Micro Mart

Micro-transactions in a nutshell

Micro-transactions in a nutshell

After a long time of turning up my nose at so called micro-transactions and money gobbling game gubbins, I finally found myself succumbing and despite my determination, I was dismayed to realise that I couldn’t quite turn the valve off once the drip had started.  It wasn’t even the growing wardrobe of choices for irritatingly enforced avatars on Xbox LIVE (which I still resent) that started it all.  It was, of all things, Sims 3.

Now some may argue that DLC for games such as Tomb Raider or Fallout may represent a micro-transaction but that just boils down to a petty argument about what constitutes ‘micro’.  For me, micro is those tiny little ‘just buy/must buys’ that slowly, inexorably, add up.

With the golden goose of micro-transactions nestling very much centre stage, it was only to be expected that with the release of Sims 3 last June, EA would pull out all the stops and produce an online store full of haircuts, knick-knacks, and palatial furniture to appeal to Sims 3 gamers, many of whom would likely be hungry and dissatisfied by the meagre repast offered by the core game (a shrewd but grossly miserly move on EA’s part)…and all for a pretty penny, natch.

King of miniature money black holes...

At first, I had no intention of getting sucked in – after all, hadn’t I scoffed at my other half splashing out actual real-life cash on FarmVille’s pumpkins, haunted mansions, and mystery boxes and that was nothing more than a Facebook game.  Yes.  Hadn’t I rolled my eyes at the Halo costumes, pompoms, and naff clothing spread across the loathsome avatar population of Live?  Yes.  But it got me.  At first, I merely tossed aside the leaflet with my copy of Sims3 which promised a 1000 ‘Sim Points’ for registering my game.  I steadfastly ignored the glossy Sim store ads devouring the Sims launcher panel (in another smart move by EA) every time I loaded the game up.  I merely gritted my teeth at the paltry offerings for hair, clothing, and fun objects littering their ads.

Steampunk is the future...or perhaps the past

All it took though was for the right thing to catch my eye, and sure enough, eventually, it did.  Among all the regular furniture sets and dull clothing for sale, the launcher was suddenly advertising a new Steampunk set.  With brass, cogs, and character by the airship load, the set of odd delights immediately drew me in like Mark Boss to Chobot.  Gorgeous designs, an intricate telescope, and other curiosities were laid out after a hasty mouse click and even the door had a solid, nautical alternative feel worthy of Jules Verne.  I silently cashed in the thousand free points and snapped it up.  That was just the start.

A second Steampunk set sucked me back, along with some alternative-Victorian steampunky clothes and I was faced with a choice…do I deny myself or do I submit – do I break myself and my principles at the boots of the dark master of sly commerce.  I did and the euphoric sub-space I entered was worth it, the rush becoming a need to be fed.  More sets drew me in…I needed more nonsense to clutter up the lives of these hungry Sims who had been denied character by a wily EA.

Another thousand point offer for registering the World Adventures pack came and was spent and with a shock, the dam burst.  A rubber chicken with pulley was purchased for my grudging avatar, as was a Christmas hat and an eye-patch…and then I stopped.  A line needed drawn.  Avatar decorations are worthless anyway, but as far as real game items go, when I totted up what had actually been spent in real money, it would have been close to the retail price of the standard version if I hadn’t used the free point offers.

How did it get to this?  I was offered something for free and took it and was quickly hooked.  It works in any sphere of business, from drugs to dinky nibbles on the bakery counter – a quick taste will have a person sidling back for more and before they realise it, those little amounts which seemed so trivial at the time add up at an alarming rate while the sinister addiction seizes their system.

And it gets better…or should that be worse?  Sim Point cards can now be purchased from places like Amazon just as you would a Microsoft point card and not only that, with the latest Sims 3 game patch, store items can now be purchased in game.  With a simple click in ‘buy mode’, the player is transported to the Sim Store without disruption to make purchases which are instantly downloaded to be used.  The carrot for this particular mechanism was a free coffee machine when you gave it a whirl.  Needless to say, the said machine is now lined neatly up next to the other appliances in my game menu, and my transition to the dark side is complete.

With the latest additions of the Gothique set, (something which tickles my particular twisted tastes), along with a sweetener of a handful of freebies, the EA micro-mart shows no signs of expiring.  Let’s just hope that the battered body of my credit card isn’t found in a comatose heap in the dark, dank alleys of the internet, clutching a gothic chest to its stuttering heart, while an empty Sim Point card lays discarded nearby.

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  1. Pete says:

    I feel dirty now just reading it…… ;)

    Luckily, aside from some bits in Burnout Paradise (bought to try and keep up with a certain dood lol) and the DLC for Trials I’ve managed to avoid this kinda thing pretty well!! My cash flow is tight as it is so I’m kinda glad I’ve stayed away from the lure so far :) Of course, that could all change with the right game/micromart combo! Lord knows what it’d be but I dread the day I get hooked!

    It is kinda cynical of the makers to use those tactics to boost their profits but addiction is a human trait that has been exploited ever since Gug and Gog found a field of prehistoric hemp and realise their clan mates would give them all their shiny rocks and softest furs for a taste!! :D

    One day everything that’s even mildly addictive will become illegal! Then we’ll all be a part of the underground gaming community lol

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Can’t think who you’re talking about when you mention your other half spending money on seemingly useless Farmville doodahs… certainly can’t be ME!? Yeah, I admit it… I was lured in by the promise of an awesome farm and did actually spend genuine pennies on various bits and bobs… but my farm was stunning during it’s HAY day (see what I did there?). I’ve ditched the farm completely now, haven’t even checked it for maybe two months now and can’t think what sort of state it’s in… anorexic looking cows, horses eating the sheep etc.

