Blood Money: Assassin’s Creed III’s Microtransactions

By Nathan Grayson on October 30th, 2012 at 10:00 am.

There's probably a joke about the name Connor somewhere in all of this.

Hm. Here’s something that’s leaped out of nowhere, descended upon us in a flash of bloodlust, and knocked us flat in much the same fashion as an enraged koala or, more pertinently, an assassin. Assassin’s Creed III is not by any means a F2P game, but it’ll still have a (seemingly entirely optional) pay structure just like one. Granted, that in itself isn’t really a problem. It’s this bit, however, that has me worried: “disregarding your current level.” To which I reply: but, but, but, but, but competitive multiplayer.

Worthplaying discovered AC III’s downloadable currency packs by way of recent Xbox Live and PlayStation Network updates. Named “Erudito Credits,” they come in five different price tiers: 20 for $1, 50 for $2, 155 for $5, 380 for $10, and 925 for $20. Seeing as AC III single-player peddles its wares in exchange for virtual British pounds, Erudito Credits seem to be multiplayer specific. And yes, their product description reads, “Buying this pack will grant you Erudito Credits in-game, allowing you to acquire some game items, disregarding your current level.”

It’s the eve of AC III’s eagle-dive onto consoleboxes, but Ubisoft has yet to comment on the newly unearthed feature. Obviously, though, we’ll understand it in full very, very soon – with or without Ubisoft’s assistance. Update: Ubisoft’s issued a statement. Here it is: “The Erudito Credits are a new way of unlocking content in ACIII Multiplayer. People who have little time can use Erudito Credits as a shortcut to unlock game items from level 1 to 50 (excluding Prestige levels and relics rewards). This is not mandatory, all items sold in Erudito Credits are also available in Abstergo Credits and can be unlocked through normal progression like previous years.”

In the meantime, though, it bears noting that this is hardly the first time a full-price game has implemented a system like this. Mass Effect 3 also minted its own brand of space doubloon that could be earned or purchased. But BioWare’s space opera/Mordin musical used multiplayer to bring people together – not silently slice them apart. If people can actually buy their way to the top in one of AC III’s many competitive modes, that’d get a wicked stylish double assassination on both balance and fun. Here’s hoping that’s really, really, really not the case, but I’m not sure else how else to read between the lines of “disregarding your current level.”

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82 Comments »

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  1. shovelface88 says:

    If it’s anything like its predecessors, it will be fairly easy to unlock everything. If not, then this is worrisome.

    • UmmonTL says:

      The problem is that often when they implement Microtransactions like this they increase the time it take to unlock the items the normal way to increase their revenue. This is not necessarily bad unless they go overboard and make each unlock a tedious grind.

    • slight says:

      Am I the only one that hates the whole concept of unlocks and levelling outside of RPGs? First came across it in Battlefield 2 I think, hated it then, hate it now. Imagine what Quake or Quake 3 would have been like if you had to play for 3 weeks to unlock the rocket launcher. :(

      • Tridae says:

        ^^THIS x a billion. . I despise multiplayer levelling. Give me some basic config to play with or stuff to pick up in the level rather. I hated it when it was made such a big part of COD4 and I still hate it now. I want to play on equal ground and win with pure skill, not get owned by somebody who has way too much time to level-up.

        Why must everything be turned into a grind? I’d guess it’s to force you to get bored with your content and easily throw your wallet at any other DLC as soon as it’s released. Why people don’t just stop playing I dont know – maybe the gamer mentality of “collect em all” “stats stats stats” is what drives it but I just hate it.

        We need more games where you pick up weapons on a level.

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        tomeoftom says:

        Absolutely. I hate the entire concept of unlocks. It’s basically saying “well, the game doesn’t have enough depth on its own so we’ll keep feeding you things so you don’t get bored”. The problem is that gets applied to games that *do* have enough depth and progression already, hamstringing the balance and strategy in the process. It’s an ugly and crude practice, and completely inexcusable for a full-price title. I’m certainly not getting this.

      • derbefrier says:

        No, you are not. I have never been a fan of this stuff in my fps games. I prefer everyone to have access to everything at all times. It’s funny the reason they give for these microtransactioms is to sabe people time. To this i respond with the question. Why even have a leveling system in the first place then?

      • Brise Bonbons says:

        I dislike these sorts of persistent progression systems in nearly every case. My issue with them is that they often stand as (exclusive) alternatives to session-based progression; i.e. a system like Counter Strike’s, where you are working towards new equipment over the course of the match on a strategic play layer.

