Microtransacted pay-per-hax and multiplayer woes

FTW!!! All for the low-low price of 1600 points!Looks like we’re not through looking for pitfalls in the microtransactions business model. There was a nagging thought left in my head after concluding the last analysis back in early November, particularly about pay-per-cheat. Yeah, it took this long to get those thoughts consolidated, but after a number of articles landed on our desks in that time, those thoughts have consolidated into this:

How do these pay-for-cheats apply in multiplayer games? (Cue Psycho violin screech)

Many downloadable content (or even “downloadable keys to unlock content”) normally don’t have an effect on gameplay. It normally doesn’t matter if my homie be pimping in a Santa costume through Stilwater – he’ll end up just as dead from a drive-by if he was wearing regular clothes, ‘ya dig? The game changes – and for the worse – if and when the DLC is (a) something that affects the quality of a player’s gameplay, usually by improving it, and (b) if that same DLC can be used in multiplayer. You can cue that violin screech again.

In an ideal world, this issue we just brought up wouldn’t be so the drama. We enter a multiplayer challenge, the game asks us to bring it (to bring out the best in our game skills), we all bring it, and let the competition be the judge. Still, baseball players juice up on performance-enhancers, prepare to answer some very uncomfortable questions from reporters, the Commission, or even Congress. Likewise, what would the multiplayer online community’s reaction be to multiplay-haxxors in their midst?

Continued at the full article. In an ideal world, full articles wouldn’t be needed.

FTW!!! All for the low-low price of 1600 points!Looks like we’re not through looking for pitfalls in the microtransactions business model. There was a nagging thought left in my head after concluding the last analysis back in early November, particularly about pay-per-cheat. Yeah, it took this long to get those thoughts consolidated, but after a number of articles landed on our desks in that time, those thoughts have consolidated into this:

How do these pay-for-cheats apply in multiplayer games? (Cue Psycho violin screech)

Many downloadable content (or even “downloadable keys to unlock content”) normally don’t have an effect on gameplay. It normally doesn’t matter if my homie be pimping in a Santa costume through Stilwater – he’ll end up just as dead from a drive-by if he was wearing regular clothes, ‘ya dig? The game changes – and for the worse – if and when the DLC is (a) something that affects the quality of a player’s gameplay, usually by improving it, and (b) if that same DLC can be used in multiplayer. You can cue that violin screech again.

In an ideal world, this issue we just brought up wouldn’t be so the drama. We enter a multiplayer challenge, the game asks us to bring it (to bring out the best in our game skills), we all bring it, and let the competition be the judge. Still, baseball players juice up on performance-enhancers, prepare to answer some very uncomfortable questions from reporters, the Commission, or even Congress. Likewise, what would the multiplayer online community’s reaction be to multiplay-haxxors in their midst?

Talk about full disclosure.Again, that would depend on the haxxed gameplay being brought to the multiplayer game. If it was as prosaic as a costume change, it can more or less be given a pass. What we’re talking about here, however, are ubers, cheats or unlocks such as infinite ammo, buffed-up weapons or vehicles, and so forth. Whether unlocked the hard way, by code or Gameshark, or DLC-unlocked, ubers are undeniably big guns in the field. Obviously, multiplayer games would not allow the use of the most blatant cheats such as infinite life or ammo. But the rest, especially cheat-unlocked or DLC-unlocked ubers?

An informal poll: if any of you don’t mind losing to a guy who bought his big guns on Marketplace, while you’re still working to unlock yours, raise your hands. Lemme bet: none of you did. That’s the point. Imagine you’re in a multiplayer game of Carbon, in a Tier 2 (or even 3) car you’ve acquired and tricked out playing the normal game, and the opponent next to you is driving a Corvette Z06 he bought for 80 points, with all the performance trimmings purchased for 800 points (obviously, he didn’t belabor the game to get these). Doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what the reaction will be. Okay, let’s try a little imagination:

Another bolt-on wonderboy looking to get smoked? Why don’t we save the grief right now and peel those parts right now?… Five grand… FIVE GRAND says my boy will smoke this clown.

FIVE GRAND says my boy will smoke him.It pains to agree with a guy like Razor Callahan, but that’s the point. The idea Microsoft had behind Gamerscore was as one of the means to track a gamer’s activity, skills, and rep, laid bare before the whole community. But the knowledge that it can be hacked, and thus inflated, kinda poisons the entire experience (hence, the Fall Update). Now take that same venom to any multiplayer game where someone can bring DLC-purchased ubers into the field…

At the very least, it WILL spark resentment. No one will win any friends and influence people in multiplayer by rolling in with purchased ubers, when that field has players who worked for their unlock. Worse yet, this might spark some “us-against-them” resentment – the “haves” (who can afford the unlocks) versus the “have-nots” (who have to pay in blood, sweat, and tears). And if this resentment escalates to the worst it can get? Wild accusations. Ostracization. Heated arguments burning up VoIP.

You want to know the kicker? So far, there’s no way of telling if a guy in multiplayer is bringing a paid unlock into the game (unless it’s common knowledge that the unlock can only be bought, not earned in-game). That adds another layer of distrust to the multiplay.

As much as it is just a game (so chill), there is much to be said about fair or at least honest play in any competitive endeavor. After all, baseball was just a game, too, and look at what happened (although it’s more because of those multi-million deals and endorsements, perhaps). At the least, if publishers in the future will insist on the pay-per-unlock option, they may want to look at options designed to ensure an even playing field for those whose gamer skillz ain’t about the Benjamins. Here are a couple to of suggestions:

  • Paid unlocks can’t be used in multiplayer games, especially ranked matches at all.
    • A softer version of this would be that the player will need to meet the regular requirements for unlocking the uber in-game before he can be given the right (or clearance) to use it in the multiplayer field. But that brings up the issue of using the purchased uber to unlock that clearance, which is another debate entirely.
  • Add some sort of identifying mark on a player’s online game profile that indicates that he has unlocked said uber weapon or vehicle or skill set or whatever, by paying for it (or, for that matter, by code or Gameshark). At the least, said wonderboy will know what he’s getting into when he rolls in with his bolt-on ride, and other players may feel less resentment to said wonderboy for the full disclosure (though they may pity him instead).

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