Something that I found disappointing about this discussion that hasn’t yet been discussed* is about the wider causes of microtransations in games. I think Waypoint could have used this to put a greater emphasis on the fact that issues with DLC, microtransactions, pre-orders, special editions, etc… come from an industry trying to catch up in revenue where the costs of making games has increased.
As fidelity of games has increased drastically, the cost to produce assets has sky-rocketed: the expertise required, the number of employees needed, and time to produce work have all increased. Simultaneously, the release environmennt is the most competitive it has ever been. While the overall pool of players is higher, the number of released games has increased at a faster rate (especially when including indie games). The rotation of a games’ relevancy is quicker than ever so they need to amass support early to succeed (even though many games make most of their money through the “long tail” now). This is only heightened further with the desparation of physical retail emphasizing pre-owned sales, and Steam Sales creating an entire platform of players who wait for massive price-drops before buying.
The traditional industry also lacks the ability to reasonably halt this cost inflation. For so long the advertising hype machine has focused on future titles being graphically more impressive, bigger experiences than their predecessors. Sequels that don’t at least equal their predecessor on content are often decryed for being worse (even if the developers have data to prove that the content/modes dropped weren’t used by the majority of players). The industry has written itself into a hole where they have to keep improving, and their solution is to take greater risks with the potential for greater rewards.
At the same time, the working conditions of those within the industry is finally beginning to improve (not least because developers have more agency to start their own independent studios and obtain better deals through funding). This is still early, and is absolutely positive for workers, but it will cause the cost of developing games to increase again… especially if developers finally get paid fairly for their expertise (similarly to such jobs in adjacent tech industries) and Crunch/Overtime becomes less prevalant as it’s seen as a deplorable or poor management.
Microtransactions are one way publishers are not only off-setting the cost of servicing games, but reducing the risk of future titles. If the numbers of players for each release isn’t increasing consistently, publishers are learning to (on average) get more money per player than before. Most importantly, they’re trying to do this without blataantly increasing the up-front cost of games.
With the number of indiependent studios popping up, and the size of relatively new publishers increasing (like Devolver Digital, Deep Silver, Iron Galaxy etc…), I think the future big players in the industry are having to learn fairly early how to structure themselves to not end up in the same situation. Right now though, the industry is going through a painful transition and trying to avoid another crash by off-setting that cost on the player-base. I’m sure many see these tactics as innocuous and only affecting the wealthier players. However, I hope soon they realise how some of these tactics also prey on children, gambling-addictive people, and their most loyal fanbases who feel an urge to experience everything. I hope those in the traditional industries don’t see this as a long-term fix (because I don’t think it will last that long).
*Although there’s been some great comments already on the Gambling and whether it’s okay to heavily criticise them while partaking.