Paying Your Way Ahead: Are Premium In-Game Boosts Fair or Foul?

Alex and Chris share their thoughts on the increasingly common trend of letting gamers pay to skip the grind in games.

As video game consoles have become increasingly online-centric, the games industry has experimented with different ways of making money from the opportunities this has presented. One such example: offering paid boosts that provide players with in-game money or immediate access to unlockables (be it cars, guns, or whatever else).

Several developers have been implementing these boosts in their games over the past few years. For example, Battlefield 4 has "Battlepacks" for purchase that give you several items and sometimes temporary experience boosts, and even World of Warcraft allows you to pay for your character to automatically level up to 90. Grid Autosport is one of the latest games to offer such a boost, releasing a "Boost Pack" DLC for $3 that makes you earn experience and in-game cash more quickly. This sparked a discussion online about why these kinds of things are offered, resulting in an astonishingly honest explanation from developer Codemasters' community manager: "It sells."

Many players find these boosts objectionable, while others are less bothered by them so long as they're optional. We turned to two of our writers for their thoughts on this trend.

Battlefield 4

Alex Newhouse: Boosts Undermine and Devalue Gameplay

Clearly, designing a game based around DLC boosts undermines the whole experience of playing a video game. It nudges people who don't have time to waste to purchase upgrades. Grid developer Codemasters understands the shady nature of this type of design, which is why we see it adamantly stating that no parts of the game were changed to sell DLC.

But it doesn't matter if no developer ever intentionally changes its project. DLC boosts have that effect regardless of the state of the game. Simply put, the existence of boosts alters the perception of the game. Without them, the game is a known quantity; the speed of the progression is constant and unchanging. With an option for increased advancement through the game, that opportunity is immediately put into the player's mind. In a way, it's like hiking up a mountain with a paved road to the top. You can walk all the miles to the summit, or you can pay a small fee for gas or toll to simply drive to the top in comfort. When you've been hiking for hours, driving by car and paying the fee seems increasingly attractive.

By adding boosts to a game, a developer is fundamentally altering its design whether intentionally or not. It's changing the game by adding an easier path. The game is skewed toward encouraging the player to spend more money.

Grid Autosport

Additionally, boosts harm the game itself by lessening the value of the gameplay. When you're able to buy your way past some of the grind, what is the point of the grind in the first place? The message imparted by DLC boosts is that the basic process of playing the game is made up of superfluous material that can be streamlined. Having a boost that reduces the time to a certain goal from 15 hours to seven hours, for example, devalues the other eight hours. There's no real purpose for making a certain task take 15 hours if half of it can be cut out. It shifts the focus of the game to the goal and marginalizes the journey.

DLC progression boosts probably are here to stay for some time, but there's no reason we have to like them. I enjoy games for their gameplay--in other words, the process of striving to achieve, not the achievements themselves. I like the journey. And even if the journey is preserved during game development, the addition of boosts afterwards reduces its importance. The danger isn't intentional manipulation--what is really concerning is the unintentional effects and the subconscious response from players that compels them to take the easier path.

Chris Pereira: What's Wrong With a Choice?

I'm not vehemently against these DLC boosts like Alex; my only real objection to them is when the game's design has been altered to account for them. The mobile Dungeon Keeper game was obviously designed with them in mind, and no one thinks that turned out well. A game like NBA 2K14, on the other hand, looks less offensive on the surface, but was ruined for me by its Virtual Currency system. The game actually put you in a position where you have no choice but to hurt yourself (by declining a coach or player request, for instance) if you're short on VC and unwilling to spend real money on more.

Forza Motorsport 5

Examples like that aside, I don't see the harm when these boosts are offered in a purely optional way. The matter of perception is a non-issue in my mind; if the game truly was designed as it would have otherwise been, I don't see offering a DLC boost as a problem. There are countless examples of things where public perception is skewed. Take downloadable expansions, which some people bemoan because of the belief that the content must have been excised from the initial release so it could be sold to people later. While it's possible this has happened, most of the time this isn't the case--and we shouldn't simply do away with DLC because people might get the wrong impression about it.

