EA and Greedium Content: A Line in the Sand

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[toggle title=”Disclaimer”]This is an opinion piece, it is my opinion; if you disagree I would love to hear it. But, in the infamous words of The Dude, “That’s like, your opinion man.” [/toggle]

Greedium content can be described as any Microtransactions or Free to Play model that exists in a full priced, 60$, retail game. It especially apt if the game presses the sale through clever design.

Many of you know about the Free to Play model, microtransactions, put into Dead Space 3. For those that do not; you can now buy, with real money, additional materials to use in the newly introduced weapon crafting system. You can play through the entire game without spending money and it is allegedly only designed to try and please the mobile gamers; coming over from the iOS market I suppose? What you may not also know is that this is not the first time an EA game has been released with microtransaction content shoveled in.

The first time I noticed microtransaction content in a full priced game I was appalled. The gall and brazen hatred of EA’s own customers this simple .99¢ selection represented was enough to drag my already lackluster experience down even further. So, I was already fuming when I heard the news about Dead Space 3’s new “business model” and insisted to everyone (read: ranted on twitter) that this was unacceptable. I was met with a resounding “chill out, bro.” Even in talking with my fellow members of the LevelSave crew about this Greedium, I was beginning to think I was crazy.

Yeah, I do not have to buy the items that are available, that much is true. Maybe I was just morphing into the cliched Angry Videogame Nerd, mad without context or a point. But as I thought more and more about it I came to think that; no, I can, and should, be angry about this. An overreaching business model that squeezes an already strapped audience for a couple more pennies is deplorable. It has no place in the gaming industry and only serves towards the destruction of it.

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And before you even start telling me, yet again that “I don’t have to buy it” let me tell you why that is more short sighted than a bat. Visceral did not design the new weapon crafting system and then think “You know what would work great in here, microtransactions!” No, what more likely happened is that a mandate came from EA that every game had to have some sort of system that allowed, or promoted, . 99 cent collection. The microtransaction see was rooted deep in the core of the crafting system and refined to the point where you could say things like, “You don’t have to buy it.”

So if it was there from the very beginning then how could situations not be developed where purchasing a couple extra parts is incentivized? You do not have to buy them, sure, but I do not have to buy Smurfberries in the iOS game Smurfs either. But then we arrive at the crossroads of “what is more valuable” a dollar and my dignity, or my time? Obviously my time is important because I would not spend 60$ on a game I was not sure I would enjoy in some way.

It is not only Dead Space, and not simply having microtransactions that should kindle your nerd rage. It is what the microtransactions represent and the potential implications they could have on the gaming industry. How long until PR is no longer tripping over themselves to tell us that “we don’t have to buy it” when it is clearly pushed upon us? When will buying a few dollars for smaller items in your 60$ game become standard fare? When will publishers start releasing “no grinding” packs on XBL or PSN that guarantee you will not have to farm for supplies? Extreme possibilities for a certainty, but if left unchecked this is the possible Neo-New York future we are careening towards. Full of .99¢ transactions that allow you to dance with your collector’s edition neon lined robot legs. Don’t believe this can happen? Let us take a look at a game that was much less “careful” about its own microtransactions.

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SSX, the Deadly Descents version, featured a new credit system that powered everything in the game. You bought boards with credits, won credits in events, and even used them to enter into special races. The system itself was tranquil enough and worked without many problems, at least enough to not illicit any complaints; that is, until you mixed in the loot system designed for the boards. Before every match a random allotment of boards, and sometimes gear, with their own unique stats and bonuses would be available for purchase. Sometimes super rare boards with astounding stats would pop up, usually with a timer attributed to them. In my own experience the counter was pointless because even if I blazed through a track, the timed sale would no longer be there regardless of how much time was actually left. But you could, if you wanted, purchase a few thousand credits for a dollar or two. The new loot and micromanagement options were placed on the same screen, extra convenient if you were just a few shy of an amazing new piece of gear.

Obviously I could earn some more credits and hope to see another epic board on another track, but there is a catch there too. Earning enough credits to buy one of these boards in the single player game is nigh impossible. The more expedient way to accomplish this task is to enter into one of the special events on the globe. The way these work is that you pay a certain amount of credits, which are placed into the event pot, to participate in a worldwide race or trick session and try to rack up the best score possible. You can try over and over again until you are happy with you placement and, once the event timer ends, will be given a lump sum of credits based on your score in relation to every other player.

The problem is that most players that enter in their credits fail to even hit the required rank to break even. These runs also usually feature some extra requirement, artificially enhancing the difficulty to such a degree that even seasoned SSX players could have trouble reaching a middling rank. So you are broke now, you have wasted the past hour doing a run over and over, and you know that epic headlamp is coming; what do you do? Well you have two options, grind in the single player for more credits, or you can join the free world events. But if you thought the pay events were hard, just wait until you try and beat the average score of nearly every SSX player. You are not going to do it on your first, your second, or even your fifth try. So grind here, grind there, it does not really matter, your time is now being wasted doing the same tedious runs just one more time, that is, unless you pay a little more money to save some of your own time.

It is expertly balanced to create inconvenience for beginner players, who will never rank in the world events because their gear can not match the high level players. And to also send the higher level players into time wasting credit runs. With the ability to circumvent what would normally be accepted game mechanics, EA has effectively put a price tag to my time. If the microtransactions were not offered, then grinding for credits might just be considered part of the game, but as they are, it is hard not to see the credit runs as anything more than a barrier to the new shiny loot, and the increase in playability that comes with that loot.

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So forgive me, after that experience, if I am immediately put off on the idea of Greedium being placed into another of my favorite franchises. I also do not use that term without cause, I have 100% completed a minimum of one character in SSX 1, 2, and 3. The same goes for the Dead Space series of which I have played every game, including Ignition, watched every movie, and am currently reading the first book. When I get into a series, I get into it with fiery fervor. Which also means that when something goes wrong, I respond with the same fire.

