtransaction only ever done this once and that was for The Division....skins that later you could get free, never again.

    Thankfully Valve haven't added the pay to spray to Day of Defeat: Source. Granted it doesn't have the player base CS has but it's disappointing this is the track they are going down.

    I want to pay for extra game content but i haven't yet. I'll probably pull the trigger on the Witcher stuff. A lot of the extra game content is just an extra hour or so and i don't feel motivated when it isn't part of the main story.

    Microtransactions, yes I have, but I have a few rules on it.
    * No random loot boxes. Most game loot is random and you already know the more you want a particular item the less likely you will get it.
    * No pay to win or pay to level buffs.
    * No consumables or limited use items.
    * No solo / single player games.
    * Yes, to Ease of Life unlocks such as bank / character slots.
    * To support a Free2play game I like my purchases should factor the time I spend playing.
    * No impulse purchases.
    * Weigh the cost of the item vs real life, weight the cost of the item vs ingame... then wait a week and ask do you really want it.
    * Charity purchases are less guilty, but not guilt free, adjust value based on what share the game company keeps.

    For some reason I feel kind of insulted that you've lumped MTs (the scourge of modern gaming) with DLC (which has provided some of the greatest moments in gaming).

    TW3: Blood and Wine, TLoU: Left Behind, Borderlands: Assault on Dragon Keep, BioShock: Burial at Sea, pretty much everything for Mass Effect. Many instances of DLCs that are arguably better than their already fantastic originals. You're missing out man!

    Back in my day, sprays in CS were little doodles you made up yourself in MSPaint to try and offend one specific friend at the LAN party. Sorry, Scott!

    I relate to this a lot, though haven't quite stuck to it as stringently. I think my first microtransactiony thing I went for was with Elite Dangerous. Since it's online-based and I grabbed the lifetime expansion pass, I don't have to pay anything more and keep getting all the updates, there's no subscription fees, etc, so I don't mind tossing a few bucks in the hat every now and then because the devs have been doing a pretty band-up job.

    Otherwise though, I'm firmly stuck in the same old world of games. You buy them, they're yours forever. I have an oversized games collection, I love cracking out old titles to play whether they were ones I had as a kid or more recent acquisitions of things I missed back in the day. And they just work, no need to worry about the fact that the company that put it out doesn't exist any more or anything like that. The idea that I won't be able to do that in the future doesn't sit right with me (not to mention how easy it was to lose all your digital stuff when it comes to Nintendo games). So that's how I treat games. If the DLC comes in physical form that I can reliably use later down the track, then I'll get it. Otherwise it doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned (although when the promos come up that give you a free code for it, I'll redeem those. Even if I haven't used Mewtwo or even played Mario Kart 8 since it came out let alone that DLC pack I got at the end of Club Nintendo).

    Just release the game in a complete form and I'll be happy.

    Can l suggest something? Can we just never use the word DLC again. It's too broad; it can mean whole downloaded games, season passes, expansion packs, customization packs or microtransactions. In order to understand what we are talking about we need to specific in what content we are refering to.

    I've only ever bought one bit of DLC - the season pass for Fallout 4. Am considering the Season Pass for The Witcher 3 too.

    The problem I have with it is that they don't reduce the cost of the DLC over time. Fallout 4 for instance, I've seen the base game for $35 in EB or JB, yet the season pass is $80!

    I kind of see paid DLC as a good and a bad thing. Games like Fallout 4, the DLC adds a lot to the game, but it also fractures the players. I'm a big fan of the series but if you're not, or a late comer, you would buy the base game for $35 and object on principle to spending $80 for the expansions, yet you are missing out on some great content that arguably should be included in the base game from the start.

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