ForumsWEPRThe Ethics of Microtransactions

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Moegreche
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Moegreche
3,611 posts
Duke

I feel like we haven't had a proper philosophy discussion in a while, and something came up recently. In particular: The King of Towers.

The game, I feel, is pretty poorly put together. But that's not my complaint. As I was playing around, I noticed there were these 'VIP tiers' that you could traverse by spending in-game premium currency (diamonds or gems or whatever). Each tier would confer benefits like reduced cooldown times, faster energy gain, etc. The more diamonds you spent, the higher tier you would get.

Now, all this is fine to me, personally. Since the game is free, I think it's reasonable to encourage players to spend a few bucks on the game so they can get more enjoyment out it. That seems fair.

Here's the issue I have. The highest VIP tier is called VIP 9, which needs 100,000 VIP points to reach. That means spending 100,000 diamonds to get there (each diamond spent confers 1 VIP point).

So is 100,000 diamonds a lot? Yes... yes it is. The standard (i.e. non-discounted) purchases for diamonds are ridiculous. If you wanted to reach the 100,000 VIP mark, you should buy the package with 2,600 diamonds in it (since it gets you 30% more free). If you divide 100,000 by 2,600 you get about 38.4.

I'm sure there are some free ways to get diamonds here and there, so let's just round that down to 35. That's 35 packs of 2,600 diamonds. The issue is that the 2,600 diamond pack costs $200 USD. That's right--200 dollars. And for just 1 pack! You'd need (conservatively) 35 of these packs to reach VIP 9 bringing your total to $7,000 USD.

This is staggering and upsetting to think you could spend $7,000 on a game. And I want to argue that it's immoral to even have this as an option.

Now, you might say that it's your money and you can spend it on whatever stupid thing you like. You could buy a motorcycle and jump it off a waterfall if you wanted. And I totally agree that you're well within your right to do that.

This is where the conflict for me arises. While I think that an individual who spends $7,000 on some MMO is kind of an idiot, I don't think they're necessarily doing anything immoral. Like I said, it's their money.

Instead, the point I want to make is that the game itself should not make this option available. That's where the immorality lies. By giving people this option, they are allowing individuals to throw away large sums of money. And just about anything else they could spend it on would be money better spent.

So here's my question: are games like this that allows users to blow thousands of dollars doing something immoral? Are they taking advantage of people? Or is this just a business model that I'm upset about for no reason?

N.B. You might have noticed that I don't actually have an argument here for the conclusion that these practices are immoral. That's partly by design and partly because my reaction has been more emotional than logical. Plus, I'd like to hear you guys' thoughts on this kind of activity.

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101moses101
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101moses101
13 posts
Farmer

One could make the argument that there is no difference between spending $7k on any of these games and on cable TV. After all many of these games are up for years so that $7k may have been spent over the course of the game. Someone spending $200/mth on cable TV would rack up that same $7k in 3 yrs. And at the end of the day both have provided the user the same effect; entertainment, distraction, etc.

Now do I think people should spend $7k on any of the games OR cable TV...not really but I'm not sure the devs are being immoral. The players might just spend that same $7k without even getting a bonus from a VIP level unless you want all money options removed from the games (even a limit could be circumvented with multiple accts).

kalisenpai
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kalisenpai
1,471 posts
Lady

Well, with this game, I always had the opinion that it's like gambling. So, it's not inmoral that devs ask for money, but that they put it in a way that makes it addictive. I do think that's the problem: you'll start buying a couple of diamonds and end up spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, just because the game become more and more attractive.
This is why I really don't like this game. I've been near some cases of ludopathy and it's really horrible, especially when I come to think that this is a web were kids or teens can come freely and play whatever they want to (which, generally, is great). But, imagine if a 7-year-old starts playing KOT and gets the announcements when they say something like "if you spend X$, you'd get these tons of things!!!". Here it where it lies the moral issue: maybe AG should prevent minors to play these games or the game itself should only let adults play, I don't know. The thing is that, I honestly don't think that these pay-to-win (or almost) games should be so easy to play by people (children/teens/whatever) that might have a higher chance to become addicts due to this gambling/paying issue.