        Another illustrative contrast can be found in LoL/DOTA. Many of the summoner skills in LoL mirror mechanics found on DOTA items. As account-based progression skills, they become a fire-and-forget choice at the start of a match (which you must “earn” access to); in DOTA they remain possible options throughout every match, adding welcome depth to the strategic item/economy/resource layer of the game.

        An example from a different game currently in the news: I think Mech Warrior Online would be a much more interesting proposition if mechanics like repairs, mech choice, and weapon loadouts existed in a match-level strategic layer (as in Counter Strike). I.e. a single match would follow a short campaign of 3-5 linked battles, requiring players to make choices about resource allocation between rounds (“I only have so many spare parts to fix my mech, but we salvaged a working PPC from that Atlas we crippled…”), call in reserve mechs (“do I pull in the big guns and try to force a win this next round, or save them for this other map…?”), and otherwise make interesting gameplay choices that add variety and emergent complexity. Instead, everything is shaped to fit the progression system, to drive microtransactions, and this potential strategic depth is lost in the name of safe profits and compulsive timesink/reward loops.

        Great, now I’ve made myself depressed. Sorry for the rant and off-topic wandering. :(

  2. Didero says:

    There’s probably a joke about the name Connor somewhere in all of this.

    Yeah, but I Connor will help you think of one.
    (A bit far-fetched maybe)

    Also, I haven’t played the AC games, but ‘Erudito’ and ‘Abstergo’ sounds like the output of my simplistic random word generator.

    Also also, if you can unlock the stuff through play and through money, it’s not entirely fair to say that only the latter unbalances the game, is it? The fact that improvements in skill go hand in hand with improvements in equipment sounds most unbalancing, not that you can choose between time and money.

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      Diziet Sma says:

      Both latin.

      Abstergo = Cleanse
      Erudito = Learned (Cultured according to google translate)

      • Lanfranc says:

        More precisely, “erudito” is either a future imperative of “erudio” (“to instruct or cultivate”), in which case it would be translated as “you or he/she shall instruct at some point in the future”, or a perfect passive participle in the dative or ablative of the same word, which would be something like “for the person or thing that has been instructed”.

        (This brought to you by the Association of People with Latin Degrees that Turned out to be Rather Worthless.)

        • Didero says:

          Thanks!
          Seems like it’s a bit stupid to use the word for a currency then.

          • Lanfranc says:

            I guess one way to look at it is buying “Erudito Credits” makes it easier to “school” MP opponents… (do the kids still say “school someone” these days? I feel old.)

          • YeOldeSnake says:

            But you technically use the currency to learn new skills.

          • The Random One says:

            Why? If it’s used to buy perks, you can say it represents your character’s ability to learn the ropes of stabness. Then again, characterization breaks away rather quickly on multiplayer.

    • Mattressi says:

      I certainly connor think of a pun about it

  3. lizzardborn says:

    Do you remember the ancient times? When you could just grab a shotgun and blast someone for the fun of it. Stop gamificating the games. They are games enough already.

    Also the developers should use the smart people on their payroll and innovate the whole process of making games. Innovate to make it cheap.

    • f1x says:

      Business model has changed, but mind you, my own business model has changed aswell

      Before I would buy 9-10 “triple AAA” expensive games every year (the max I can afford)
      Now I’m buying perhaps 1 or 2 triple AAA games and moving my money to small games or indie games,

      Because I’m having much more fun playing things like FTL or Bastion than most of big titles

      • jkz says:

        Yeah, agreed. Indie games are good value for money, and can be really different experiences.

        F2P and microtransactions can be fine, but one downside appears to be that companies can now get away with doing stuff like this for full priced games.

      • S Jay says:

        “triple AAA”? Like AAAAAAAAA? :D

        • f1x says:

          Lol you are right, what a stupid mistake from my side

          but on the funny side, probably that will be next stage for developers “look guys now its not triple A games its triple AAA”!!

      • InternetBatman says:

        Same here. My buying schedule is now maybe 1 AAA game from this year, 2 from previous years, and then indies.

    • MOKKA says:

      I think by now, some developers have to ‘gamify’ their games in order to give people the impression that they are not wasting their time.

