Not so micro transactions

Okay everyone, I’ll admit that I’m pretty torn on the use of microtransactions in modern games. I’ve played a bunch of free to play mobile and desktop/console games that use microtransactions to fund further development while remaining somewhat accessible to players with less disposable income. I’ve also been playing full priced AAA titles that use microtransactions to cover that gap between the rising cost of making games and the static upper sales price of those games. The fact that the price of a new game hasn’t changed in decades is a topic for a later article. The problem for me is that it’s becoming clear that “micro” is becoming a less apt description day by day. I’m down for the occasional five dollar splurge on games that I enjoy, but some of these things are nudging players in the direction of hundreds of dollars on a regular basis.

I’ve talked about things like this in the past with Farmville 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic as it went F2P. So it really shouldn’t surprise me after all this time when it happens in a game. However, when my mobile game wants me to spend more on it than I did buying the newest Ghost Recon or pre-ordering Mass Effect Andromeda, it gives me pause and makes me start doing math. While it’s not the only game doing it, I’m going to talk about Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes because it’s one that I’m still playing. (Yes, still.)

As listeners of the podcast will know, we’re fans of Star Wars Rebels around here. Recently, the folks over at Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes announced a series of Phoenix Squadron events happening this month and I was ecstatic. I woke up a full hour early the day the content released so I could unlock Hera before I went to work like it was Life Day. The rest of the characters have yet to be released, but the squad synergy sounds like it’ll be game changing. I was climbing-the-walls excited until I realized that after unlocking Hera for free, there’s no way to upgrade the character other than through the game’s store page. I briefly considered getting out my credit card until I started doing the math.

For those unfamiliar with the game, characters have a star rank that goes from one to seven. Each rank increases the multiplier of their base stats and essentially makes them better. Farming and spending character specific “shards” is how you upgrade star ranks. At the end of the unlock event, I’m left with a character ranked three out of seven stars and 15/30 to the next rank. A free-ish option using in-game currency exists, costing 1,299 crystals to acquire 5 shards (with “a chance to crit for 30 shards”) and some additional materials. There’s also a paid option costing $9.99 to acquire 25 shards and a large amount of additional materials. But the journey from ranks three to seven requires a fuckton of shards.  So how much will it cost to upgrade Hera Syndulla to max rank?

  • Total shards required: 265 (15+65+85+100)
  • Cash option purchases (25 shards each): 11 at $9.99 a pop. Total of $109.98 for maximum character rank.
  • Free-ish option using crystals (5 or 30 shards randomly each time): minimum of 9 purchases and as many as 53 depending on how your luck runs. That’s a total of 11,691 crystals to 68,847 crystals.

Crystals are earned in small amounts through various activities in game or purchased directly. However, the best crystal pricing option is 15,710 for $99.99 which isn’t a better deal unless you’re inconceivably lucky. It’s unlikely most players have saved up anywhere near enough crystals by now unless they’ve been hoarding like a dragon. The ability to buy either pack is limited to a seven day run which adds psychological pressure and pushes that impulse to buy, buy, buy. All of this for just one character as part of a five character team. The event for Kaanan Jarrus  is set to run in the exact same fashion on March 16th. Will there be free ways to farm these character shards in game after the event? Possibly, but there’s no word on that yet.

I like this game and I want to see it supported and continue playing as they add more characters and events. But holy fuck do I not want to drop $400+ on a mobile game that runs on auto most of the time anyway. How is this level of investment considered “micro”? Granted, it’s not strictly required in order to play or even enjoy the game. It isn’t even required for all characters in the game.

I’m not saying that we’re being extorted or that there’s a P2W-style paywall involved, but there’s clearly a target demographic involved that excludes the vast majority of players. This has become common practice in a lot of games that I’ve played in the last few years. Are there so many people able to throw large sums of cash at games that this is sustainable? Or is it more likely that there are a fewer, more select number of players that will buy anything? I wish I knew the answer.