Imagine that you’ve bought a new car and I mean brand spanking new. Like any other car, it comes with a manual but this one’s a bit different. There’s a page for instructions on how to make your own seat cushions that are significantly more comfortable than the ones already in the car.
You were already informed about this peculiarity by the car dealer and you’re satisfied with the conclusion that it’s just there as an “in-case you want to DIY” kind of thing because those upgraded cushions are also available for purchase anyway.
So after a few months of driving, you start feeling it. There’s that slight sense of intrusive rigidity on your butt coming from the seat base. Your back hurts a bit from the lumbar support that feels like it has deformed.
It’s just a bit annoying on the short drives but almost unbearable for long distances. You’ve planned a trip back to your parents’ this weekend so you open up that trusty manual to see if you can get some last minute DIY done.
Ah dang it, there’s so much that needs to be done. Sure everything’s in there, even the name and location of stores that sell the materials you need but it’s a 14-step process and you’ve got to invest time in other things like work and of course, gaming. Oh, what’s this?
At the end of the instructions is actually a mini-advert for the ready-made seat cushions. Even the price is stated there and it’s just RM15 more than the amount you’d have to spend to DIY the cushions.
“To hell with it, it’s just RM15 extra. I’ll just buy the cushions.”
This is the Single Player Lootbox Problem. Instead of a car, it’s a video game and instead of seat cushions, it’s in-game items that allow you to skip the more mundane parts of the game.
Design Choices = Monetary Choices
In the above car analogy, there was no mention of how the car manufacturers deliberately designed the seat cushions to become a tolerable inconvenience. Of course, why would anyone want their customers to know about such a design choice? The same goes for gaming. It’s not something you’ll hear explicitly stated.
If you want examples, you don’t have to look too far back. Some reviews of the recently released (and well received) Assassin’s Creed Odyssey state that the game’s occasional need for grinding felt like it was complementing the microtransactions offered.
Just a year ago, Middle-earth: Shadow of War became infamous due to its lootboxes and the common criticism of how the game’s true ending was locked behind hours and hours of tedious grinding.
“It’s optional and it’s there for players who don’t have as much time” is what the developers often say but if a game was designed to be completely enjoyable and its challenges surmountable from start to end without the assistance of microtransactions, would people still be interested in buying lootboxes?
Would people spend an extra RM10 to circumvent an interesting, fun, and rewarding sidequest? Probably not.
In the end, it still remains true that microtransactions in single player games are optional and unnecessary for the completion of the games. You don’t have to fork out any extra cash to experience the well-written stories or make full use of the robust combat systems.
The question is, are we being put through hours of not-so-fun gameplay to reach the fun parts of the game?