    • Lu-Tze says:

      Yes, there was a time when they just gave you a shotgun and you blasted people in the face. And the hardcore loved it because they already had the gaming vocabulary necessary to handle being thrown into a multiplayer world with 2 dozen weapons and gadgets and all manner of perks and muddling their way to understand playing with them because they’d probably used 80% of them before in some other game. But it was completely inaccessible. Now, that stuff is metered out so that you have a progressive learning curve of playing the multiplayer, giving you stuff that isn’t necessarily BETTER but is probably more purposed at the time when you understand the game enough to play to it’s strengths.

      Look at TF2 for example. You start playing and you get 2 weapons for each class and that’s it. They are basic simple weapons that are easy to understand and play that class as. As you play more you unlock more weapons and you understand their place in different playstyles in a dripfeed fashion. But you can shortcut that process by going to the store and just grabbing stuff you feel you need to play to your optimum strengths.

      Is this any different? Only because you’ve paid more up front. What price is high enough that you should get everything in a game available to you for free? If ACIII was £10 would it be ok that they had this microtransaction? Or does a game have to be free before they are allowed to offer you the opportunity to pay more? You’re paying for another AC game where the Campaign is massively broader and more detailed than the first in the series at the same price point. Bundled in with that is a free-to-play multiplayer game in the same universe.

      The only baseless accusation that can be levelled against this is that they will balance the level gain/equipment unlock against trying to encourage you to pay your way past it. And I say baseless, because there’s absolutely zero reason to think that’s the case other than some pitchfork waving bias against “the executives” who are obviously breaking games you love just so they can drive Ferraris or something.

      • Toberoth says:

        “2 dozen weapons and gadgets and all manner of perks”

        Eh? This isn’t how multiplayer games used to be in “the ancient times” to which the OP refers; quite the opposite. There were 8 weapons and no perks at all in Doom (which I assume is the sort of thing the OP is talking about). That’s much, much more accessible than the drip-feed progression systems of modern multiplayer shooters, because everyone is always playing on the same level and victory is decided by skill and quick thinking, not the amount of time or money you’ve sunk into a game (although of course learning the maps and whatnot is important in Doom).

        IMO, in a title you’ve already paid £40 for, microtransactions are an insult, and the way they’re being framed as doing the player a favour (“Hey, if you don’t have time to unlock everything, just pay for it, it’s cool!”) is shitty. If the devs really wanted to help out the player who can’t be arsed grinding for upgrades/sidegrades in order to have the multiplayer experience he/she wants to have, then they should allow custom servers or custom games where everything is unlocked already.

        Basically, gating content behind skill barriers is problematic for some players but fundamentally a part of what games are; gating content behind skill/time barriers and allowing cheat codes is better; but gating content and charging extra for the privilege of unlocking it early–when you’ve already paid for the base game–is fucking bullshit, and should not be tolerated.

        Edit: Also, the multiplayer isn’t “free to play”–you’ve already bought the bloody game!

      • Artist says:

        Ive loled. Baseless assumptions to oppose something against fictional baseless accusation.

  4. Ian says:

    Microtransactions are becoming depressingly prevalent. Before too long you’ll have to pay RPS to be allowed to make longer com

  5. Lekker Pain says:

    They are apparently trying really diligently to not have our money.

  6. Toberoth says:

    Fuck this noise.

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      Smashbox says:

      Yep, if you’re going to interrupt my game to nag me to pay you money, you had better not charge sixty fucking dollars for the game. This shit makes me legitimately angry.

  7. Premium User Badge

    RaveTurned says:

    Not really PC relevant in the age of digital downloads, but do we know if this is in addition to the “multiplayer-pass” system Ubi uses to make money from people who buy games pre-owned, and then decide they want to play online?

    I could kind-of almost maybe see the point of it if it was an alternative way of financing their online services.

    • Optimaximal says:

      You’re thinking of EA’s Project $10.

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        melnificent says:

        Isn’t that the one to fund the server costs but they shut them down after 2 years anyway?

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        RaveTurned says:

        Ubisoft also has a similar scheme that they used for AC: Revelations (as well as other titles like Ghost Recon: Future Soldier) – the UPlay Passport system detailed here: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-11-15-assassins-creed-revelations-online-pass-details

        “Activate your Uplay Passport code, which comes with new copies of the game, and you gain access to multiplayer mode and The Sentinel.”

        “As with other online pass schemes, if you don’t have a code you’ll need to pay to access the content. With Uplay you can buy a new Passport code online or activate a free trial.”

