If there's one thing that has been working to divide and galvanize the gamer populace, it is the rise of the microtransaction.
For those unfamiliar with the idea, a microtransaction (MT) is a service or additional item added to an already released game for the owners of said game for a fee smaller than the original purchase price. The items can range from harmless non-combat pets to entire classes and areas in the case of free-to-play (F2P) MMOs.
The conflict among gamers arises with the debate over when gamers should be charged for additional content, how much should be charged and whether or not companies should even charge for additional content at all.
I'll start by saying this, I have little problem with developers and publishers having the right to have MTs. It's their game, their product and as long as the initial product we bought and paid for is complete without the addition of these items, then no harm no foul.
The place I really start to get angry is when you can tell at a game's launch that elements were ripped from it solely for the purpose of charging MTs. The most notorious recent example of this are the removed outfits and dyes from Fable 3. It was obvious that dyes like the color black were missing from the shelf totally with the knowledge that people would pay for it later.
This sort of event is why MTs have terrible reputations and those who utilize them are labeled as money hungry sadists with no respect for their fans and customers. Although I have to lay a good amount of blame at the foot of the publishers too. It's more than likely that these sorts of scenarios were put into place only because of publisher pressure rather than the developer's personal desires to be as evil as possible.
However, MTs aren't necessarily terrible...when done right.
When it comes to F2P MMOs, then MTs are perfectly suited to that style of subscription. The one caveat to this is that the full game needs to be equally accessible to everyone. Let's take Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) as an example, being that it's currently the front runner F2P MMO. (I'm not going to be addressing social games in this post, that will have another all to itself.)
When you subscribe to the game, you have a substantial chunk of area to explore. You also have all classes leveling and developing the same as those classes that belong to paying customers. The path diverges a bit with the MTs. The MTs they offer include additional classes and new zones in addition to less major items like pets and mounts.
The place this gets rocky is when you're already paying a subscription and additional items are launched as MTs. As I said above, this works with F2P games. But when you're still paying a subscription and they ask you to pay more for items that you should have access to anyway, it's not a good thing. Especially when these items could in some way upset the balance. It's at that point that gameplay comes down to who has the larger wallet. If I'm paying a subscription, then I should have the exact same opportunities as everyone else paying a subscription. (Note: I'll expand upon the subject of equal opportunities in MMOs at a later date.)
The bottom line of this is, MTs should not gimp you in any way if you decide to skip them. They should add to the experience, like the expansion packs of yore.
But there's a point where it starts to really grate on my nerves, like the Fable example above, and that's adding things purely for the quick buck. One of these pet peeves involves the idea of selling map packs.
Recent shooters such as Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops are guilty of this, as are many others. They charge you 5-15 dollars for 2-3 additional multiplayer maps. It is quite obvious that these are implemented solely for the idea of making additional funds.
I understand part of this is because of certain XBox Live policies. But when they do the same thing on Steam, it rings alarm bells. Speaking of Steam, Valve just recently announced that all updates to Portal 2, on ALL consoles will be free of charge.
I rejoiced immensely at this news. First, because it cements Valve as one of the best developers of this gaming generation and second because they're throwing down the gauntlet to other developers who are charging for map packs and add-ons.
THIS is how you support a launched game. THIS is how you give add ins to those who already purchased your product and Valve deserves massive kudos for treating it's playerbase with such respect.
That all being said, what is the final verdict?
To put it bluntly, it is entirely the developer's right to launch as ask for money for DLC. It's somewhat unfortunate, but it's true. We as the consumer have to pay with our wallets and tell them, "Hell no. I'm not paying five bucks for black dye. How about you put it in my game when I buy it?" We also have a responsibility to point at Valve and say, "See? They can do it, why can't you? What's stopping you?"
DLC is here to stay and it's our responsibility to shape what that DLC is from this point onwards.
Game on and take care.