As some of you might know, I’m an extremely huge fan of S4 League, an awesome game that does so many things right… and yet so many things wrong. Probably one of the biggest of these things is its system of microtransactions, which players can use to get Alaplaya Points, or AP, which is used in the ingame shop to buy special items with higher stats than what normal players can get without spending their real money.
If that sounds wrong to you already, congratulations, I’ll buy you a drink sometime. If not, well, then at least read on before you get mad at me.
I’d like to suggest three ways of going about microtransactions, from the wrong way to the right way and somewhere in between.
3. The Wrong Way
More powerful items / Game breaking buffs
Unfortunately, this is the system that S4 League would fall under. Players that buy AP are considerably stronger than players that play totally free. Estimates of overall damage increases place players using a full forcepack set at dealing ~150% more damage than a player playing with a minimal amount of items and ~110% more than a player using only the ingame currency.
Don’t believe me? There is science to this!
One shot kills are a lot more frequent than they really oughta be when playing against AP/FP players, and that only focuses on their differences in damage and defense. They also receive buffs in EXP, so they rank up quicker, receive more PEN at the end of the match to horde, and most importantly are noticeably faster than pure PEN players, a massive advantage in the Touchdown gamemode. With that speed, they have more HP and SP, being able to soak up more damage and run further than others.
2. In The Middle
Buying normally obtainable items faster
Not quite good, but neither bad by any means, is the idea of using real life money to purchase ingame items more quickly than you would playing for free.
One of the best examples of this is by far the recently released PlanetSide 2. While free to play, Sony Online Entertainment has set up a very clever microtransaction system.
While playing, players will normally earn “Certification Points” by doing things like helping in an assault of a base or defending, things like that. Certification Points, or Certs, are used to buy weapons and upgrades in the game for your characters. However, the costs of items are frankly a little silly. To put it like so: A normal player of moderate skill (eg. Ye Olde Shampoop) will usually earn about 15-20 Certs within an hour or so. Weapon modifications (Scopes, sights, etc.) are 30 Certs, while player stat upgrades are in a scale of 1, 3, 5, 10, etc. Individual weapons cost from 500-1000 Certs. Do a little math, and that means that about 25 hours’ worth of gametime would be needed by me in order to buy my cute burstfire pistol. Of course, there are people who are crazy good and can earn hundreds of Certs in a single game session, but where does that leave the rest of us? You can’t expect to appeal only to the best of the best, right?
Thus, SOE has the “Station Cash,” or SC, shop system. SC can be used to immediately buy an item at fairly reasonable rates, with most weapons costing about 250SC, equivalent to USD$2.50. There are also items that purely cosmetic available for purchase with SC, which is a very good idea that I personally feel S4 League should adopt (Look at that guy’s outfit in the video up there and tell me it’s not cool!).
This system allows for SOE to pull in revenue without totally upsetting the balance of the game. While it’s a little frustrating to be unable to buy nice guns quickly, I can still buy them at one point or another, and even then, the starter weapons are also really good to begin with.
1. The Right Way
Cosmetic items and direct purchase of normally random items
Team Fortress 2
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Valve got it right with everyone’s favorite hat-wearing simulator. If you’ve been dead to the world for the past, oh, year and a half, you’d know that Valve’s class based shooter Team Fortress 2 is now a free to play game. The reasoning for this is simple:
- Valve had already made an assload of money from when the game was originally sold
- The Mann Co. item shop promised further easy money for Gabe’s money baths
TF2′s Mann Co. shop, rather than using a cutesy alternative currency that is bought in microtransactions, has players directly buying the items that they want. Yes, there’s no denying it, you’re paying two dollars for a fancy sniper rifle in an online shooter. And that’s okay! Because items in TF2 are normally obtained through random drops, so really you’re just speeding things up. While somewhat similar to PS2′s Station Cash, players will still be on more or less equal footing. For that matter, most of the items in TF2 are just for aesthetic purposes (HATS), and the ones that offer actual benefits are usually pretty common, and the benefits will rarely do much beyond helping a player’s own playstyle.
Personally speaking, I probably wouldn’t even buy a fancy weapon. No, I’d buy the item that lets me high-five my teammates HELL YEAH
However, it’s important to recognize why each of these schemes are in use where they are. Allow me to offer some statistics: S4 League usually gets between 3000-4000 players online daily. PlanetSide 2 has anywhere between 10 and 20 thousand players online in a a given day. And Team Fortress 2? 50,000 players daily, taking a slice of the cake as the second most played Steam game under DOTA2, which doesn’t count since it’s basically free.
Do you see the pattern? TF2 can afford to have such miniscule microtransactions (haha!) because they have so many players willing to give them money anyway. On the other end, S4 League’s relatively tiny playerbase would therefore have proportionally less players willing to hand over their cash, so Alaplaya has to provide them more incentive to buy AP. It’s an unfortunate truth, but that’s just the glory of capitalism for ya. Game companies need money, and they’ll get it one way or another. Whether the players really agree about it is, sadly, not really a concern of theirs. And there’s nothing that can be done about it. Team Fortress 2 will always be huge, and S4 League probably will always be relatively tiny. The only thing we can do as players? We need to continue to support the games we play, and hope that one day, this controversial issue of microtransactions will reach a single definite conclusion to satisfy developers, publishers, and players alike.