And I don't buy the argument that the mere availability of these boosts will act as some kind of Jedi mind trick on players: If the idea of them offends you, I don't imagine you'll be buying them just because they're there. If a large group of players are going to ignore them, you might ask why include them at all--and the aforementioned point from Codemasters explains exactly why: some people want them.

The notion of using a boost to skip the grind in a game might be appalling to some, and I undoubtedly would have viewed them in the same way when I was younger. After all, that grind can represent some of a game's real meat, such as in a JRPG like Persona 4 where those countless battles open the door to the nuance that makes its combat enjoyable.

As long as the grind isn't made longer for the sake of selling boosts, who am I to stand in the way of someone short on time who doesn't mind paying to get access to the weapon or car they want?

But as I've gotten older, I've found myself with less time to play games. As a result, the grind that comes as a part of certain games--earning currency in a Forza or unlocking the multitude of weapons, attachments, and upgrades in a Battlefield--is becoming increasingly insurmountable. I'm not quite ready to start paying to skip those grinds, as there remains a satisfaction in earning those things for myself. But as long as that grind isn't made longer for the sake of selling boosts, who am I to stand in the way of someone short on time who doesn't mind paying to get access to the weapon, car, or whatever that they want? And if you're concerned that the grind is excessively long, I'd suggest holding out on buying a game at launch to find out if reviewers and other players have found that to be a problem--advice that I daresay would be a wise move no matter how you feel about this subject.

Really, the only question I have regarding these sorts of boosts is whether they ought to be free so that players have the flexibility to play games however they wish. But, as Codemasters says, people are willing to pay for them, and as long as that's the case, it's unlikely many publishers will pass up the opportunity to make an easy buck. As long as they don't allow that to affect game design in any way--and only if that's the case--I won't begrudge them much for it.

What side of the discussion do you fall on? Let us know your thoughts on these DLC boosts, as well as whether you've purchased one before, in the comments below.

Follow Alex Newhouse on Twitter @AlexBNewhouse and Chris Pereira @TheSmokingManX
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Twitter/Xbox Live/PSN/Nintendo Network: TheSmokingManX

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Discussion

191 comments
LeoKRock
LeoKRock

I'm okay with micro transactions in multiplayer modes. But they have no business in single player modes, and have ruined the experience for me in at least 2 games: Forza 5 and NBA 2K14

PSYCHOV3N0M
PSYCHOV3N0M

I'm a fan of having OPTIONS as much as the next guy but these "boosts" formerly known as CHEAT CODES(which were FREE by the way) shouldn't exist in NON-free-to-play games.


You're PAYING to BUY THE GAME & then you're PAYING to NOT PLAY THE GAME. That's just naive to do.

PSYCHOV3N0M
PSYCHOV3N0M

I'm 27. I've been gaming since the NES/Genesis days. Back in the 6th generation of gaming (PS2, GC, XBOX) & before, these "in-game boosts" were called CHEAT CODES & they were 100% FREE.

ZeEzO
ZeEzO

remember passwords and cheats? 

jknifeza
jknifeza

I agree with Alex,i don't think that this should be put into a game intentionally and alter the game itself,some Ipad games force you to have to spend real money to further in the game. i personally like to grind away and get my achievements that way,and games were designed to be like this from the begging of the gaming era.


for example the new PES 2015 is apparently going to allow you to spend real money to buy any player you want,so those willing will create the best team around and even if they are only half good at the game will have the advantage over other players....to me it seems its just a way for the publishers to make a quick buck! its very annoying when you can't unlock everything in a game because it requires you to pay for it!

SkyAboveThePort
SkyAboveThePort

I'm with Alex on this one. One simple example, let's say in an online fps you can unlock all levels/weapons/attachments with money, without playing the game much. You end up being matched against players who have spent dozens of hours in the game to unlock their gear. For them, it is a bad experience being matched with inexperienced players. For the inexperienced players in turn, it might be frustrating to have spent all the money just to find that they don't stand a chance against experienced players even with all their gear.

