Some believe microtransactions are the epitome of evil, whereas others are more than happy to spend a little bit of their hard-earned cash so they don't have to work so hard in game. Where do you stand on the issue? Here's what the team thinks.
Pete weighs in first with what I believe is the real crux of the matter. "I really, REALLY hope microtransactions don't unbalance the game and are just a "laziness tax." Eurogamer's report suggests that you won't be able to just buy your way to victory because a lot of things are level-locked, but I've played too many mobile games with difficulty spikes designed specifically around microtransactions to not be wary of this."
This is definitely an issue, and one that's generated its fair share of controversy. Games like World of Tanks enable players to buy "premium" weapons and tanks that can essentially enable those who splurge to gain a small advantage over those who don't, and Pete wonders if GTA Online will offer the same kind of perks.
"I'm a little more concerned about the possibility of "consumable" items. I'm hoping these are just non-game breaking time savers like experience boosters and the like, rather than "pay to win" options that will give a tangible benefit when competing against other players. This is something we haven't really seen Rockstar explore before, so it remains to be seen which direction they take. I'd like to say I'm cautiously optimistic, but I've been burned too many times in the past to be able to do that with confidence. Instead we'll just have to wait and see when the online mode actually launches."
Ultimately, Pete prefers that the game didn't have them at all, saying, "I'd rather these options weren't in there in the first place. It's not as if Rockstar hasn't made enough money off the bloody game already -- but then, it might not have entirely been their decision."
Mike has similar issues about how this might create a somewhat uneven playfield. "Balancing an online multiplayer game is difficult, but balancing one with real-money purchases is probably a great deal harder. I'm pretty sure Rockstar has no clue what it's in for. I'm with Pete in worrying about consumable items. I'm also worried about the idea of dying: if you go to the hospital and you're tapped out, will you still be brought back to life? Or will you have to wait for X amount of time before jumping back in? I doubt Rockstar would be the draconian."
But his bigger concern is how buying into a game might affect group play and player interactions. "My acceptance of real-money transactions in GTA Online comes down to how much I'm expected to share Los Santos with other people. If it's very little - I barely noticed others in Defiance unless there was a public event - then who cares what others buy? If it's a significant amount and the guy who shelled out $20 to buy a jet can just follow me around and grief me, then I won't be a happy camper."
Jeremy's take on the situation is a little more philosophical. "Microtransactions aren't inherently evil, but they can definitely break a game if they're bad or overly mercenary. On one hand, you have games like Puzzle & Dragons; on the other, you have Candy Crush Saga. The former is designed in a way to allow you to be able to complete the game through normal play without ever paying a cent, and the microtransactions simply give you a way to customize your party with gashapon-like extras. The latter, however, is a hot mess of a game, meant to lure you in with a few easy levels before confronting you with a difficulty spike that makes it nearly impossible to win without buying victory over and over again, 99 cents at a time."
I agree with that, and also share his views about how he believes how it'll play out. "I'd like to think that the people behind one of the biggest game franchises in the world will have the good sense not to destroy their creation with craven, abusive monetization models. Generally, serious game designers pay careful attention to that sort of thing, but then again.... I asked Namco Bandai's Katsuya Harada about Soulcalibur Online's F2P purchase model at TGS and he sarcastically (and not at all seriously) responded that your weapon will break after each match and will cost five dollars to repair each time. Yet the same company is responsible for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, a full-priced packaged retail game that uses a F2P-like time-metering system."
"Greed, like cocaine, is a helluva drug. I'd like to think Rockstar doesn't need to be greedy at this point, given all the records their game shattered last week. There's an opportunity here for the company to be a good citizen in the gaming community and set an example for other publishers of how to do monetization right. But I don't know that Rockstar has ever really deigned to do anything with GTA that was good for anyone but Rockstar. The market has a way of righting itself, though, and no publisher is too big to be able to steamroll its fans welfare, hence Blizzard backpedaling on Diablo III's real-money auction house. I suppose we'll see where on the spectrum GTA Online ends up."
As someone who's spent quite a bit of money on microtransactional games, I really don't have a problem with the concept, as long as I don't feel like I need to spend money - but can if I want to enhance my enjoyment of the game. I've bought vanity items in WoW because I thought they were cool. I've spent money on Puzzle & Dragons because I wanted to play the next level right now, and didn't want to wait. I've also bought vehicles in World of Tanks, which was less about buying into a higher tier of gaming, and more because I wanted to drive around in that particular tank.
And for me, that's what I'm hoping GTA Online will be. If microtransactions are essentially a shortcut to vanity items and cool things that people might otherwise have to work for – ie, what you're really doing is spending money to avoid having to grind for something in-game – I don't have too much of a problem with that. Reality is, some people can't afford to spend the sort of time in game that others can, so if they want to spend their own money so they can enjoy the sort of things others can for free (but investing their time instead of money), that's okay.
But if money gives you an advantage over other players, that will not be good. The last thing anyone wants GTA Online to be is a rich man's game. Well, as long as it's a rich man's game in which you get rich by stealing in-game money, and not by spending the real stuff.