Core Corner: Dead Space 3's microtransactions shine light on the future

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In a recent article, Dead Space 3 producer John Calhoun talks about optional microtransactions in the newest title. For some reason, he seems to want to satisfy "kind of old school, a little bit older" players, but only to the point that he mentions them in an interview. If he was honestly that worried about what--I'm guessing here--a 35-year-old hardcore shooter fan thinks, he would simply drop the microtransactions. However, there must be reasons the developer decided to introduce them.

First, "hardcore shooter fans" are all over the map. They range in age from teen to elderly and now have reached into all realms of sexes, ethnic groups and a number of other subsections. There is definitely an age range that attracts a specific gamer-type like "hardcore shooter," but the point is that, obviously, developers are willing to challenge that group with things like microtransactions. Just like core gamers can come from all age ranges and skill levels, and casual players are easily the largest group out there, hardcore shooter fans will likely flex and bend to these new developers, developers who want to make some money on top of the money they might already make. That's a good thing, we want them to see success in gaming.

Where this all starts to become a little silly is when adults are seen bickering over what is allowed in a hardcore game. Does the presence of an optional microtransaction make a title less "hardcore"? After all, if a player is worried about maintaining some sort of digital thick skin, couldn't he or she just skip the in-game purchases and go for the gold without any aid? The refreshing thing about casual gaming is that most of this discussion does not happen. Sure, casual players can become dissatisfied with the actual price of in-game items, but the presence of those items is not a hindrance or cause for alarm. Although casual players are often glued to their screens for many hours a day, they have already accepted the fact that buying powerful items or gaining special access with a little extra cash is part of the deal. That's because the culture of casual gaming already allows for that. Hardcore shooters come from a world in which many players actually care how others see them. The score they get during a match is all important, and gaining achievements and digital glory is often so important to them that any twist in the formula is seen as controversial.

Here's a pretty accurate prediction: Deadspace 3 will continue to sell copies. A good number of copies. It's a AAA, known IP and players will buy it simply for the fact that they have heard of it before, because of a lack of choices in the console market at this time, and because their friends are buying it. And, on top of the $60 they pay, they will likely pay for in-game goods. The microtransactions will do alright in the "hardcore" shooter, because the impulse to buy is stronger than the impulse to stick to some sort of arbitrary "old-school" code of honor. The realization that "this is just a game, and I enjoy buying those items" will sink in for many players. Once they are used to it, the next hardcore title will feature microtransactions and so will the next. Soon, it will be as normal as it is in casual gaming.

The key to remember is that in almost no form of gaming--from casual to core to hardcore--should a be player forced to purchase fluff. If a FarmVille player wanted more of a challenge, he or she could simply avoid access to the game or to the in-game cash-shop. That hardcore shooter fan could simply avoid the purchases and happily go on his way while thinking that he has held up the old-school code. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry will continue to march towards microtransactions. There will still be contests, e-sports and other gameplay styles that stick to more strict rules, but most of us will happlily be shopping.
Are you OK with casual-game cash-shops in your hardcore games? Share your thoughts in the comments! Add Comment.
Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
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