    Thing is though, I can’t help but admire anyone who creates a free game for an online social networking community and then sells them trinkets for pennies. The mindset is “ah, it’s only 10p for this carousel” and so people buy it. Tens of thousands of people all saying the same thing means thousands of pounds/dollars in their bank account. Introducing gifts where you could send your friends Farmville Cash and trinkets was utter genius.

    Zynga really have their heads screwed on, and if they become multi zillionaires because of it… I’ll be jealous as hell, but I’ll still admire their thinking.

    In terms of DLC though, if it adds a LOT to the gaming experience then I’m all for it. All of the Fallout 3 DLC were damn good to play, even the much maligned Operation Anchorage… I got my Chinese Stealth Armour from that DLC and love looking like a ninja frogman. Point Lookout was incredible value for money in terms of how long it took to get through (if you explore everywhere, of course) and Mothership Zeta was also a considerable length (ooer) although I found it a bit boring for the most part…. also having such advanced weaponry introduced when so many people had likely completed the game just seemed odd to me.

    Fable 2… now that’s DLC which I found to be a waste of money. In reality, the Knothole Island DLC was nothing more than “turn up, go awwwww at how pretty it is, change the weather… rinse…. repeat…. rinse…. repeat… etc etc” and that annoyed me. If it had been a linear quest that took up that amount of time then I’d have loved it, but to keep going around in circles doing the same thing for each different season – pointless.

    Burnout Paradise DLC…. I can sum it up in one word. KITT.

  3. Lee says:

    DLC and mirco transatcions are gonna get far worse this year i think and EA being the machine that it is its going the be mass effect that really hits us hard with shiney new guns and armour and planets and then the bigger DLC. As long as micro transtions fit the game or a need I dont have a problem with them.

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    I can understand DLC stuff because often you know you are getting a chunk of game, such as a level or two, extra maps etc…but with MTs it is so easy to loose track thanks to the tiny amounts involved. I noticed that on the Sims 3 store, you don’t even have to buy the stuff in sets, you can buy individual items and bits, making it easier to rack up a large spend as you ‘just spend a hundred points here or fifty there’…scary stuff. Very smart buiness model though and if I had anything to implement it with, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  5. Kat says:

    It is indeed a slippery slope. I think the first micro thing I bought was Peggles on Burnout but she’s given me so much joy it was totally worth the… 160 points? I’ve only recently caved to the avatar stuff. I was bored and the black corset looked so cool compared to the crap they give you for free. Then the tokidoki cat is super cute. I’m now resisting the Minnie Mouse toy despite the girls crying “buuuuuuy it mummy!”. I’m weak.

  6. Simon says:

    Oh, the guitar on LIVE calls my name. I have yet to buckle and answer that call, but it will probably happen. I’ll feel dirty afterwards though.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    @ Ste, you make a great point – the fact that it is hard to tell what you are actually spending can make these dinky prices seem fuzzy. I bought an eyepatch for an avatar on Live for 80 points…what on earth that equates to in actual money, I have no idea :/ It seems to be the business model to watch though, so we’ll be hit with a lot more in the future…

  8. Ste says:

    One thing I find very clever (or sneaky depending on how you look at it) is that most of these companies use points etc to price their goods thus making it more difficult to actually associate real money with the transaction. Someone above said they spent 160 points on Peggles for Burnout. 160 points doesnt sound like alot but how much is that exactly in £/$??

    Luckily I’ve managed to steer clear of the micro transactions thus far but I agree with others who say that there is gonna be alot more of it about soon making it more difficult to resist.

  9. Lorna Lorna says:

    Kat, be thankful you don’t play Sims 3! The spider in a bell glass jar among the rest of the Gothic stuff is pretty sweet.

    @Simon, I took a look at the guitars but they cost a pretty penny. Shame you can’t pick them up as rewards in some of the Guitar Hero games really.

  10. Kat says:

    Ste, you’re right about the points Vs £s thing. 160 is apparently £1.37 which for me is completely worth it for all the fun I’ve had with that car. I don’t count it as money which is dangerous for me, fab for M$ though!

    Lorna, I’ve steered clear of The Sims recently. I used to spend way too much time on the PC pottering about and buying expansion packs a few years ago. Goth stuff would plunge me into debt ^_^

  11. Victor Victor says:

    Micro-transactions are the one thing in the whole world of gaming that gets me on my high horse. My nose goes up, I sniff disapprovingly and shake my head. Buying virtual clothes for your virtual avatar? That is virtually unbelievable. But I recently won 800MS points and justified buying the tat for myself, by saying that it was not money that I earned, but only won.

    Which means that the floodgates have opened and in the coming months, I will have to cut my card in half, have an intervention and attend counselling to wipe the need to have the avatar with the biggest wardrobe and the crazy compulsion to change my avatar clothes every 20 minutes.

    Oh dear god. My future is not looking good.,

  12. [...] pm Lorna doesn’t like avatars on the Xbox, I like mine.  I look cool but I did have to buy the top and eye piece and in real [...]

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