So in the end it diminishes the game for everybody involved. This was just one example, but I believe it stands true for most other genres, especially nowadays that games are very online-centric.

BlackBaldwin
BlackBaldwin

I don't play these types of games I have better games that requires my attention plus this is a bad business practice in general imo.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

If you don't like free-to-grind metagame designs, bolster that opinion of yours by refusing to play games which have them.

geezerdaman
geezerdaman

Battlepacks only became purchasable recently. Prior to this they were a part of the game that you got as you ranked up. They were always there and now you just have the option to buy some should you desire. Its not like they got added in after the fact for a price and you couldn't get them any other way.

hitomo
hitomo

when gameplay is no longer apearing as gameplay but as grind ... you have a problem, grind is one of the things that should be eliminated during quality asurance ... grind means the designers dropped the ball or are just trying to treat you like an dump.a.ss ...


pay to win really only is a big 'f.uck.you' from the game makers ... simple as that

PinchySkree
PinchySkree

Premium in game boosts are a mix between the Pay to Win sub genres "Pay to not grind" (excessively) and Pay to Not Play.

GreenvaleXYZ
GreenvaleXYZ

I don't understand how people don't feel ashamed buying in-game items to help them win.  For real, you paid money for a fictional gun/car/item to help you perform in a video game.  You couldn't hack it.  You couldn't figure it out.  You couldn't develop the skill to manage a situation in a video game.  So you paid real money to just progress a little bit, or appear better, or trick yourself into thinking you've improved in this fictional setting.  I mean, for real, that's what you did.  Put down the controller.  Now.

waffleiron88
waffleiron88

DLC like this is ok, but the people that buy it should be forced to wear an identifying tag on their in game names so that the wallet warriors can be spotted

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

Now that I've vented on grinding, I want to comment less emotionally a bit on unlocks. Some people have said grinding is a way for good players to earn better equipment, and boosts cheapens the process and the result. Neither the act of grinding nor the equipment itself make you a better player. If you have become a better player during your many hours of practice, power to you; this is the classic example of hard work bearing fruit. If another player on his second day beat you... Well, if he bought an overpowered gear that skill cannot overcome, then the whole game is just badly designed, and you should stop playing. We all should. If he has the same gun as you, there is still a chance that the game isn't well made enough for a wide range of skills to show. If he beat you fair and square, then either he is just a great player or you suck.

Having said that, I recognize some games are large enough in scope to warrant restricting access to certain roles or equipment to those who have skill in using them. It doesn't make sense for everyone in a 50 player match to be snipers or drive tanks (unless it's WoT). Some mechanics that appear to be grind are actually tests. Requiring you to kill 50 people with head shots or maintaining 80% accuracy after 20 games are decent thresholds to a good sniper rifle. Asking for 500 head shots with one specific gun just sound stupid. On the other side, there are quicker and more effective ways to gauge a player's skill that I don't know. Even in those situations, perhaps especially in those situations, the amount you've grinded should not be a factor in rewards. Only your growth through playing matters, not how much you've played. And if you are a good player and good sport, you'd appreciate the skill even in someone who just started playing.

ggregd
ggregd

I've never considered playing a game as designed to be a grind.  In an MMO it's not a grind to do quests, explore the map , experience the story and reach the level cap.  Most of them are designed such that you're at the level cap once you've done all the quests.  A grind is, for example, killing 2000 of the same creature in order to get faction.  Similarly it's not a grind to play multiplayer matches in a shooter to get experience, it's the meat of the game.

