The question of microtransactions has sounded (to me, anyway) a bit like this: A way for the video game industry to
monetize everything turn a profit and recoup loss due to piracy, or big fat middle finger to gamers everywhere?
Along with other types of downloadable content and various forms of DRM, microtransactions are something developers and publishers have been toying with increasingly over the past few years. In the mobile market, microtransactions are fairly ubiquitous, but in the console and PC markets they’re a bit more controversial. The idea is that you pay for extras. The reality some gamers (okay, this gamer, but I’m betting I’m not the only one) experience is much more annoying than that – an intrusive hounding for your credit card information even though you don’t have to pay if you don’t want more content.
Some companies, like Zynga, have practically been built around the idea of microtransactions. Others, like EA, have started toying with them on a broad scale. It introduced them into Dead Space 3 to the ire of many. Others companies are more wary of them.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a game that is ripe for integrating microtransactions. It’s full of collectibles, customizable items, and all manner of pointless (but delightful) dissipations. It’s a game about all kinds of things that are completely unnecessary, but fun to do just ’cause. I’ve been playing it since its release in North America and last week it struck me, as I was paying with fake game money for a new bridge in town, that I’ve only had to open my real wallet once for this game.
Funny that Nintendo, a company that lost money last year, would not jump all over microtransactions in a big title, isn’t it?
Except that Animal Crossing, which only asks you to pay for it once, quadrupled US sales of the 3DS in the week of its release, has sold over 4 million copies in Japan alone, and is the biggest seller on the Nintendo eShop thus far.
Now, I’m not trying to lionize Nintendo here. Recently they’ve pulled some “dick moves” (as the kids say these days), and they have made noise about possibly maybe someday introducing microtransactions into a future potential Animal Crossing game, maybe. In fact, Nintendo will be dabbling with the free-to-play idea with Steel Diver – though I would hardly call that a ringing endorsement of the free-to-play model, given the relative obscurity of the game compared to Nintendo’s many core properties. But I digress.
When a company’s CEO holds the opinion that microtransactions may “increase short-term profits” but do not “build a long-term relationship with customers,” it’s nice – from the point of view of one of those customers, who just happens to hold the same opinion – to see that played out well in the real world. To see the company rewarded handsomely with Animal Crossing‘s sales (again, this is a game that is fertile ground for microtransactions), and vicariously through the sales of its hardware, suggests that asking customers to pay for extras may not be the only, or best, way to make money off them – off the extras, or off the consumers.
There’s been much talk, especially since E3 2013, about pro- and anti-consumer practices in the gaming world. In that time, I’ve been holed up in a fake town with talking squirrels and a turtle named Kapp’n who gets a little uncomfortably close sometimes. I haven’t once felt incentivized, nothing’s been monetized – I’ve been free from corporate jargon and intrusion to dissociate happily from the all-too-monetized and incentivized real world. It’s been nice to feel that, once I put my money down, I’m free to play all I want.