As a new event crests over the horizon for a popular video game, it’s inevitably accompanied by the not so distant yells of outrage for some reason or another. Not to undermine the perpetually hot topic that is cosmetic microtransactions in video games, but when it comes to Apex Legends, I can’t help but air on the side of a big ol’ shrug… Hey, anyone else smell hypocrisy in here?
It’s been a whirlwind of activity within the three first person shooters I am spending most of my time with this past week, but the one that’s getting all of the headlines is Apex Legends and their Iron Crown event that started yesterday. With this event, as you’d expect, comes a whole slew of new cosmetic items to further pretty up your favourite gameshow murder junkie.
To say this expected is actually a huge understatement at this point. For living games like this, especially free to play games like Apex Legends, it’s standard practice. What’s got people up in arms in this case through is the pricing. Now Apex hasn’t always had the clearest menu system, so actually figuring out how get these new cosmetics was a little bit more of a challenge than was really necessary.
But, in short, the only way to get your hand on these crown packs is to buy them with coins from what I can see, coins you can only reliably get via purchasing them for real money. And seeing as you can only really buy coins at intervals of one thousand, and the packs themselves cost 700, it’s working out at £8 ($7(I don’t know how that math works out)). To me, that seems like a lot.
I’m not going to lie, I’m not above making some questionable purchases involving video games I have invested a lot of my time into. So, why would it be okay in that case and not this one. It’s almost as if there’s this nebulous “value for money” discussion surrounding these cosmetics, which is a bizarrely nonsensical concept, especially considering there is no inherent value to any of the items in question.
I say that because, like in most of these cases; everything that drops out of these Iron loot boxes is purely cosmetic. Nothing you can get directly effects gameplay whatsoever. Thus, the inherent value of anything that comes out of them is purely in the eye of the beholder/consumer. It might seem odd, to get so worked up about something like this, but as someone who has lost control down this slippy old slope in the past, it can feel a lot more important than you’d want to let on.
It may come from a need to better connect to your favourite characters in the game, or a desire to support the developers in addition to playing their game, or maybe it’s just the feeling of prestige and superiority that comes from showing off your flashy baubles to those around you. Whatever the reason, there is no arguing that these items do have “value”, as difficult as it sometimes feel to explain it. Where it gets tricky is actually assigning a specific value to things when they exist in such a nebulous form.
We live in a world of strange precedent when comes to this kind of thing. Look at Overwatch, which has found itself on the wrong end of this particular drama. It also has a purely cosmetic loot box system, although everything inside is entirely random. Where it became contentious were during seasonal events, where skins and emotes were suddenly scarce, given the limited run of the event. Thus players found themselves pressed to buy some boxes outright, lest they miss the thing they really wanted. It’s only now, after a number of changes on Blizzard’s part that Overwatch’s situation has calmed down.
The Overwatch team have been in a constant arms race to try and balance all of this to a point where people are not angry about it. And personally, I feel like they’ve found a happy medium. Lowering the rate of duplicates, increasing the number of credits earned to allow players to buy the individual cosmetics they want outright instead of having to rely on RNG.
Even at its absolute worst, the system was only inconvenient. As opposed to the complete opposite end of the spectrum: Star Wars Battlefront II was the absolute worst implementation of a microtransaction system seen in any AAA game. Unlike most games that always desperately assure their audience that nothing in their microtransactions will alter gameplay. The entire progression system in Battlefront II was locked behind their system.
It meant your entire play style and approach to the game was dictated by the random happenstance of what the RNG would dictate which class upgrades you would receive upon opening your very sporadic loot box in game. That is, of course, unless you paid EA the extra money. It was so egregious that it sparked off an entire legislative restructure in many countries, outright banning the action on RNG based microtransactions.
Apex Legends falls somewhere in the middle of these two. Unlike Overwatch, you can’t save a currency and just buy the individual thing you want from the event. Rather you’re beholden to a random system that still requires you to pour your own money into the slot machine, with no real recourse to earn them in game, at a much slower pace. It’s because microtransactions, at this point, are an unfortunate necessity of the industry.
The incessant need for large publishers to make ever more money that the sale of a game alone is no longer enough. It’s difficult to say whether it’s a result of an increasingly competitive and crowded market, or the capitalist driven need to increase profits year on year. That’s something we can’t ever really know for sure.
But in the case of Respawn, and the fact that they put out Apex for free, it’s most likely something they have to do in order to continue to exist. Games like Apex and Destiny, in which a developer that wants to do right by their fans, but are under pressure by their publisher, they need to do things that we might not like so that they can keep their overlords happy and keep making their games.
Alternatively, you get today’s Bungie, who have broken away from Activation and now the cosmetics from Eververse are the thing keeping their independent studio going. In a pretty frank discussion from Luke Smith. The sale of the Whisper of the Worm exotic ornament in Eververse was what allowed them the funds to make and implement the “Zero Hour” mission that rewarded the player with the Outbreak Perfected weapon.
In the end it all comes down to personal preference. It’s easy to say: “if you don’t like their pricing scheme, then you don’t have to interact with it”. In reality, people invest themselves into these games to such an extent that they want to interact with these cosmetic events, whatever their various reasons may be. In the end though, Respawn need to realise that they’re gilded ladder for their players that doesn’t actually lead anywhere.
Thus it feels difficult to justify the cost they’re asking for their fans without even giving them the illusion of an alternative. In this particular case, I feel like Apex would have benefited from a “less is more” approach to the event, including the items and access to them at a much lower price point. While this may have come at the expense of the feeling of exclusivity that comes from having the items from this set, when having a cool skin goes hand in hand with having put more money into a game’s microtransaction system: that exclusivity rings a little hollow.
I know it’s hardly an apples to apples comparison between this, Overwatch and Destiny, with those two being full priced games as well being supplemented by their microtransactions. But Respawn have cut their nose off despite their face with this one. As nice as the cosmetics in that game look, they overestimate their value, as nebulous as that value is. As of right now, outside of their season pass, I can’t really see myself putting any money into the game. As much as I’m, enjoying it right now.