Dead Space 3 introduces microtransactions, but the worse crime is against the game’s inner logic
Eurogamer broke the news that the upcoming Dead Space 3 would feature a system allowing players to purchase resources with real-world currency to aid in the weapon-crafting system. You’ll also be able to earn these resources by playing the game of course, but rest assured that you can reach for your wallet if you find yourself a little short. “We spotted mention of ‘downloadable content’ during a recent hands-on play session with the game,” Eurogamer reported. “The message pops up when you don't have enough resources to piece together the beefy new weapon you're after.” They went on to have the microtransaction system confirmed by Dead Space 3 associate producer Yara Khoury. The addition of microtransactions isn't bothersome by itself, but the way they’ve been added seems to go against one of game's best design strengths. Allow me to explain.
This is a world
The first Dead Space did a wonderful job of drawing you into its world. Even the menus seemed to exist within the internal logic of the game's world, as the did the laser that allowed you to see where to go next. You hit a button, and Isaac used his hand to illuminate the floor and show the direction you need to go. The team clearly took pains to keep your mind inside the game, and they removed as many hints of the game's artifice as possible. You didn't pause the game to look at a menu, Isaac merely turned to view a holographic projection in the game. You could still be attacked. Now, the Dead Space games are exactly that: games. We can argue about things in the first few games that hurt this illusion here and there, but the existence of microtransactions being sold within the game is by far the worst example of breaking immersion. Not only does a terminal in the game display information to the player instead of Isaac, it breaks the fourth wall. It’s an item inside the game reminding you that you’re not inside the game. It ignores the character and begins to speak with the person holding the controller. The addition of microtransactions doesn't just break the fourth wall in terms of ignoring Isaac to speak to the player, but it also kills the internal reality of the game. Maybe I'm just being super-nerdy here, but I enjoy when a game's world is airtight. In a racing game it doesn't matter if I can buy a new car and race it; I can argue that my character in the game has a nice bankroll. No sweat. The world continues on merrily. If you're playing a first-person shooter and you buy a weapon pack that also makes sense; your mercenary is now better equipped because they were given access to more guns. The world inside the game rolls on. The problem with Dead Space 3 is that you're supposed to be a character who is on his own, cut off, and alone. Even the game's co-op mode introduces another character into the game's story, and if you're not playing with a friend he kindly fucks off so you can be scared alone. This required more time and money to be spent on scenes that can play out in different ways, but it helps maintain the game's internal logic. If Isaac collects scrap for weapon upgrades, fine. But by giving the player the ability to simply purchase more, it destroys the world. A god-like hand is introduced and drops supplies in the lap of the character. It breaks the deal the game has made with the player, and it kills the tension. He's not alone, I'm there looking out for him, and sending drops of equipment. He's no longer a character in a real situation, he's a character in the Hunger Games hoping that a benevolent observer sends him supplies. I don't really care about microtransactions as long as the game remains balanced; it's an easy thing to ignore them to play as the designers intended, and we can judge the economy's balance once we actually have the game in our hands. The problem is that the game breaks itself in front of the player to give you the option of gifting the character with crafting materials. It feels like a character on the Sopranos turning towards the camera at the end of Season 2 to pitch you on re-subscribing to HBO. I don't mind being told I should subscribe to HBO, and it's a pretty good channel, but that's not the time to do so. The game itself still looks great, and I'm excited about the co-op addition to the game after trying it at EA's home offices during last year's E3, but this seems like a step in the wrong direction. If you want to sell me items, at least find a way to do so that doesn't intrude into the main game. I've reached out to EA to ask about these changes, but have yet to hear back.