Microsoft’s system-seller for the Xbox One is Forza Motorsport 5, a racing title that seeks to redefine what the Forza brand means to Xbox fans the world over. Forza 5’s design and visuals bring real, tangible changes to what it means for a game to be part of the next-gen switch.
But the reason why the game is on the tongues of every game journalist and the topic of thousands of threads on internet forums is the fact that it’s part of a growing trend of AAA games that have microtransactions included in them. And it’s beginning to show that not all gamers are comfortable with the idea, or the way that games are designed.
So why is this a possible dealbreaker in Forza 5? The first reason is that unlike in Forza 4 or it’s Playstation 3-based competitor, Gran Turismo 5, cars are no longer awarded to players who win races or challenges inside the game. Instead, you get money, Forza tokens or Drivatar rewards from the antics of your online ghost persona.
Not dealing out cars as a prize means that players have to use their in-game credit for every car they want to buy, making it difficult to turn a profit for your antics on the track while in-game.
So you get settled in for the long haul
This leads to what gamers call grinding. You essentially do a race over and over and over again until you have enough money to buy a car to participate in the next event, or to upgrade your current one. It’s a regular thing for most racing games, and often ends up in people like me booting up GT5 for an hour a day and simply doing the same race over and over again. For some people, this is worse than physical pain because they like to switch things up a bit every now and then.
Of course, Turn 10, the developers of the Forza series, know that this is the case. Buying in-game credit in the form of Forza tokens using real-world money, you can amass enough credits to buy your car and skip the weeks of grinding. At the time of this writing, it’s possible to pay $1,690 (±R17,180) to buy all the cars that are included on-disc in the game before you even start a race.
One example is the Lotus F1 car, one of the fastest open-wheeled cars in the game. It’s included in the game on launch, so you don’t have to buy it separately, but it does cost six million credits. You can bypass the grinding to get to that level by instead paying just over $100 to get it into your stable. There! Now you have the F1 car and it only took you five minutes to do it.
But that’s the case for cars that are included in the game. Lets take the Ferarri LaFerrari, for example – its available in a day one DLC car pack, along with eight other fairly regular cars in comparison. You can buy the pack for $9.99 and this adds the cars into your game and makes them purchasable through the car store. But you still have to have in-game credit to buy them and add them into your garage.
It doesn’t really change how racing games are generally set up
As a long-time fan of the racing genre, having begun playing when GT2 was available for the Sony Playstation, the whole money grinding thing has always been a part of the game’s set-up. Not making you work for that ’82 Yellowbird, or that Pontiac Firebird, or that Lamborghini Aventador does cheapen the experience somewhat.
Giving players the option of paying money to make that happen quicker means that a developer will be less concerned about how to stagger the rewards given to players for winning races. If you want players to use the in-game micro-transactions to bypass the grinding, you’ll make the race payouts less attractive and intentionally alter the game’s economy to make cars and upgrades more difficult to purchase with in-game credit.
In an interview with Shacknews, Dan Greenawalt pointed out that using the Drivatar system to make your credits instead will help with the grinding.
“Players can receive +65 per cent payout for playing against the hardest skill level Drivatars, up to +50 per cent bonus credit payouts for turning off the assists, and up to +35 per cent payouts for sticking with a favourite manufacturer. That’s +150 per cent bonus based on skill and strategy,” Greenawalt said.
“When you couple that with Drivatar rewards, UGC payouts, and Forza Rewards there are plenty of ways to earn credits in Forza 5. However, the fact remains: racing, skill, and strategy are the engine of the economy. Of course, we continue to monitor the economy via customer feedback as well as in-game telemetry and we have the ability to make adjustments should it be warranted,” he added.
So in the end, what’s really making people mad?
The most insulting thing is that cars are no longer given out as prizes for winning races or seasons. Since you apparently have so much time to invest in the game, why not make you spend more time to get the things you really want?
You can’t even sell the cars that you no longer like back into the game. If you didn’t like the Ford Cosworth Sierra you just bought for $5, you are stuck with it. If you have 1.5 million credits and spend them all on one car, you have to grind races again to get more money for the next car.
And then there’s the fact that the base game has some incredible cars, but you’ll only be able to experience the really great ones if you pony up for the DLC car packs and grind to afford them. You’re only afforded the privilege of experiencing some of Turn 10’s best handiwork if you pay through your nose for it or spend hours trying to get there without losing interest.
But more than that, it has the potential to cheapen the work that other players do to get to a high level. If I spend weeks honing my skills to be able to compete in the online Seasonal Events in GT5 and earning money for the car I need, just to see other people blow past me thanks to paying real-world money to get ahead in the game, that makes me wonder if the effort is worth it.
Sure, I’ll feel good about my hobby, but some asshat just spent R100 to bypass the work and get straight into the racing. That doesn’t mean I’ll assume I’m better than the other person, but it definitely makes me feel as if my time and energy invested into the game isn’t worth that much to the developers.
And in the end, animosity reigns
That knee-jerk reaction people have to seeing a good-looking woman in a red dress with bling and a fast sportscar, assuming she’s a gold digger with a rich husband, will just intensify on the online racetrack.
This is despite the fact that people progress through the game’s levels differently, sometimes quicker and sometimes slower than others, and the fact that some people are just better at holding a good driving line than others.
If one can simply buy any car they want with real money, it will lead players who can’t do so to bully and throw insults at anyone who turns up in a multiplayer match with a Bugatti Veyron Supersport because everyone will assume that it was bought, not earned.
If anyone’s been in a multiplayer match for a game that has a pay-to-win scheme, the curses, bullying, and insults at mothers that fly around during the match are enough to make a sailor blush, because the people who generally can’t afford the upgrades tend to pick on the ones who can.
And that erodes sportsmanship. It reduces the incentive to have any respect for other players because many people will judge others on their worthiness based on how they came by a particularly rare, or fast car. It takes away the level playing field and divides up the online component into the “haves” and “have-nots.” The elites stay on the top as elites, as long as they have money to burn.