In an unsurprising turn of events, Fallout 76 has given its few remaining players a new disappointment to roll their eyes at. This time, a fridge that costs approximately £5.50 in real money. Its icy reception brings up a frequent debate in gaming: when are microtransactions appropriate?
Before Fallout 76 was released in 2018, Bethesda spokesman Pete Hines assured fans that ‘all the content we ever put out for Fallout 76 – all the DLC, all the post-launch stuff – is going to be free,’ with the Atomic Shop only selling ‘cosmetic stuff’. If Bethesda kept to their promise, any items that help players in the game would be earned during quests, disallowing players with more money to have an advantage over players who can’t pay for skill upgrades.
This promise was too good to be true. When their revolutionary game became one of the biggest gaming let-downs, Bethesda needed to find a way to make up for the falling price. To add a fridge to their C.A.M.P, players must fork out 700 atoms, an in-game currency that can be earned through completing challenges or bought using real money. The fridge aids the player’s survival in the game: food and drink found in the West Virginia wasteland can be stored and lasts longer, helping the player regain health and aiding them in battle. With a 1000 atoms package costing £7.99, the cost of the fridge works out at approximately £5.50.
The other option is to earn the atoms through completing repetitive and, quite frankly, boring challenges such as ‘collect wood’, earning a measly 20 atoms for finding 76 wood scraps in fallen trees and piles. These tasks are grindy and unimaginative, and it would take hours of these to get closer to the 700 atoms needed for a fridge. Ultimately, these perks force the player to remain at a disadvantage, grind for hours, or pay up.
When creating an online multiplayer game, fairness should be a top priority, and this is where Bethesda glitches.
The issue of responsible microtransactions is dominating the gaming industry. DLCs made $15.6 billion USD in 2018, making it the most significant form of game monetisation, taking up 53% of the video game consumer market. This statistic is predicted to continue to grow, becoming worth $19.5 billion in 2020.
These statistics include free-to-play mobile games, which have made up 45% of all games revenue in 2019 so far. It seems that marketing tactics of mobile games have made their way into paid games, with ‘pay-to-win’ mechanisms (paying for skill upgrades that increase your chance of winning) becoming commonplace in games from mainstream developers.
In the case of games such as Fallout 76, incomplete games are bought, then more money is collected through selling ‘downloadable content’ that makes the game less repetitive, such as power-ups and aids as well as cosmetics, which gives those with more money an advantage over those who thought they were buying a complete game.
However, there are times where microtransactions don’t compromise engagement and fun gameplay: Fortnite secured Epic Games a $3 Billion profit despite being a free-to-play game. Microtransactions are embedded in the form of V-Bucks (bought with real money or earned) which are spent on purely cosmetic features such as new skins and emotes, which don’t alter actual skills. Battle passes also allow players to move up the ranks faster, but again, do not give them a skill advantage over other players. The end result is a functioning game that is enjoyable to everyone, but players have the ability to express themselves and customise their experience.
EA franchise The Sims has been using DLCs since its initial release. DLCs are regularly released to accompany the game and add new ways to play. Expansion packs such as ‘Sims 4 Cats and Dogs’ give the ability to create and interact with pets, as well as giving new options for clothes and furniture, and are being sold for £34.99. ‘Stuff’ packs only include more cosmetic options, and are sold for under a tenner. While expansion packs are expensive, they exist to enhance the base game, which is already a complete and playable experience.
Both these examples of microtransactions and DLCs are more ethical ways to include microtransactions, as the player doesn’t feel like they are spending real money on an unfinished game. In online multiplayer games, giving everyone the same gameplay experience is a must – any skill upgrades should be rewards or embedded into the story, keeping a level playing field.
Reddit users suggest that the Fallout fridge should be a reward for completing a quest, giving players something to work towards that’ll help them in future battles. Sure, it’ll give certain players an advantage over fridge-less players, but it also means that anyone can access it without completing menial tasks for hours or filling out their card details.
A big thank you to GamingFeature for their compilation of gaming industry statistics, which can be found here!