The other thing is experience isn't just points in the game toward the next level, it's your own real experience playing the game and getting better.  Someone who just bought a level 90 character in WoW simply isn't going to know how to play as well as someone who just reached level 90 playing.  If you've played half as many matches in an FPS, on average, you're not as good as people who didn't.  Other players expect a high level character to know what they're doing.  Matchmaking doesn't work if you can have people supposedly at the same level with widely different amounts of play experience.  These things mean buying boosts does more than just add convenience for people who are strapped for time (or lazy) it detracts from the game for other players.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

My first reaction is not toward boost but toward grind. I don't usually comment on other people's preference, but I think people who grind are fools. I think the whole idea of grinding is a an absurd offense. I don't even think grinding is gameplay. The unitary action in a grind is gameplay; grind is just that action repeated a hundred or a million times. My feeling has not changed since playing my first MMORPG in the late 90s.

Thus, of course, I don't think anything that bypasses grind is a bad thing. Fairness is a non-issue since humanity has in no time in its history not favored those with wealth when it comes to matters of luxury. If you want to waste the finite resource that is human life on grinding, go for it. Don't drag others down with you.

That leads me to agree with Chris, perhaps Alex as well, on one very important part. Monetization based on bypassing grind has high risk of introducing grind into a game that would otherwise be both whole and better. This is exactly what I found inferior about SWTOR vs. KOTOR. In that case, it was not so much the presence of boost but the fact SWTOR is a MMORPG that I was forced to repeat the same killing process dozens of times over, and it wasn't even that bad. I have played games where the same thing is asked to be repeated hundreds of times, daily. Not even the anger of my best friends could prevent me from quitting those games.

drysprocket
drysprocket

Alex is right.

Chris, to address one point you made: "And if you're concerned that the grind is excessively long, I'd suggest holding out on buying a game at launch to find out if reviewers and other players have found that to be a problem--advice that I daresay would be a wise move no matter how you feel about this subject."

Gamespot review of BF4: still an 8.0 to this day. A game that I tried daily to get to work, and never fully did. Only minus in the review: poor campaign.

Reviews obviously aren't the answer these days.

xcollector
xcollector

Now rich people like Patcher can have a shot at winning against elite gamers. Gaming will never be the same.

93ChevyNut
93ChevyNut

This sums it up for me:

"It shifts the focus of the game to the goal and marginalizes the journey."

That being said, I could endorse DLC boosts that require the player to get to a certain level before you even have the option.  Like requiring a WoW player to get to level 50 before he/she can pay to jump straight to lvl 90.  That way, it forces the player to enjoy at least some of the journey before jumping to the goal.

Sgt-Damain
Sgt-Damain

If someone wants to pay extra to avoid grinding I think that is fine. If you create a grind in order to get people to pay more that's awful.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

Find out If and when it's the last title I buy from them.

skidmarkmike11
skidmarkmike11

This just goes to show how far we've strayed from the days of the competitive arena online games. Now you can pay for a competitive edge, even if it's oh so slight. I still believe that the best battlefield or COD players rise to the top with the best guns or not. But for the average players, it sucks that you gotta compete with these guys who sometimes dominate based on their load-out.

Setzera
Setzera

I'm 50/50 on this issue.  Some games have done it right, and others have made it so playing the game is completely pointless.  I have some personal examples.


WWE 2k14, I bought the unlock all feature, because I just want to play the game my way, I don't enjoy the objectives.


NHL '14 and MLB '14, I did not buy the career points, because if I want to play with max stats, I can do that in all the other modes.  So having a player work his way up is useless if I pay for it, no matter how much grind is involved otherwise.


Games like Planetside, Dust 514, and other games in the PvP market, these always seem like a foul idea, because instead of playing 200 hours for a good gun, some people will spend $20.  Making the whole thing one sided to those who paid money.  Personally, that makes it pointless to play unless you plan to spend money.


It's hard to explain, but overall,  it would be safer if it just went away, games wouldn't be so grindy, and you wouldn't risk an unfair advantage.  However, I know in human nature, an advantage is hard to turn down, especially in a recreational setting where the idea is to have the most fun.  Heck, that's why I used to own all the Gameshark's and Pro Action Replay's back in the day.

meatz666
meatz666

Grind should be exclusively a game design, not a profit machine.

If you could pay to stay alive in Dark Souls, how much damaged the gameplay would be? It'd probably ruin the game.

seanwil545
seanwil545

People need to speak with their wallets.

