If I’m So Comfortable Paying a Subscription, Why Do Micro-Transactions Bother Me?

I’ve played a fair number of MMORPGs in the past 10 years. My first experience was with EverQuest, since then I’ve played Asheron’s Call, Dark Age of Camelot, 45 minutes of Star Wars Galaxies (played on a friend’s account), City of Heroes/Villains, World of Warcraft, Phantasy Star Universe (it had a subscription), and Lord of the Rings Online. Most of these I played for only a few months, with EverQuest topping  out at 3 years and LotRO in second with 1 year.

With all of these MMOs I have never been bothered by paying a monthly subscription fee, although I did grind my teeth a bit when the "standard" pricing rose to $15 a month as opposed to the $10 I payed for EverQuest. Rhetorical Question: If I’m so accepting of a subscription model for an online-only  game why am I uncomfortable with a micro-transaction based model?

Maybe it’s a somewhat childish notion of fairness. With a subscription MMO I know that the playing field is relatively fair. I do tend to hobble this fairness by playing most MMOs almost exclusively solo, somewhat negating the purpose of a game world with thousands of other players on simultaneously. I know that logically There is no logical reason I should feel squeamish about another player buying items whether practical or cosmetic, teleports around the game world, stat buffs or even purchasing levels. There is no reason I couldn’t simply do these myself, but the idea feels unsettling to me.

Not that this could be narrowed down to simply MMOs, they’re just the most common examples of these pay models (also the ones I have the most experience with).The vaunted/vilified  Electronics Arts has recently delved into free-to-play games in two ways. Battlefield Heroes, still in beta, is basing its money-making around micro-transactions for cosmetic items for the players’ avatars. EA’s recently released RTS/Collectible Card Game Battleforge went free-to-play 3 weeks ago, allowing people access to the full campaign and muliplayer but with a limited selection of default units, no doubt hoping you’ll purchase more digiatal cards from EA. While both of these games are built with micro-transactions at the forefront, they both use a point system for all puchases, not unlike the much maligned Microsoft spacebucks. You buy points from EA to buy items in the game.

There’s another annoyance; not being able to directly purchase an item, being forced to purchase "points" and then using the spacebucks to purchase items. I know business like customers having a "spacebucks account" and then with judicous item pricing almost ensuring that you have a running balance of excess points unless you plan out your puchases carefully. If a developer wants me to spend money on their game, they should make it as easy and direct as possible. For the dev/pub’s side, being able to purchase single items directly with a credit/debit card would encourage more purchases from customers. It’s a lot easier for a person to impulse buy a hat at 75 cents than it is to buy a $10 or $20 block of spacebucks and wittle away at that for a few months. Also with a direct purchase the player isn’t as likely to be keeping a tally on their expenses than if they’re watching a points balance decrease.

While my experience with micro-transaction fueled games is limited (they bother me, remember), maybe I should just suck it up and get over it. Much like digital distribution is becoming increasingly favored by publishers I think micr0-transactions will become more popular simply because both favor the publishers.

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