How much would you pay for a virtual ride?

, | Games

There’s this game about collecting and driving vehicles. In this game, you start with a low-end slower ride and graduate to faster, more capable, vehicles by completing missions or racing, getting paid, and buying new movers. Now imagine that game gives you the option to skip the grind and just buy the faster vehicles with real money. How much would you be willing to pay?

I’ll take two of those for a dollar after the jump!

There’s been a lot of talk about Forza Motorsport 5 and the pricing of its cars since the Xbox One launch. The series, like Sony’s Gran Tursimo, is all about collecting virtual cars through racing. You acquire faster cars to race in more lucrative events, to buy faster cars to win the races… You get the idea. It’s as tried and true a formula since the earliest games featuring vehicles. While Forza 4 introduced the idea of letting players also purchase “tokens” to buy cars using real money, Forza 5 is getting a lot of scrutiny because the pricing seems especially greedy, and alternate ways to earn in-game rewards have been removed, prompting accusations that the game is balanced with free-to-play Skinner Box methodology.

Older Forza games rewarded the player with a new car after a set of races. The player could still purchase other cars with in-game earned credits, but it wasn’t impossible to play through a majority of the campaign with just the cars won. Forza 5 changes that by not giving cars as race rewards and instead only giving credits. An impulsive player could easily spend his credits on cars that do not allow him to advance his career because they fall outside of the race requirements. Additionally, cars seem to have gotten a lot more expensive. The Lotus E21 in Forza 5 would cost a gamer 10,000 tokens or more than $100 to purchase outright. Dan Greenawalt, of Turn 10, defended the real money pricing of the cars by explaining that they brought the prices up to keep the vehicles rare.

“For those who want to spend some extra real money and get those exclusive cars, they’ll have that option, but they will no longer devalue the hard work of those who earned the cars through racing and building up in-game credits. Either way, expensive cars will have real rarity.”

Greenawalt did concede that the pricing could be adjusted based on player feedback, but he believes the current payout of in-game credits provides enough reward for players who want to just earn their cars through racing. Forza 5 is content to let its players acquire their cars the old-fashioned way, albeit at a slower pace.

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Gran Turismo faithful aren’t safe from real money car purchases either. Sony recently announced that Gran Turismo 6 would provide a way for players to buy in-game cars with real money. It remains to be seen how much of the game design has been impacted by the purchasing options.

That’s really the issue in these games. Was the game design influenced by the real money purchases? It’s all well and good to say “don’t buy it if you don’t support it” but if the game has been balanced to encourage real money purchases, then it’s not really something a player can ignore. We’ve seen this before. Solid games have been dragged down by free-to-play mechanics. Energy bars. Countdown timers. A seemingly endless grind that pushes players into just spending money to skip the frustration.

There’s a whole industry of games designed to make money on the backs of those few people willing to spend real money to bypass the grind. Candy Crush. Puzzle and Dragons. Real Racing. Because that’s the other part of this equation. You don’t need to have a majority of people buying this stuff to be profitable. You just need a few “whales” to pony up consistently, and to heck with everyone else’s frustration.

If you really want to see some expensive vehicles, check out Star Citizen by Roberts Space Industries. They’re selling the virtual pink slips to space ships in a game that doesn’t even exist yet. The limited Aegis Idris Corvette was being sold for $1250.00 each! That’s a lot for a pretend vehicle.

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