Not to start a console war, but do really think MS would have removed Kinect, Lowered the price and change their paywall policy if sales were off the chart?

The same applies to games. Talk with the Devs while they are developing, tell them want you want and do not want.

straightcur
straightcur

In a multiplayer game, they are just wrong.  In a single player game, if you want to cheat yourself, then who cares.

spectralmerc
spectralmerc

I think it largely depends on the game. In games with a competitive edge, where people fight other people to win, paying for boosts is really foul. All players should be in equal footing in absolutely all fields when they are pit against each other. On the other hand, cooperative games don't need that kind of equality. I, for one, play Warframe, where pretty much everything can be bought either with Platinum (real money) or Credits. Also, grind, but since Warframe is a game where you face AI minions, the boosts offered are helpful for those who don't want to grind hours on end. I am one of those that love the combat in the game, and play enough different games to avoid being bothered by crafting times, so boosts, while present, are not mandatory for me, even if I understand why for someone would.


I think this is one of the subjects in gaming that shouldn't be looked under a binary light. It's neither Good nor Bad, it's a case-by-case scenario where it sometimes works great (like Dota 2 and its Battle Point Booster), works fine (like Warframe) or it doesn't (like Dungeon Keeper).

Lagguz
Lagguz

Foul. The problem isn't that you can pay to skip the grind, but that the devs will increase the grind needed to tempt people to buy the skip.

Dark_Mits
Dark_Mits

There are two sides on this matter. You have to think of the developer/publisher as well. Triple-A games of the 8th generation are averaging or exceeding US$100M in costs (GTAV reportedly cost US$265M) and barely scratch the US$500M income (GTAV again being an exception). Triple-A games of the SNES era (like Super Mario World) cost approximately around US$5M (this includes marketing around the globe) and sold equally well (over 20 millions standalone boxes) at the same price (US$60).


I am against DLC because the majority of publisher/developers use it in the wrong way; they lock vital content of the game in them. They are not used as extras.


-=EDIT=-
I found this very interesting article
http://www.zippygamer.com/2010/03/the-costs-of-game-development-and-publishing/
Explains a lot

gamer7736
gamer7736

I refuse to spend more money to unlock features that are already in the game I already paid for, especially if it's a retail game. But, I respect the business decision to put them there because there are many people who will, and they can easily monetize that.


I think the main issue is good game design. The non-payers should still be able to have fun, rather than just become cannon fodder for the payers. I think paying should be about unlocking new experiences and new play styles or whatever, not a necessity to be competitive to win or enjoy the game.


For example, if an FPS made me only use pistols unless I ground or paid, I'd just change my play style to fit that, like I'd play support roles and capture stuff instead of trying to kill enemy players until I unlocked better guns through thees fun activities. A good game would be made so you can run faster with pistols, so it is easier to capture flags or give you some other advantage and have fun playing that role. A bad game would force you to fight head on with people who paid real money for powerful guns and make you frustrated until you quit or pay.

Darkhol0w
Darkhol0w

Implementing microtransactions in a full game is a disease that needs to be purified by righteous fire.

Jasper_73
Jasper_73

This is just another reason the industry needs an independent regulator. Not all publishers/developers are consumer centric. Most are only interested in finding more and more covert ways in which to fleece more and more cash. Its getting increasingly harder for consumers to make an informed choice, when making any kind of purchase with in the gaming industry. No other industry would get away with this so why is it acceptable in this one?

jknifeza
jknifeza

in FIFA 14 i have come across players with the best team and with the best chemistry,but they could play as i would have expected them to, thats when i realised they have been spending real money to assemble a great team but don't really have the skill to play.

daikkenaurora12
daikkenaurora12

@SkyAboveThePort Agreed.  Having all the gear means nothing when you dont know how to play the game.  So the industry excuse "This is for people who dont have time to play the game", gets thrown away.