        So, are they still charging people who buy the game pre-owned for access to online features, or are paid unlocks replacing that?

  8. NathanH says:

    I don’t like this paying-for-unlocks trend, it often leads to developers deliberately making their games less fun than they could be, which is weird and disturbing.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Chaz says:

    I for one, have never yet spent a penny on a micro-transaction and nor do I intend to. I just don’t feel they offer any value for money. They’re like expensive sweets, a short sugar rush lacking in any real substance and nutritional value.

    I’ve more or less stopped playing multiplayer games do to having to earn unlocks and all that garbage, and throwing micro-transactions into the mix just makes things even worse. The day all single player games start becoming micro-transaction funded, as UBI have intimated they might do, is the day I stop playing games.

    • The Random One says:

      But… I buy expensive sweets all the time. They’re tasty!

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      Most of the time they are silly, aren’t they? I do get piles of enjoyment out of my Tegu courier in DOTA 2, however. Partially that’s because I know some of the money went to the community creator of the assets. But also just because it’s entirely optional and cosmetic. It is a courier skin, full stop, does absolutely nothing different to the default version other than look funny, and for that I love it, and fully intend to buy more couriers in future.

      I will probably buy some costume items for the heroes I play consistently, if I ever settle on any. But only if they continue to be cosmetic only. The second RMT items have a game-altering effect I just lose all desire to buy them.

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    Gap Gen says:

    Right, I’m off to throw all my Ubisoft games into the harbour.

  11. Manco says:

    Honestly I care less about these microtransactions, if indeed entirely optional, than AC’s MP progression involving too many upgrades rather than sidegrades.

    • jkz says:

      Well yeah, optional, but the fact that they exist can influence design decisions. Pay to avoid the grind.

    • KevinLew says:

      I need to point out that this is exactly the business model that Zynga has been using for years: You can do a very grindy activity for hours/days and get free unlocks to your account, or you can pay us money and you can bypass this activity.

      At one point in time, in-game stores were for silly cosmetic items or those (infamous) keys to unlock chests. But now you’re just paying to get content that’s not even new or different. If this is successful, I would not be surprised if Call of Duty implements the same idea. Instead of waiting for Level 20 (or whatever) to unlock a specific shotgun or assault rifle, now you can just go to the in-game store, pay some money and whatever perks and weapon unlocks are ready for you at Level 1. And remember when Prestiging meant that you got a gold star by your name, but you had to lose access to your neat weapons and such? Not anymore with this handy system.

      The system is also rigged so you spend as much money in the store as possible. I understand that many stores give discounts if you buy a lot, but not exponential discounts. Looking at the difference in returns between paying $1 and $20 is fairly extreme. The unwritten message is: If you’re not giving us as much money as you can afford, then you’re ripping yourself off.

      • Brise Bonbons says:

        Very well said. I especially enjoy (read “retch”) when the company in question presents the RMT products as “convenience” services.

        “It’s not pay to win, how could it be? You’re just paying for the “convenience” of being able to use the clearly superior option.”

  12. Deadly Habit says:

    What ever happened to cheat codes to unlock content if you didn’t have time?

  13. Jason Moyer says:

    Good to see videogames starting to reflect real life, i.e. anyone can compensate for a lack of talent if they have enough money.

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    melnificent says:

    New game + microtransactions to “get ahead”
    or
    Used game + online pass + microtransactions to “catch up”

    But it’s all about the games honest. Next it will be sorry we need to lock the last chapter away unless you are using a new copy……oh hang on 007 legends have done that.

    Luckily these tactics have pushed me into the eager arms of the indie developers, who want my money, but also want me to enjoy giving them my money, and generally work on lower end systems (daughters netbook).

    • Toberoth says:

      Hear hear. There are so many good indie games around at the moment that you could easily just play them and ignore the big-budget releases entirely, if you so chose.

      • f1x says:

        Indeed, and lately with a much more satisfying gameplay experience

  15. Senthir says:

    Microtransactions have to be second only to DRM in the amount of vitriolic hate that gets slung around when they come up, and far less deserving.

    Take a deep breath guys. The vast majority of microtransactions have been okay. The bucketloads of money come from league of legends skins and team fortress 2 hats. Shortcuts are shortcuts. Once you get to the end, there’s no reason to keep buying new stuff. But if it were a hat, boy howdy the internet will be all over that.

