Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is Online Multiplayer FPS Even Possible? A critique of microtransaction gaming.

PennyArcade did a story trying to say free to play models could work. I feel the PennyArcade video is too positive on the subject of micro-transactions- it's still trying to say, this could work for players, when everything indicates it cannot.

If it is about giving players the opportunity to try games, there are other ways to give players the opportunity to try before they buy. Steam runs free-weekends on games regularly.

The Penny Arcade story seems to assume that the choice is between microtransactions and purchasing $60 game. I do not recall the last time I paid more than $40 for a game, but it was a long long time ago. It is true that I am not an early adopter of games and wait until they go on sale. Even so, most games I buy cost around $20 or less these days. In some cases, I have been able to purchase new games for the cost of microtransactions. BFBC2 was selling for $6.88 during last year's Steam sales.

It is not clear that PvP online gaming is actually possible, much less PvP microtransactional gaming.

PvP gaming requires a certain amount of “self-moderation” on the part of the players, something which players have not consistently demonstrated. BF:H's data suggests 19% of players believed it was okay to pay for a weapons advantage. This means nearly one in five players believe it is okay to pay to win and upset basic game play parity.

Even in games which have a foundation for a level playing field, like CS:S, players often encounter gaming environments in which all kinds of “advantages” are bought and sold. In some server environments, players can purchase the option to choose their team (making team stacking possible), or purchase purchase the ability to use additional unlocks or weapons.

Ask yourself as a player how often you encounter someone using a hack. I find it to be a fairly common occurrence.

The gaming companies do very little about the people that sell hacks. Seeking legal remedies is a costly uncertain process and companies do not seem inclined to continue to invest in pursuing these options. Instead they leave the players (most of whom are honest) at the mercy of the aimbotters. Worse yet, despite almost no benefit from the so-called anti-cheat software, legitimate players find their systems slowed by invasive scans. If technical solutions to this problem existed, they would have been developed by now. It requires a more evolved player base than the one we have. Again, the vast majority of players are honest, legitimate players, but enough players are dishonest to make regular PvP online play a bit out of reach. I have maintained that only an ethical solution is likely to solve these problems.

In many online PvP games, there is a huge amount of negativity in server environments. There are griefers who try to disrupt game play through things such as team killing or mic spamming. Many of the “self-proclaimed” leet players make new players feel unwelcome while they are trying to learn the game. Free to play does not make the gaming environment better. Many games have players which exchange insults of free-loading and paying to win.

Microtransactional gaming did nothing to improve game balance either. Adding the possibility that players can openly purchase game advantages makes gameplay worse. Even if you provide free-to-play players with the ability to earn what can be purchased, if the free-to-play player must grind endlessly to get to the same place, you end up creating new problems- like idlers.

Free to play is marketing newspeak. There have been truly free games before the microtransaction model came forward. RTCW:ET is an example of a truly free to play game. Pay to win, however, would not do as a model so the phrase Free to play was created. As implemented it has been Pay to win and it is a disservice to continue to use the term free to play.

For all the people cheerleading free to play models, ask yourself, have we even reached the point where traditional online PvP play is actually possible? I can play ten years worth of PvP FPS titles and encounter the same problems on all of them. Pay to win microtransactional gaming seems only to have introduced a handful of new problems to go with the old problems.

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