SkyAboveThePort
SkyAboveThePort

@BlackBaldwin If all games pick up these practices, soon you will either have to play them ot not play games at all...

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

@ggregd I like your point about players needing a way to properly match up or join up with others. Character experience is the established way to do that, but there are better ones now that online games track so much stat. Most people get better at something if they do it enough times, but I do not believe that should be point of judgment in a ephemeral activity like gaming where some are good because they've played other games and some have reached the limit of personal growth way before level cap. For the dedicated community of long term players, I am sure they have ways of grilling someone new (by that I mean unknown) for their worth even without consulting any in-game stat.

blooodravens
blooodravens

@93ChevyNut  I know it's just an example, but wouldn't that basically be the developers admitting  "levels 51-89 are pointless grind" ??

93ChevyNut
93ChevyNut

@Sgt-Damain Precisely this.  The worst of it is that if a developer knows the DLC boosts will be part of the game from the get-go, you'll never know if an extra grind was created for the DLC.  The devs will say that it's "balanced", but likely it actually isn't.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

@skidmarkmike11 Yeah except in COD and BF these days you are paying to get to the max level and have access to all guns. That doesn't give you any edge in the game. They have also started allowing people to purchase the guns with in game currency collected from matches so most people have access to all guns pretty soon anyway instead of having to grind levels.

They will be literally paying for max prestige and things like weapon slots which comes along with the level. Ultimately pointless, especially considering they will still be in the same place on the leaderboard even if they are max level. You can't buy the number of one slot online.

hystavito
hystavito

@seanwil545 I have said this many times, gamers don't have the willpower to speak with their wallets :).  Too much excitement and desire over games.  A game just needs to have a little portion that is really exciting or enticing, and despite a load of other things that gamers really dislike, they will still buy the game.

PSYCHOV3N0M
PSYCHOV3N0M

@Lagguz BOTTOM LINE: The problem is that developers are GREEDY. These used to be CHEAT CODES (and they were FREE). I understand this is a business but if they want MORE of our money then either:


A. Make your game be a GREAT experience worthy of a day 1 $60 purchase (so we don't WANT to wait a year for it to drop to $20 &/OR so we don't wait for a GOTY edition).


B. Create memorable high quality expansions that ADDS NEW SUBSTANTIAL CONTENT to the main game. Content that makes gamers WANT to pay original prices for the expansions as opposed to waiting for a 50-85% off sale.

fede018
fede018

@Darkhol0w that's what H itler said.

nazgoroth
nazgoroth

@Darkhol0w it's a reason is stopped with cod... new paid weapon skin spam everyother day...

spartanx169x
spartanx169x

@Jasper_73  Oh so you want to drive up costs even more. Yeah, brilliant idea. More government.

skidmarkmike11
skidmarkmike11

@Dannystaples14 I guess I'm not too familiar with COD's premium service. But what you are saying, is not quite the case with Battlefield for now. 


But I purchased premium for BF4, so I guess I'm a part of this problem. They make it tough when you really love a certain game.

Jasper_73
Jasper_73

@spartanx169x @Jasper_73 Not at all. the industry is way too expensive and its quite obvious that a lot of people with in the industry are able to get away with far too much. this will reign those in and make it fair for developers, publishers, manufacturers and consumers alike.

jknifeza
jknifeza

@SkyAboveThePort agreed they should not get any achievements,just like in GTA when you use the cheat codes,you achievements don't count.

spartanx169x
spartanx169x

@Jasper_73 @spartanx169x  Because I want to know before I get into a long debate with you. Given that you could not answer.  I'm guessing you are a child with little to know education in business and economics. So based on that let me educate you, Its been proven that more government regulation drives up costs to consumers. Want proof? Go see what Obamacare has done to health insurance costs and the costs of healthcare in general. Once you have done that. Then we can have another conversation. Don't take my word for it. Go get an education.

Jasper_73
Jasper_73

@spartanx169x The fact that you have resorted to throwing around insults rather than put together a reasoned argument means that this conversation is over. I gave up responding to childlike insults a long time ago.