Middle Earth : Shadow Of War has had one of the brilliant trailers of all time. When you actually defend the soldiers in Mordor with the help of an Orc army who has been converted by the White One. Well, it turns out that the game, though singleplayer, would eventually have microtransactions in the form of loot chests, war chests, XP boosts and bundles containing multiple items from the list. This has raised a lot of hue and cry in the community with allegations of pay to win, mostly because of the fact that the paying folk get to have an advantage in the game over people who aren’t paying for the extra loot boxes and stuff.
Microtransactions are an age-old concept introduced mostly to mobile gaming in order to extract money from the players, before players turned intelligent and used hacks and exploits to find their way out. Numerous bans could not stop the fact that a paying guy would definitely get an advantage, and that’s wrong. However, most mobile games being free, the developers needed money from other sources, which are the microtransactions. A meticulous balance was needed between the interests of the players and the developers,and the debate rages till date – where is that balance? Even in many games that eventually made it to the PC, the question remained – what should be the ideal pricing of stuff in-game and in real world money so that no player – beginners, veterans, or midrange players (who are in-between the beginners and the veterans) have no problems playing it.
The problem is when microtransactions really start happening in games that shouldn’t be. AAA games that already have a $60 price tag implementing microtransactions, so that players can get ahead of others and finish the game sooner. Implementations of microtransactions have been done in various ways, and neither of them are justified. When the developers are charging $60 for a title, it ought to have all stuff in it beforehand, and allow everyone to access all the content without any form of artificial boundaries which can only be breached by people paying extra. In recent years, this practice is synonymous with the frequent release of DLC (or downloadable content), which adds value to the game, at a cost. While the concept of DLC itself is revolting, it is sometimes understandable that extra content might be delivered in order to maintain an interest in the title, in order to get back old players, or offer a bundle for newer players in order to offer extra content at a slightly higher price (such value for money!) The thing really becomes uninteresting when players need to buy 100 or more DLCs in order to have a fraction of the fun that the game offers. That’s just a bad business tactic for ramping up money. It’s like a customer going to a retail Pizza chain, ordering pizza only to see that the bread is served – he has to add extra money to get the toppings, cheese, spices, sauces and whatnot. Any customer will immediately take a dislike to the chain, and recommend against it to people whom they know.
The question really is – are loot boxes really different from DLCs? If so, how? the answer is simply – when you pay for a DLC, you are guaranteed to get some content which is listed down by the developers. But when you buy loot boxes, it all balls down to how kind your RNGesus was that day – in other words, you are not guaranteed anything “good” from the lootboxes (though the definition of “good” itself is subjective). You’ll be getting loot boxes – and some stuff when you open it, but you do not have any control over what they can be. Either you get good drops, or completely bad stuff which barely help extend the hours spent in the game. So technically, lootboxes are a much worse implementation of microtransactions, because it is a gamble with no ‘guaranteed positive’ results (Atleast in DLCs, you get the content you were promised when you paid).
However, before actively hating any form of loot box system or any game of chance of microtransactions in video games, one must be careful to notice their effect in-game. Do the loot boxes give players who paid extra through microtransactions some advantage? Or is it purely gimmicky? In games like Counter Strike : Global Offensive, DOTA 2, and Overwatch, a cosmetic system has been in place, which alters the look of in-game assets (be they guns, body skins, clothes, outfits, knives, etc) However, games like Hearthstone and Gwent have a loot box system which actually affects your performance in game (which means that one who pays more, progresses much faster).
In Middle Earth : Shadow Of War, the microtransactions grant extra XP and abilities for Talion, or special Orcs that help his army march and take over the Dark Forces of Mordor, as well as cosmetic looks and many other stuff. Technically, the same can be earned over time by farming an in-game resource called Mirian, in many ways including killing Treasure Orcs, finding Miriran stashes, destroying gear , and destroying Orc followers. While paying customers certainly have an advantage, there is nothing in the game that cannot be acquired free of cost (not counting the $60 you paid for the game). That negates the criticism of more than a fraction of the people, who simply jumped the hate train against Monolith without solid reasons of their own.
There are quite a few who dislike the fact that paying customers get to skip to the end quicker than other people. Shadow Of War being a primarily singleplayer title, with little multiplayer activity (except the part where you get to assault an enemy player’s bases). The game does grant a significant advantage to those paying for a better army, but everything can be acquired by grinding with a little amount of patience. Also, in an era where people own hundreds to thousands of video games on their Steam accounts with a few casual hours docked away only in a few games, with the majority of the game not being played at all, developers looking to expand hours in a game seems quite natural, as it increases the chances that players actually recommend it to others, leading to more sales and a growing player base which is craved by any developer.
It is a highly competitive environment, and companies, including game developers and publishers have to try every trick in the bucket to stay alive and floating. Microtransactions in a singleplayer game does leave a bad taste in the mouth for potential buyers, and should be criticized. However, whining that microtransactions lead to your repeated failures while attacking enemy fortresses online, or your repeated failures while attempting a mission signals that your approach isn’t really correct, and you need an alternate strategy to do the work. Moreover, the prices of loot boxes and war chests and other in-game items in Mirian (or thein-game currency) haven’t been announced yet, and it makes sense to wait for them before coming to a conclusion.
Despite an eager approach, the thoughts itself on the question are mixed this time. While it is true that grinding helps people acquire equipment and Orcs, and one needs not spend any money to acquire a sizeable fortress, the idea of introducing microtransactions in a game that costs a full amount of $60 just for giving players the sake of superiority in a virtual environment, with a semi-online mode like Watch Dogs or Metal Gear Solid 5 where a player can invade another player’s session at will and attack their fortress. Any losses in the ranks can be filled again by branding new Orcs for the army, but upgrading them through battle for the semi-online mode is also necessary, which also helps one boost the hours in the game, helping one spend quality time on the title. This also means that grinding slowly means the game would feel like a pain rather than fun, forcing players to open their wallet for more hours, or simply quit it altogether. (It would be good to know whether one can play offline without any consequences like these – an offline mode for the game hasn’t been confirmed yet).