Apparently, the answer is “no.” Everything these days has to be in “points” or “gems” or some other ecosystem-specific currency. And most of them are set up to have an awkward exchange rate. (The Psychology of Games has done several interesting articles on this, the most relevant is here.) Every time I have to buy in to one of these things, it just frustrates me more and more – especially now that I know that the science backs up my gut instinct distaste for them.
I happened across this, specifically, over the weekend, when I finally caved on buying the Borderlands 2 Season Pass (which is its own annoyance, upon which I will expand later), and figured, “Okay, these guys have made a couple of really fun games. They’ve also made a bunch of fun DLC, and I will give them the benefit of the doubt and pre-pay for whatever they have in the works.” So, fine, whatever. Here’s my $30. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. I’m playing BL2 on the Xbox, so there’s no direct way to send my money to Gearbox. I have to buy it using Microsoft Points – 2400, to be specific. Okay, that’s fine, I’ve made the decision to buy it, so let’s make this happen. Oh, what’s that? I only have 220 points in my account? Better add some! I know that I want to spend $30, so let’s add $30 worth of points to the account and then spend them.
OH RIGHT, you can’t. You can only buy them in certain pre-defined amounts (400/$5, 800/$10, 1600/$20, 4000/$50, 6000/$75). So now I have to go through two separate purchases to get the amount I want, adding to the annoyance overhead for an already-annoying purchase. There’s no discount for buying in bulk (and there probably shouldn’t be since it would make things even more confusing for consumers) and there’s no ability to just buy however many points you want. So now I still have 220 points in my Xbox balance (which translates to how much, again? Turns out it’s $2.75.) And there’s no good way to spend those points on things that I want, because most of the Xbox live games are $10/800 points, or DLC is some round multiplier of $5/400 points. I can’t just add in the extra $2.25 to the system, so now I’m either going to have to find random Rock Band tracks or buy some avatar toys that I don’t really care about. Or have wasted my money. And that sucks.
Okay, but that’s all old news…
What set this particular train of thought off, today, is an email I got from Sony about Planetside 2. I never played the first game, but I do have some friends who seem to have really enjoyed it. And, while my (very short) experience with it at PAX left me kind of confused, I’m certainly interested in some giant space marine shootouts, so I signed up for the beta/news a few weeks ago. This particular email’s subject was something along the lines of “Get Access to the PlanetSide 2 Beta Now!”, and so I thought maybe I’d been accepted (beta invites seem to be going around). And, well, it turns out that it was actually another one of the “give us cash now, you totally won’t regret it! … oh yeah, and beta access” schemes. This time, it was “Buy $40 worth of STATION CASH, and we’ll let you play this game!” The PlanetSide 2 website is unclear about whether the game costs any money or not (I had to dig around to find out that it is, in fact, F2P, although it was fairly obvious from that email), and in fact has the same offer prominently linked. Although, the wording on the page is, specifically, buy now, get beta access.
Look, I get that developers want to encourage people to give them money as early in the cycle as possible (although I’m not really sure this is in anyone’s best interest, since it just pushes the timing on the next round of “payyyyyyy meeeeeee” forward), but it seems fairly dishonest – or at least misleading – to ask people to “Buy” a game that is very specifically going to be Free. It also sucks that that money is then locked into the Sony Online ecosystem which may or may not have any other games that you’re interested in. I guess if you’re one of the remaining EQ2 players, you can get some in-game stuff if PlanetSide ends up not doing it for you? I’m not sure.
Also, at what point do we realize that we are no longer paying for beta access, but instead just paying for incomplete games with the promise that they’ll be “finished” later on? Isn’t the “beta for cash!” scheme the same exact thing as what has always happened on launch day? You give a company your money, get your game key, log in and see a mostly working product. The only difference is that the changes are happening faster, and you might have a character reset. Why not just call it an early release and get it over with?
Overall, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I’ve been avoiding participating in them as much as possible.