By Anish Bachchan
Published on April 22, 2022 at 14:36 IST
Within thirty years the video game industry changed the history of pop culture. Games that were once thought of as a mere hobby have become a billion-dollar industry in a short period.
Games have become more cinematic, real-life-looking, and above all, story-driven. This piece however will take a more pessimistic take on the rising problems in the video game industry, especially the companies that are behind the game.
One such example is PUBG Mobile, which is one of the most popular video games in the market right now. It is also one of the worst examples of aggressive monetization systems. The game has made $3.5 billion through the said system. It’s so profitable that even a teenager has spent Rs 16 lakhs on in-game items like weapon skins, costumes, tournament passes, and so on. The teenager lies to his parents that he is using the money for his money.
The aggressive monetization system in the gaming industry represents everything wrong with it. There are companies like Activision and Sony who are making their system patented which is widely criticized by the detractors. The one scandal, however, which turned the public opinion against the aggressive monetization system is the Star Wars Battlefront II Scandal.
Many people blame Electronic Arts for the state the game was in. Their actions were condemned for being greedy and it has led to severe consequences. Although the game has improved since then, the damage was already done.
Understanding Microtransactions and Loot Box system
Two infamous systems exist in the video game market. They are:
- Microtransactions: A person buys an in-game product at a low price in this system. For example, A plays PUBG Mobile. He decides to buy an outfit that requires real-life money. Because the outfit costs a lower price, he proceeds to buy it. The system may look and sound simple but it has created a wide range of controversies. The 2018 game Metal Gear Survive is charging $10 over a save slot.
- Loot Box System: It is an online system where a person pays real-life money to get random items. It is pretty similar to gambling slots which reward people with items differing in values. Through pseudorandom number generation, the reward is generated by a computer algorithm. The loot box system in Call of Duty is so regressive that in Call of Duty World War 2, a functioning loot box system matters more than a functioning game.
Star Wars Battlefront II Scandal
A YouTuber by the name of TheActMan made a video expressing his disdain for the game’s aggressive microtransaction system. The whole scandal started with a Reddit post. The post’s owner calculated the number of hours that are required to unlock a hero in a multiplayer game.
They concluded that it would require 40 hours of gameplay to unlock a hero like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker in a multiplayer game. When another Reddit post complained about this as well, the game’s publisher, Electronic Arts responded in a rather condescending way stating that playing for 40 hours would be “pride and accomplishment”.
The response was met with extreme backlash. Many stated that it was a pathetic ploy by the Electronic Arts to make people pay for the heroes using real-life money. Other than that people would also use the “Star Card” system which is the online version of Las Vegas meets tech support scammer. To buy skins and weapons, people would have to pay real-life money which is very fishy for most people.
Uproar of People
Many people took this onto social media platforms to express their frustration. Even politicians got involved in this. One US representative from Hawaii, Chirs Lee stated that the game is nothing more than an Online Star Wars Cantina which preys on impressionable audiences.
The impressionable audiences are mostly children and the game is making them pay real-life money. This led several Hawaiian lawmakers to implement a system to regulate the loot-box system.
Consequences of the Scandal
The game was one of the mediums of catalyst in several ways:
- A Dutch Court forced Electronic Arts to pay 10 million Euros as a fine. The reason for such action was its aggressive monetization system implemented in video games like Battlefront II and Fifa games.
- Belgium outright bans the use of loot-box systems all over the country. China followed suit by prohibiting the use of loot boxes for children below the age of eight years.
- Many people criticized Activision’s decision to patent their monetization system. The company filed a patent in the USPTO in 2015. In 2017 the latter granted their patent. They claim that an average player would imitate a pro player. The player would then purchase the outfits, weapons, skins, etc. to make themselves look like the pro player. However, the scandal changed the mindset against microtransactions and loot boxes. One critic argued that the whole system was sketchy and the company would use the system to make a profit from their user base. It shows how far they will go to save their questionable system at the expense of their audiences’ warnings.
It is quite clear that the Monetization system in video games is here to stay. Sports games are aggressively monetized to death which is why many games like Madden and Fifa are disdained by fans. Even single-player games like Middle Earth: Shadow of War have implemented the use of a microtransaction system.
One author rightfully compared these gaming companies with Harshad Mehta, because they are scamming people just like the latter scammed the banks. Video games are not viewed as a hobby anymore. It is viewed as a service provider.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 isn’t the only game that is plagued with such problems. Many sports games like Fifa and Madden are severely monetized which has affected the gameplay of the said games. Since mobile games are cheaper to make, they too are severely monetized by over-pricing the many cosmetics, skins, weapons, and so on.
In another game Metal Gear Survive, the cost of the save slot is $10. Many people pointed out the developer, Konami for pricing a simple feature. Konami as a company has been reviled by many video game fans. Most say that Konami does not respect their intellectual property and they use the said IPs for gambling machines.
Many even hinted at their terrible treatment of the employees. There is one instance where a female employee was demoted because she was pregnant. There was another story that employees are forced to work at low-paying levels of the companies.
Video game companies have shifted their priorities. They once used to cater to the fans and now they are catering to their shareholders. In the above-mentioned example Call of Duty World War II’s loot box system, the game’s monetization system is more functional than the game itself. The mentality of ‘ship it now, fix it later’ has become so mongering yet profitable, that the companies don’t care about the state of the game itself.
Microtransaction and loot boxes systems represent everything wrong with the gaming industry. Video game companies do not care about consumers anymore. They love their shareholders more and in profit, they alienate most of their core audience.
That is the reason why companies resort to anti-consumer practices and it only harms the need of the audience.
It is high time that they take important steps against the promotion of such a system. Anyone who promotes it should be held accountable. The best possible way described by an author in LA Times is to stop buying their games. Money is what they care about and if people stop buying their games, then they would lose their money. That way we can make them feel accountable for their actions.
Also Read- Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill: Analysis
- Current Issues that Plagued the Video Game Industry
- PATENT 101 LEVEL 1: UNDERSTANDING PATENTS IN THE AGGRESSIVE MONETIZATION OF VIDEO GAMES
- Video Games: An Overview
- EA Proves They’re The WORST Company In America… AGAIN!! (Battlefront 2 Controversy)
- Why Is Star Wars: Battlefront 2 SO BAD?! (EA, 2017)
Author- Anish Bachchan, Law Student at Amity Law School, Noida