Of course, if I can bring an example of microtransactions being done poorly, or masterfully depending on your perspective. Then I should also bring up an example of it being done properly, Mass Effect 3.

Originally I looked at this game with the same disdain of SSX. Unlike SSX however I have never had a special connection with the Mass Effect series. So when multiplayer was announced, an obvious attempt to stifle used games, and microtransactions were revealed within that mode, I just saw it as yet another reason not to purchase the game. It appeared especially skeezy when you consider that the way you acquired new items, buying random card packs with credits or cold hard cash, is straight-up illegal in Japan.

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All the same arguments for and against this Greedium model could be made for Mass Effect 3. But there is one thing that separates it from the disgusting pickpocketing that defines Greedium, continued support. While the single player of Mass Effect received a free epilogue, it is the multiplayer that has really sucked down the new content, freely as well.

Originally there were new packs of DLC including new maps, characters, guns, enemies, and powers being released on a schedule. Recently however the new items have become less standardized are are released seemingly on a whim. Why has this happened? As far as I can surmise there are two reasons. The first is that people are continuing to play the game well beyond its release date, members of our own team play it almost nightly still. The other, and more important reason, is because it is excessively lucrative.

With a level of balance, and gameplay, not present in SSX, Mass Effect 3 shines as an example of how to do Greedium right. What better way to keep people in your game than to offer free content. And if a few thousand players spend a couple of their own dollars in the interim, then it was worth it. I will not spend 15$ on a new map pack for Call of Duty, much less Mass Effect, but if a fun game continues to see new content, virtually for free, I am much more inclined to throw a couple bucks their way. I am more than happy to support a game I love.

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However, this is only one good example and it is based entirely on the multiplayer aspect of a game, not the single player heavy world of a game such as Dead Space. Are we going to see more content for Dead Space 3 released because it keeps people playing? And if we do, which is doubtful, how much of that content will lend itself to grinding Necromorph corpses for spare parts? It is one thing to play a multiplayer game designed to have extreme depth and complexity based on classes and skills. It is a completely different thing to play the same section in a survival horror game over and over, even with a friend, just to get that shiny new part. However, the idea of having more Dead Space content for free sure is intriguing. I rather enjoyed Severed and could go for another helping of that.

Looking back to last year, Peter Moore, EA’s Chief Operating Officer said this to Kotaku about the FTP model:

 I think, ultimately, those Microtransactions will be in every game, but the game itself or the access to the game will be free.

I think there’s an inevitability that happens five years from now, 10 years from now, that, let’s call it the client, to use the term, [is free.] It is no different than… it’s free to me to walk into The Gap in my local shopping mall. They don’t charge me to walk in there. I can walk into The Gap, enjoy the music, look at the jeans and what have you, but if I want to buy something I have to pay for it.

Currently though it still costs 60$ to enter that “Gap.” The potential of having a full retail title release for nothing, and giving me the ability to buy how much I want is both astounding and terrifying. If done properly we could see a “full campaign” for less than 60$ while given the ability to get more side content for a few extra bucks. In a perfect world a player could spend more that 60$ on a title they loved and nothing on something they did not care for. But what game company is going to take that first big step?

As it stands, EA is playing a dangerous game. Even though Greedium seems harmless because of the “you don’t have to” argument, it is foolish to think that it stops there. Supporting this model, meaning the games that fall into the Greedium definition, is only going to ensure that we never see a FTP Dead Space or Mass Effect. Why make the jump to a free model when Greedium continues to work so well? Why change when the market does not force you to? Why consider the customer, when so many others reply to your gall with an apathetic “meh?”

This is why- I will not be supporting EA anymore. If I buy a game of theirs, it will be used, ensuring they do not see a dime. I will not indulge in the online pass and I most certainly will not give in to the Greedium model. I want this Free to Play future and I want it more than I want Dead Space 3. I want the industry to thrive, more than I want SSX. I want to see EA bend to the customer’s wants and desires, more than I wanted a new end to Mass Effect 3. And the only way I can do that is by taking a stand and voting with my wallet.

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Most of you will probably not agree, and that is fine. It is your money and you can spend it as you wish. But I can no longer sit by and let my favorite games fall down this pit of money grubbing debauchery. I would hope that you join me in this cause before it is too late. Before other companies start following suit and diving deeper into more diabolical Greedium schemes. How long until Halo charges for bullets? Want to skip getting a kill streak in Call of Duty and just get a nuke from the beginning? If we as gamers do not take a stand somewhere then these hyperbolic examples are actually very real possibilities. And that, is much worse than missing out on Dead Space 3.

Just a guy that loves games and wants so badly to tell you about them. I have a habit of being a terrible person. Prone to talk about the worst games imaginable. Poke-fan. LBP admirer. RPG lover. Writer. Podcaster. Father. Husband. Student. Tired. @Snickelsox on twitter.
  • IamWeapon

    I still don’t agree with, but you made some good points and maybe I don’t think you’re as crazy as I did before.

  • http://twitter.com/jamespope2 james pope

    To me what we are seeing is capitalism at its finest. This is a very young business model and I don’t know if its fair to say that they’re going to automatically jump to a model that forces players into buying in-game content that they couldn’t unlock normally. I love supporting my favorite devs and if micro-transactions are a way to help keep the studio doors open, then I am all for it.

  • WhosoeverJoe

    If there’s no stuffed bunny shot in Dead Space 3 I’ll be upset now.

  • YousefMyboonda

    Would you rather have $75 games or $60 with microtransactions?

    • WhosoeverJoe

      Both kinda suck. But $60 with microtransactions done right would be best.