HahiHa
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HahiHa
7,793 posts
Viceroy

200$ for a single pack is crazy overpriced. You could buy 2-3 triple-A games with that, or a bucket-load of indie titles. I'd expect you'd get way more entertainment from that, too.

But of course the problem is that games like KoT appeal particularly to people who play these games during office breaks or whatever, and who might not have time to play longer sessions on a console or PC. So they spend their money thusly.

It's a similar principle as business models from mobile games like Candy Crush. It's essentially turning a free-to-play game into near-compulsive pay-to-win, as the progression system is directly tied in with those purchases. While I don't think that microtransactions are necessarily always immoral, this kind of predatory, exploiting business model kind of is.

You also don't actually get anything particularly new or different from those transactions, either, at least as far as I understood this. If at least you'd get a lot of new content or new gameplay mechanics, you could say you were actually paying for something, but with this, all you do is paying to advance a bit faster. Hence why I think 101moses101's cable TV analogy isn't entirely fitting.

nichodemus
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nichodemus
14,880 posts
Viceroy

Not immoral for adults, but perhaps because games are also meant for kids who are unaware of the cost...I have seen news stories about young children who accidentally spent thousands on their parents' credit cards without realising. That seems manipulative to me as it preys on their ignorance.

Doombreed
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Doombreed
6,819 posts
Justiciar

for me all sorts of micro-transactions are stupid, the very concept of it, because everything is utterly overpriced. Like Ha said, they don't add anything new and depending on the game, they can cost as much as a full price game or expansion pack or absurdly more. I've only ever indulged in a micro-transaction once, in a free to play game, with a one time offer that costed less than 5 Euros just to support the devs (and because that was a pretty good offer, hence being one time)

So all in all, it is a policy that relies on people's addiction for the game. I don't think it's an ok thing at all. Especially for some games of this site because nothing prevents the kids from joining and getting accustomed to the thought that it's an ok thing to charge for, even if they can't spend the money on the game themselves. But then again, there are so many things that are not ok to charge money for, that one more doesn't make a huge difference in the grand scope for me.

Yellowcat
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Yellowcat
2,111 posts
Constable

I'm going to talk about DLC also here, hope it fits.
Paradox Interactive has a particularly expensive dlc system. EU4, for example, costs over $200 to buy all the dlc. 4 of the dlc's are generally agreed on by the community as necessary to play. After you buy the $60 'full game' you need to spend hundreds of dollars to make in playable, not and more to make it enjoyable. HOI4 also has this problem. They released the game with very few custom focus trees. All the dlc's have been adding them, bit by bit. To get a full game, you need to spend hundreds of dollars on these focus trees to make countries interesting to play, for or against. And now, instead of making new focus trees for countries that have the generic one, the newest expansion, Waking the Tiger, instead just remakes current custom focus trees. This does not add any actual gameplay to the game, just brings Paradox more dlc sales. This isn't even mentioning the unit and sound packs that you can buy.

HahiHa
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HahiHa
7,793 posts
Viceroy

I have since seen one or two videos about the price of making video games, see for example this video [link] from Youtube channel Extra Credits. I can understand why game developer studios are trying to find a way to finance AAA game titles while keeping the price at a level where people would still buy it. The problem really lies in the way how this is performed. Take DLCs for example; I think most people are fine with DLCs in principle, but not if the devs keep spouting out DLCs that each cost almost as much as the base game; or if you actually need the DLC to complete it; or in the case of day-one DLCs. Same could likely be said about microtransactions: there's a way to implement those such that most people are fine with it, like Rare is trying to do in Sea of Thieves (selling objects that are purely cosmetic), and then there's the way KoT is doing it, by making it pay-to-win and putting as many paywalls and countdowns in the game as they can to coerce you into buying their stuff.

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