As a self-professed child of the 8-bit, I have a very old school mentality about games. I believe that there’s nothing wrong with a little hard work. If a game is designed well, I have no qualms about playing a difficult game. I welcome a good challenge. I like my games “Nintendo-Hard.” I want a game to put callouses on my thumbs.
Cheat codes are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as I can remember. Some players don’t have the patience or the aptitude to play through a game that constantly pees in their cornflakes (Ninja Gaiden Black, anyone?). Some players just want to play a game as painlessly as possible, losing themselves in a virtual world without the stress or fear of death.
I respect that.
Games have made leaps and bounds since I was a kid. They’ve evolved from simple toys to large-scale, multimillion dollar projects. Along with that leap, game designers are finding new ways to eke out the most money they can possibly make. Microtransactions are the new hotness. Working in conjunction with free-to-play games, microtransactions arguably allow for gamers to enjoy their experience as cost-effectively as possible.
Don’t want to pay 60+ dollars for a game that you may not play all the time? Okay, just buy the doohickeys and the whooziewhatits that you want and leave alone the stuff that you don’t. Instead of paying full price, you pay a fraction of the cost, but you still support the developer. Sounds like a fair deal, right?
I don’t necessarily have a problem with microtransactions in “freemium” models. If implemented correctly, both the player and the developer benefit mutually. Both parties get what they want with little fuss: the player plays his game, the developer gets to put food on his table. Just like the alligator that offers protection to the bird that cleans his teeth, it’s an amicable arrangement.
What I don’t like, however, is game design that lends itself to forcing players to pay money in order to get anywhere in a game. Monetizing stat boosts or anything that could possibly give a player equal footing in a video game is deplorable. Notice that I said equal footing and not an edge. Forcing players to pay to win is unfair and is a prime example of bad game design.
For example, let’s visit the world of Ninja Gaiden for a minute. Imagine you’re in the heart of the Vigoorian Empire, Tairon, and you’re on the verge of death. You see Muramasa’s shop in the distance. There are a couple of soldiers around, but as long as there’s no Black Spider Ninjas around, you can make it…you think.
After dispensing swift ninja justice, all with a sliver of life, you finally make it to the shop. You walk in the door, battered and bruised. You’re greeted by the wizened old man (eyebrows and all), but instead of asking for scarabs or orbs for you to trade in for much-needed restoratives and weapons, he tells you that you need to pony up 5 bucks of real money to keep your ass alive. At that point, you throw down your controller in frustration, turn off the console, and tell Ryu and his quest to go to hell.
That is how you don’t make a game. No game, no matter how hardcore or casual it may be, should ever force the player to have to pay to win. A good game should be playable (and winnable) from beginning to end without the use of artificial boosts, whether they be free or not. The player should always be able to get by on her own skill; there should never be a pay wall that handicaps the player. If a free-to-play game is more grind-y than normal, but the game allows for the player the same opportunity to improve as if she had paid for a boost or an upgrade, I’m okay with that. I don’t mind working harder to get what I need as long as the game is good and I’m enjoying the experience (I’m talking to you, Plants Vs. Zombies 2). As long as the player isn’t shafted for not succumbing to microtransactions, there’s nothing wrong with a little hard work.
The option to invoke cheats or boosts should be solely at the discretion of the player, not a requirement forced by the invisible hand of the developer. I should never be forced to pay to win. And I won’t. My 8-bit roots won’t allow me to wuss out and trade my money—and self-respect—to win. If I have to replay a dungeon 100 times to level up, so be it. If I have to play a stage over and over again to earn money to buy an item that I could pay money to get right away, you better believe that I’ll grind like hell to get it. I will be a better person for earning my items. Overcoming such obstacles brings a sense of accomplishment.
In some sick, twisted way, I think that monetizing cheats or stat boosts can actually be a good idea…for a cruel joke. My logic stems from this principle: offer the option to pay for cheats only to discourage people from doing so. You want infinite lives? Gimme twenty bucks, and your wish is granted. I think of Gradius III for the SNES—it addresses cheating the best way . Press pause, put in the Konami code, and unpause. You get all the power ups.
And then, you explode. Genius.