I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a cheapass, but my gripe with GTA Online’s micro-transactions has nothing to do with money. Okay, fine, there is cash involved, but the real issue here is bigger than money: these micro-transactions are taking the game out of the game.
Here’s the scoop. Rockstar is enabling GTA Online users to put real money (the kind you earn from real heists and robberies) toward virtual cars, weapons, clothes, and other in-game goodies. These items are still available to those unwilling to pay, but it will take thrifty players time to obtain them–how much time, we don’t know. Bottom line: if you don’t have the time to become the top virtual gangster, you can invest a few bucks to get ahead or catch up.
As a guy with a full-time job, an exercise routine, and hobbies other than videogames, I can understand why this might seem practical. Some people simply don’t have enough time to commit to an extensive multiplayer experience. And as the famous math problem proves, time = money, so Rockstar is making a logical move by offering a money solution to a time problem.
I’m not writing to label Rockstar as virtual pickpockets; my issue here is that the point of buying a game is to play it. When you pop into Barnes & Noble, you don’t take the latest Stephen King book to the register and pay an extra $5 for the cashier tell you what happens in the first 100 pages. Why is it more acceptable to buy your way through a multiplayer mode? Now, I understand that novels and online multiplayer modes are vastly different, but we’re still talking entertainment media. And isn’t “entertainment” the key word here? Where’s the fun in getting drubbed by other players who paid to have an advantage over you?
Now, I realize buying multiplayer advantages has been around forever. In high school a couple of my best friends sold their Diablo II accounts for hundreds of bucks. While I won’t argue that their accounts could be valued that high, I don’t understand why someone would rather buy a high-level account than learn nuances, develop skills, and enjoy the damn thing. At the risk of sounding whiny, that’s a big problem with gaming today. The focus has shifted away from enjoying the experience. Nowadays, many people are more concerned with trophies and leaderboards than with seeing Hyrule Field for the first time.
The cheapass in me wants to complain about the idea of paying for virtual guns, but the sophisticated gamer in me recognizes that micro-transactions are just cheat codes with a price tag. It’s really not all that different from back in the 90s when you’d buy a codebook or use a GameShark to give yourself six Mewtwos.
Micro-transactions have been around for years in various forms. The problem is that they can sour an online experience for those unwilling to indulge in them. With GTA5 as the biggest game in the Western world right now, it’s possible that we’re approaching a watershed moment in online gaming. If gamers willingly buy GTA weapons and this catches on, how long before every online mode becomes a marketplace?