Last month, a post on a blog I respect was made about the concept of microtransactions. Not only did this article have a good, and blessedly brief, description of microtransactions- it posed some very important questions, questions I feel many developers (and publishers) should consider more closely, if they care about being fair to their consumers. I hope at least part of the industry is worried about not being jerks, though there isn't much evidence to support that concept.
(First, before you go on, read the blog post here)
The question I personally want to concern myself with (though there plenty of good queries in this blog) is this:
"Do microtransactional games prey upon gamers' (or children's) addictions?"
My feelings on this are very strong. Personally, I feel games like FarmVille are extremely insideous in design. Unlike retail or downloadable games, where you have a set price you have to pay, FarmVille is marketed as a game where you don't have to pay anything for the game. And, practically, that is true. You don't have to pay for anything; it's possible to play and enjoy Farmville without paying for it. However, you are at a very noticeable disadvantage if you do not take part in the microtransactions. Once you get hooked on the game, there is a very, very good chance that you may find yourself spending small amounts of money to get upgraded tools and plants and other such things just to keep your competitive edge against your friends. Also, I should point out the fact that Facebook is an equally insideous place to put the game. After all, you are constantly bombarded with reminders from your friends and the game itself that you need to keep playing, and you really should spend some money on a new tractor, while you are at it.
Our brains are wired very precisely. We love having specific objectives and goals we need to accomplish; the reason that we are so goal-oriented is simple, we had to be goal-oriented to survive. And since your mind really only does have a limited capacity to consciously seperate a virtual space from reality, you could very likely find yourself taking the most efficient route to succeed in FarmVille. The cash route.
Of course, I understand that every game has similar incentives to keep you playing, and to keep you wanting to enjoy a product. Leveling up, unlocking areas, having complex puzzles that almost give you a sort of high when you solve them, these are all methods constantly incorporated in games to keep you playing. But, as this article points out, what seems like a small amount of money at the time has a way of stacking into piles of money that could finance the exploits of a James Bond villain.
But, then again, these games are loved by a lot of people. Maybe I'm just cynical, that's all.