DLC, Micro-transactions and Loot Boxes: Video Gaming’s Unholy Triforce
Updated: Jul 7
There are three (mostly unwelcome) additions to video games that have come about as a result of consoles becoming online. Being online means consoles have the chance to add extras to games after their release.
If you’re unfamiliar with the costly extras that usually come with games, then you need to know that there are three main types. DLC (downloadable content), micro-transactions and Loot Boxes. DLC is sometimes free but often not which contains additional content for a game ranging from different skins or attires all the way up to a new story to play through. Micro-transactions are payments made with real money to help you in the game; this may be by unlocking a certain weapon earlier in a game or unlocking it without you having to complete a specific task in the game. Loot boxes fall under micro-transactions where real money is spent to acquire a number of helpful in-game items and most of the time, it is usually a mystery box in terms of what’s inside.
Ever since the PS3 and Xbox 360 really launched online console gaming, they have taken advantage of the benefits that comes with being an online system. Originally, you’d have thought the ability to add updates to games they had released would be beneficial for players so that if any bugs occurred in the game, they could simply be fixed by an update.
I used to think when you observe how the price of things in the world had gone up, it was impressive that video games had only really increased by £10 going from PS2 and Xbox games to the HD era. However, I soon realised that games were a reflection on the world because you were paying more money for less.
It used to be the case that you could simply buy a game which has been released by the developers once they were satisfied they included everything they needed to because they had no way of updating or adding to the current game once it was released. Now it seems as if developers release the game knowing full well they can add stuff to it after its release. This wouldn’t be so bad if you imagine them suddenly coming up with glorious ideas after the fact but the reality is that these developers know what to release and what to hold back on. Perhaps developers are under time constraints to get the main game released without being able to add everything in but that would just seem to be a convenient excuse. I can think of plenty of games pre-PS3 and pre-Xbox 360 that had their main story and a spin-off game to play through or mini-games.
The problem with DLC is that it could’ve been used for sports games franchises like FIFA where the game could be updated to include new players, move players from one club to another, increase/decrease stats and update kits for a small price so that fans didn’t have to buy essentially the same game year after year at full price. That is a practical application for having games benefit from online updates but that won’t happen because, as if with everything, it’s all about the money. When people will buy a game, the DLC and the next game, why would game developers stop them from doing so?
Not that it’s all bad though. Some DLC is on there for pure novelty factor in some cases in terms of changing your character’s attire in a serious game to a giant bunny costume or something like that without having to pay very much, once again though, these novelty options existed in games before DLC. Likewise there are some good story expansions or spin-offs which are enjoyable extras to play through while not costing anywhere near as much as a full game. The problem though is that a lot of these story expansions often contain the same gameplay and might tell a part of a story you might have already played through from a different perspective, you might already know what happens with the story in that sense. You do see DLC stories reviewed sometimes but nothing like the full game so it can be a game of chance to tell if a DLC story is really worth it, if it really adds anything. If you know it’s the same gameplay as the rest of the game, sure you may have enjoy having more of the game to go through so your time with the game doesn’t have to end just yet but do you really want to pay more money for just that little bit extra.
It is a pain for trophy/achievement hunters on consoles as well. While the PS4 has at least split up its trophies’ list in games to separate the main game and the DLC, you still get an overall percentage for the game on the main screen which might irk some completionists. Imagine putting plenty of time and effort in a game to see your overall trophy score at a percentage of 66% despite mastering everything in the original game you bought. The desire for completion is what fuelled the rise of micro-transactions in video games.
It’s actually a very common feature of mobile games where people who aren’t gamers can still get sucked into the same world and fall into the same traps. With these games, you can usually buy more lives or power-ups among other things to help you keep playing the game without having to wait for your lives to come back and get further in the game. Sure, in the days of the arcade, people were always buying more lives with real money but you didn’t own the arcade game to play at any time.
There are plenty of mobile games where you are a creator of cities for example and you use in-game money to build new buildings. Some games even give you the option to spend real money to buy game money to help you with your progress. For me personally, I’ve never played a mobile game I so desperately wanted to complete so if there seemed to be a bit that was near impossible without using real money, I’d just stop playing at that point.
For video games, a lot of games did and still do offer enhancements, power-ups, stronger weapons etc which can be purchased with in-game money or by completing a certain challenge in the game. Sometimes by the time you’d raised the amount of money needed in the game, you might have already completed the game and so now a new power/weapon might just be overkill but at least games are designed to be beaten without the player needing to have the best of the best of everything. There is something to be said about the reward of being able to complete a game, even if you got stuck on certain bits for a long time without having to resort to making your character overpowered.
Raising the money in-game or completing a task may take a lot of time to do but it is a way to get the best equipment without having to spend any of your actual money. I don’t see what the big deal is for you to have to play a game for a longer time in order to achieve this. Sure, even the best games may become a bit tedious if they require you to grind tasks for a long time in order to get what you want but I don’t see what the rush is. These enhancements can make the game easier which can be satisfying if you’ve toiled through the game while dying constantly to have your efforts rewarded with enough in-game money to give yourself a treat. I can’t see anyway that people get that same satisfaction from using their real money to buy these kinds of things at an earlier stage in the game than they are ‘supposed to’ in order to make the remainder of the game a cakewalk.
In the quest for easier gaming comes Loot Boxes, probably the only thing that can be described as 100% cynical when it comes to paying for content. With DLC and micro-transactions, people know what they are spending their money on and obviously enough players buy these things for games companies to keep it up. A Loot Box is essentially a mystery box that gamers can pay for in order to acquire a number of items usually for the same reasons as above- to enhance something or to create something. There’s no telling what is inside, there could be rare items or it could be items that is found commonly in the game, perhaps even in-game money (ironically), you don’t know until your money’s already gone; it’s easy to see why it has been compared to gambling.
While I dislike the video games industry for DLC and micro-transactions, it is here to stay as long as people keep buying it and as I said, people know what they are paying for. Loot boxes have come under scrutiny, rightfully so, because it requires people to pay for something without knowing what they are getting. For me, I’ve managed to block out the nagging ‘incompleteness’ of a game from not buying the DLC and some of my best gaming memories have come as a result of the grind and struggle of the game; once you get through it, there’s a feeling of satisfaction for completing the game and having not had to spend any of my own money.