    I’m not saying Microtransactions are exactly a new feature. But let’s face it, it’s still very difficult waters for developers to traverse. Give it time. When they see that people won’t pay for short cuts very often, they’ll stop putting effort into making them when they can make a hat and make so much more from it. Want to speed the process up? Play AC3 Multiplayer, then don’t buy the stupid shortcuts.

    And if they don’t? Take Prototype 2 for example. It basically took a ton of what would be considered microtransaction content for single player (weapons, extra side missions, colors and skins) and put it in a DLC. Remember that? Neither does anyone else.

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      RaveTurned says:

      What you’ve done there is take examples of successful free-to-play games that use micro-transactions as their only source of funding, and use them to justify including micro-transactions inside components of games people are already paying £40-ish for up front. That’s not exactly a like-for-like comparison.

    • Bork Titflopsen says:

      Barely anyone remembers Prototype 2, let alone it’s DLC.

    • f1x says:

      Yeah,
      funny example when the first Prototype was way more succesful with zero DLC, (or was there any DLC? I dont remember that there was)

    • SelfEsteemFund says:

      Sounds trollish but I’ll reply for the sake of the internet, regardless of whether any these in-game purchases of a game you’ve already bought are harmless or not right now it’s still all building towards something, this is just another attempt for a big publishers to test the water on extracting even more money from the consumer for even less content, soon you’ll be paying for the ability to jump or shoot..

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      Smashbox says:

      Developers certainly wouldn’t, say, design things to be extra grindy to incentivize paying then, would they?

      • Brise Bonbons says:

        Of course not! Didn’t you read where [developer’s name here] explained that these features were added purely as a convenience to unfortunate older gamers who just don’t have enough time to unlock the basic functionality of their game the normal way? Sure, it would be one thing if you could make games where all the features were just available from the start, but that way lies madness – it would be anarchy! No, games are not so simple these days, so this is the best we can do for those impatient gamers who just need everything they purchased for $60 handed to them on a silver platter right this second. What can you do, it’s just our modern culture of instant gratification, tut tut.

        Why, I bet [publisher’s name here] are losing money on these convenience services, but they offer them to us anyway just because they are such great guys! I mean, they had to develop a marketplace UI and put in a bunch of variables in the code to let you unlock this stuff, I can’t imagine that the small convenience fees they’ll charge will come close to covering all that development time!

        I don’t really need /sarcasm tags, do I?

  16. Artist says:

    Am I the only one who doesnt touch games with microtransacations because its to tendious to find the right items instead of buying junk? I dont mind manuals, but I want to play games and this crap is already more complex than my cellphone contract…

  17. InternetBatman says:

    Putting microtransactions in a game you already paid for is pretty ballsy, but it’s not the first time. LoL came with a retail edition which gave you about half of the characters at the time. WoW is adding microtransactions in their pokemon system. Diablo II did it already with the AH.

    I think that they can work fine, but too often it adds the temptation to increase grind times and power differentials, and it’s an absolutely ridiculous model to tie to a single-player game.

  18. Heliocentric says:

    I hope paying players get “unque tags” so I can chortle to myself when I outclass a paying player.

  19. njursten says:

    But it’s not much different from Tribes: Ascend, is it? From a MP balance point of view, I mean. Or probably any other F2P MP game.

    • Toberoth says:

      It’s not a f2p multiplayer game. You have to buy the game in order to play it. So in terms of balancing, perhaps not, but in terms of the amount of money the dev/publisher wants you to pay, it’s very different.

  20. Moraven says:

    I miss the days of god mode cheat modes that could unlock everything, for free.

    Now if this is related to the multiplayer part only, I miss the days of multiplayer games having no unlocks and you had all options from the get go (Most of BF2, classic TF2). At least TF2 items feel more sidegradey optional, change the experience.

  21. GODSBANE says:

    What does it matter if you can buy amazing weapons for real money. The ones who do are most likely the ones who can’t use them properly anyways. They might be at the top of the leaderboards for a day or two, but once the “good players” (the ones who know how to use those amazing weapons) get them through the unlocks, the paying customers will just have wasted their money. It happens in every game. There is not one game where someone is at the top just because they paid a bunch of money to the company, because simply if that were the case, then the game would not be played and fail almost instantly. No worries here in my opinion…

  22. nobody says:

    Is it worth noting how odd/telling it is that the PR person says “previous years” when normal parlance would be “previous games”?