When the multiplayer for “Halo Infinite” launched on Nov. 15, it marked the next highly-anticipated title in the “Halo” franchise. The hype was well-warranted, as the game plays like a dream. The guns feel impactful and exciting, the maps are gorgeous and players can choose between standard 4v4 battles or much larger battles that feel compelling and important. It’s a brilliantly-designed game that is everything “Halo” multiplayer should be.
However, the game has one fatal flaw. While it doesn’t have any direct impact on gameplay, the microtransactions within the game are predatory to an absurd degree. Microtransactions have served as a way for gaming companies to further make money off their product by offering in-game transactions for real-world money. A battle pass exists to theoretically grant free content to the player. However, progression is slow to the point where without accomplishing very specific, niche challenges, you could feasibly gain zero progression in a single match. It has drawn the ire of fans of the game, and deservedly so. Reddit user u/samurai1226 ran the math on how much it would cost to buy all of the store content in the first season of “Halo Infinite.” It came out to a staggering $1,035. The content, both unlockable through progression and through real money, wasn’t always that good. At level 69 of the battle pass, you unlocked the color green, which was already unlocked. At level 14, the paid version of the battle pass would get you a blue armor coating that resembles an already unlocked armor coating almost entirely.
Microtransactions have been a hot topic in gaming for quite some time at this point, prompting laws to be passed that restricted the use of loot boxes. The Netherlands and Belgium for example have each passed laws that related loot boxes to gambling and banned certain types as they could be a gateway to gambling among impressionable younger players. In 2019, Sen. Josh Hawley introduced a bill to the U.S. Congress that would ban loot boxes, but that hasn’t progressed since. The silver lining here is that microtransactions have largely progressed beyond giving gameplay benefits, and are mostly aesthetic in nature (at least in major AAA titles).
I was previously sucked into microtransactions through Japanese mobile games, in a system they call “gacha.” It functions like any other loot box, where the player inserts currency and gets any random assortment of loot in hopes that they might land a rare item they want. In my experience, skepticism around microtransactions is definitely warranted. The games will pull the player in with new player discounts, first-time buyer discounts, or a monthly subscription for greater value. It seems harmless, but it introduces you to the dopamine rush of what is essentially gambling. And since games are usually targeted at impressionable youth who don’t really know better, it can lead to a vicious cycle of rolling. I have since essentially cut myself off from those games, and while I still partake in microtransactions once in a while, I make sure to temper both my expectations and what I spend.
The point is that microtransactions are addictive. Getting to show off the fruits of your “labor” is really fun, and I am proud to admit I own 600 skins in League of Legends. But most of that was from my younger days when I didn’t truly appreciate the worth of money. I’m older and wiser, and I still use those skins, but young teenagers are almost certainly falling into the same traps that I used to, and it needs to stop. Of course, League of Legends gets a pass from the loot box discussion because you pay for exactly what you want with no need for luck.
The combination of young, impressionable minds and the predatory tactics for games with loot box systems have led to an epidemic of young people using up both them and their parents’ money. What’s more, the promotion of these skins from popular content creators is another issue. When young people get to watch what they want unmoderated, these content creators can instill thoughts in children’s minds, making them believe that they are worse off without a given cosmetic. Suddenly, children feel the need to obtain it at whatever cost.
Of course, not all microtransactions are bad. I think the battle pass system, when used correctly, was a brilliant idea to get more content into the hands of more people. Apex Legends, despite having massively overpriced store cosmetics, has a really solid battle pass system where you can really feel like you’re getting things you enjoy for relatively cheap. Not all loot boxes are bad either, although good ones are harder to come by. Overwatch has always been a shining example of what loot boxes should be. There are thousands of levels in Overwatch and everyone nets you a box with decent rates for rare, epic, and legendary loot. Various events also provide you with free special boxes or missions to obtain more.
If you feel like you needed someone to point out a potential problem, I hope this helped. If you’re a parent who has been trusting your children when they ask for your card, I’d encourage you to at least take a closer look. Microtransactions aren’t an issue on their own, but corporate greed has led video games to a state of trying to trick players into spending more money, which simply isn’t acceptable.