We've been through this song and dance before, gaming industry. Too many times.
Remember when Warner Bros. Interactive was rolling our marketing for Middle-earth: Shadow of War just over a year ago, and trying to tip-toe around the game's absurd pay-to-win microtransactions? We explained at the time why it not only makes the game look bad, but literally ruins the game design and experience.
Surprising no one who can think for themselves, this did help ruin the game. Some players boycotted it, and eventually, after squeezing as much money as possible, the developers went back on that decision and removed the microtransactions entirely. They didn't apologize for this nonsense of course, but the actions speak louder than PR. They were wrong. The game was skippable as a result, and now that brand and developer aren't worthy of your trust.
It's the same for Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and its total disaster of a launch. Even Gears of War 4 hurt itself with pay-to-win horde mode, a system so bad it encouraged players to not even finish a full set of waves. For so many publishers and developers in recent years, greed has trumped game design, and more often than not, PR speech tries to trick gamers into thinking that these are just "optional" or that the devs are kindly offering "shortcuts" for those who don't have the time.
But if you don't have time to play the game, why is their a premium surcharge for getting less out of the product? Why is the game so slow that there'd even be an option to skip ahead? Or is that grind built in there on purpose to psychological encourage the spending of more money?
You know the answer to all of these questions which is why we can only roll our eyes and shake our heads at Capcom with what they're doing right now with Devil May Cry 5. Please note, that what we explain ahead is not a joke.
In Devil May Cry 5, players can acquire and spend Red Orbs, a staple of the series, to level up their character, earned simply from playing the game. These same Red Orbs can be used to revive in-game should the player character, Nero or Dante, die. That's rather standard, right?
Devil May Cry 5 is Pay-to-Win
During demos at TGS 2018, Gamespot noted that players will also be able to spend real-money on these orbs. The franchise's in-game shop known as Divinity Statue (or Watcher of Time) lets players spend orbs on upgrades, but these orbs are available through real-money microtransaction purchases. Devil May Cry 5 is quite literally pay-to-win. Worse yet, now players can pay real-money to be immortal too, since these orbs can be spent on revives - the more you spend the more health you get back too! What a great option! Cheat codes have been fully monetized by Capcom with DMC5.
Devil May Cry 5 game director Hideaki Itsuno explained to Gamespot that it's just about giving players this wonderful "option."
"With giving people the ability to purchase Red Orbs, it’s something we want to give people as an option. If they want to save time and just want to get all the stuff at once, those people can do that. But on the other hand I don’t feel you have to get all the moves. You should be able to play it the way you want to play it."
Okay, can we play it with all unlocks without spending extra money beyond the retail price of the game? Nope. I suppose it's not about giving players choice then, is it? It's about nickel-and-diming through game design and player progression, elements fully controlled by Capcom in a way to maximize profit. That's not about gameplay at all. Hideaki Itsuno continues:
"It’s interesting because from a game design point of view there’s two different things we think about when we set the prices of the moves, skills, and abilities [which can be purchased with Red Orbs]. The first thing is the stuff that we feel people should want to get first is made cheaper. So people will think, ‘Oh this is cheap so I’m just going to buy this.’ But then for the stuff that’s going to be harder to use and master, we make that more expensive. Partly because of you save up for that you’re not going to be able to buy as many skills, so you’re going to have the time to learn it. So you have to make the decision between going for the cheaper stuff or saving up, getting the thing that has a lot of application but you’ll have to spend time learning and perfecting."
This whole monetized in-game economy thing hurts what should be the focus of the game, and certainly impacts how it's designed and how players are rewarded for play. And as always, this isn't optional because at the moment there will be no version of the game that doesn't have progression and game design built around and affected by an in-game real-money store. That's why it's there.
Fans on social media and Reddit are expectedly mixed about all of this, even as the /r/DevilMayCry moderators hide new posts on microtransactions all under one thread, and negativity is brewing. Capcom producer Matt Walker was asked about the microtransactions on Twitter, and responded with no details whatsoever:
Thanks for the Tweet! It’s understandable that people are worried about micro transactions in games! I’m happy knowing that people will be reassured when they play the game and find that it’s balanced the way all the other DMCs have been. ^_^— Matt Walker (@gypsyOtoko) September 23, 2018
It's not though, Matt.
Publishers and developers keep talking about offering shortcuts, but unless it's a menu option or a cheat code, it's just another ask for no actual content. If you're just trying to maximize profit while trading off game quality, Capcom should just explain it that way so we don't have to for you.
There's a lot of time between now and Devil May Cry 5's release date, so this issue can still be revolved pre-launch.
Devil May Cry 5 releases March 2019 and we'll be meeting with Capcom this week at NYCC 2018 to learn more.