Opinion – Cliffy B defends micro-transactions; is wrong.

The former Gears of War developer, Cliff Bleszinski, has taken to Tumblr to defend microtransactions. In the post, Bleszinski puts forward the argument that microtransactions are a valid business model, that he believes those of us moaning are “the vocal minority”, and that “If you don’t like, don’t buy it.”

Believe it or not, I’ve actually got a lot of love for CliffyB. Underneath his brash, often misguided, boyband exterior, is the workings of a genius. In twenty years’ time, Bleszinski will be the industry’s new Molyneux.

Take Gears of War for example: The cover system in Gears is often replicated but never duplicated. One could argue it’s one of the greatest innovations of the current generation and it was fronted by Bleszinski.

Bleszinski knows his stuff – but somewhere along the way, he and many developers have lost touch with modern gamers and their purchasing habits and now seem intent on making the most money with the least effort.

“If you’re currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You’re the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn’t know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?” reads the Tumblr post.

He’s right. We, The Internet – consisting of gamers and journalists – are the vocal minority. However, what this statement fails to take note of is that the average consumer doesn’t have a fucking clue what a micro-transaction is. We look at a game, and then see developers and publishers take content out to resell to us at a later date. The average gamer who works 40 hours a week and doesn’t have time to hop online and read the latest dirtsheet, they think that microtransactions are just another form of legitimate downloadable content.

Bleszinski is advocating fleecing: Selling the consumer something shiny while they are blinded to what’s going on behind the scenes. How many consumers, who don’t traverse the online world, would look at a 108KB download and think Hang on. That’s already on the disk. What a rip off!? Or are shady micro0transactions okay so long as the person doesn’t know it’s a shady microtransaction?

His next point looks at the state of the market, that according to Bleszinski, is in state of “turmoil” and that “the old business model is either evolving, growing, or dying.”

“No one really knows. ‘Free to play’ aka ‘Free to spend 4 grand on it’ is here to stay, like it or not… Every single developer out there is trying to solve the mystery of this new model.”

The term “mystery” keeps popping up, and I’m not sure why. Free-to-play works because these games don’t force purchases on the consumer. Take DC Universe Online: the game is free to download, you get two character slots, and it can be played fully without ever spending a dime. How do they make money? Legitimate micro-transactions.

Once you play, you make a decision whether it’s worth your money. Two character slots suddenly isn’t enough, so buying another one becomes a lucrative investment. Wait, there’s Green Lantern powers I could download? I’ll have that too.

Where is the “mystery”? DC asks players to try out their game, and if they like it, spend. There’s no secret here, all they did was to give their game away for free, and then charge for the super cool bits.

But Wes, those are micro-transactions you hypocrite! Yes, they are. But we didn’t have to pay for the base game, our paying for the base game is replaced by micro-transactions. Think of it as buying a game in reverse: play it, then spend your money.

“Adjusted for inflation, your average video game is actually cheaper than it ever has been.”

Are they? Technically, yes there are. But let’s look at one of his games to help solidify this point. Gears of War 3 launched in 2011 with a plethora of micro-transactions. The math breakdown is as follows:

Game: £39.99

Season Pass: 2400 Microsoft Points (£20.56)

Weapon Skin Packs: 3600 Microsoft Points (£30.84)

Total Cost: £91.39

Yes, the game is cheaper than it used to be, so to cover the costs of it being cheaper (and inflation), we need to pay an extra £30 to access all the content made prior to launch? And to further recoup losses, another £20.56? So that’s an extra £51.40 in total? I’ll let you decide if that’s recouping losses or greed.

[Note: We used the pricing of the standard edition of the game. Feel free to sub in the other two editions of Gears 3 as you see fit.]

The problem isn’t with post-launch DLC. The problem is with companies like EA trying to change the definition of what DLC is. DLC started out as content made after a game had gone gold that adds to the base game. What EA, and other studios, are doing is “making” stuff and locking it out of a retail title with the sole intention of reselling it back to us after launch.

“I’m going to come right out and say it. I’m tired of EA being seen as ‘the bad guy.’ I think it’s bullshit that EA has the ‘scumbag EA’ memes on Reddit and that Good Guy Valve can Do No Wrong,” he says in his post.

But here’s the thing, Cliff: Valve values their customers. EA values customers’ money. I’m not a massive Valve guy, so instead, I’m going to compare EA with Bethesda.

An Elder Scrolls game has the budget of small country, possibly more in fact. Skyrim had to sell. Bethesda had to turn a profit or there is no Bethesda, no Elder Scrolls Online, and no Elder Scrolls VI. How does Bethesda bleed the consumer dry to make this happen? Well, they charge for the retail title, put out a collector’s edition, and they sell us more Skyrim. We’ve got Skyrim already, but we want more Skyrim; something Bethesda is more than happy to help us with.

There’s no buying XP packs at launch, no extra Dragonborn skins, no dungeons that require an unlock key: Just honestly crafted DLC.

Bethesda and EA’s endgame are the same: to make money. One does it through giving gamers more gaming. The other does it by taking away gaming from us so it can be resold.

Money is important. I get that. Money is important to me, too. That’s why we have adverts on the site. But the problem here isn’t with people or companies making money, it’s with how that money is made. I could get paid to over-promote a game, but I don’t because it’s shitty. You could sell us controversial micro-transactions, but you shouldn’t, because it’s shitty.

If only the industry could realise why so many gamers are annoyed with their antics, perhaps we could all come to an understanding.


Wesley Copeland

Wesley Copeland

Born in Cyrodiil but raised in Ferelden, more commonly known as England. Wesley Copeland is a passionate writer with more opinions than an ostrich.
Wesley Copeland

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