Premature Evaluation: Crossout

Every week we dispatch Brendan to scour the post-apocalyptic wastes of early access and scavenge whatever games he can find. This week, he returns with multiplayer car combat game Crossout [official site].

Crossout is an action game about building a terrifying car made out of swords and skulls and then driving around the wasteland, pumping other drivers full of lead. It has a soundtrack made up of gentle guitar.

That was only the first thing I noticed when I dropped into the workshop menu of this multiplayer scrapper from Targem Games. It was odd. It felt like the folksy strumming didn’t belong in this high-octane rampage. By the time I left the deserts and shipyards of Crossout, I would be impressed but also impossibly frustrated. The music wouldn’t be the only thing I would consider completely out of place.

You start out in the garage. Here is your car, it is a level 1 piece of rusty garbage. Enter a battle and win to collect experience and rewards (eg. car parts). These 8v8 battles take place across wide maps scattered with remnants of the old world – rusty ships, abandoned factories and so on. Sometimes they ask you to capture the enemy HQ (a giant circle outlined on the ground) and sometimes to capture a neutral zone in the middle. You can win this way or by getting the most kills by the time the clock runs out. You only have a few minutes for each battle.

The combat, once you unlock a few new guns (shotguns, powerful cannons, etc) is all sorts of Mad Max silliness. You rev around blasting parts of enemy cars away while trying to make sure your own bits don’t get shot off. It’s possible for all your turrets to get shredded off your hood, leaving you helpless. Sometimes your enemies will blast the wheels right off your vehicle, and while a three-wheeled war-truck still has a decent bit of control to it, a car with two wheels missing on the front is a useless metal corpse, one that can do nothing but fire impotently at passing targets in some vain attempt to keep fighting. The piecemeal destruction of both enemies and yourself can be astounding fun.

Unfortunately, you won’t be meeting too many other players until you reach level 10. Occasionally a human or two will show up in your battles but mostly you will be fighting bots alongside other friendly bots. They are as dumb as you might expect sentient trucks to be. Not only do they drive into walls or off ledges with alarming frequency, they also enjoy getting in your way more than anything in the world. They’re an absolute nightmare.

When another human opponent does show up, you normally end up heading straight for them because they’re the only real threat. And they will often grant you the same courtesy, sniping you with a cannon from 500 metres away, the skilled jerks. When you get the upper hand, however, there’s a ton of satisfaction to be had in dismantling another player’s vehicle piece by piece. Bam, there goes their machine gun. Bam, now their left tire. Bam, their right tire. Bam, there goes the engine. Twice I surgically removed all the parts from players’ cars except for the chassis, then stopped firing and left the area without even killing them. It feels so good to know they are just sitting there, waiting for some idiot bot to come along and kill them. But human players do present their own problems during a battle, bringing a degree of creativity with their vehicles that can throw you off or leave you burning in the dust.

The combat is fun but it not where the real promise lies. That would be the workshop. This is where you make your car, clicking together parts using a sort-of 3D grid system. The practice of plonking parts on and plucking them off is granted with an easy-to-use build mode. You can stick stuff together in a huge variety of ways. Do you want to make your car entirely out of flimsy steel frames with only a single enormous cannon on top? Go ahead. What about a tin-plated, eight-wheeled tank fitted with dual shotguns and spikes on the front for ramming? Knock yourself out. Later upgrades let you add rockets, stealth fields or giant grinders. Some objects – skulls, headlamps, spears, exhaust pipes – are just for style purposes but even these give you a boost to XP earned while in a fight. This is great because if you have some ‘space’ left on your car, it encourages you to dress up your deathmobile in ridiculous ways.

Although this car is entirely pointless.

There’s also an exhibition tab which lets you see other players’ creations and many of these are fantastic. As war machines, most of them are functionally useless. But as creations they are hilarious. Sadly, you’ll need all the ‘pieces’ to download and use one of these vehicles in battle. But you can take any of them for a test drive, which only adds to the playfulness of the creation menus. For example, I found one which was a wobbling stack of rockets and suddenly lurches into a vertical position whenever you brake. At this point you can fire the rockets and you will blast off into the sky. A great position from which to launch the missiles housed in the chassis.

Put this editor together with the rampant combat and you’re left with a rough and tumble action game with tons of potential. It’s wonderful. It’s creative and brainless. It’s Besiege meets World of Tanks.

It’s also one of the grubbiest grindfests I have ever had to play. And this is where Crossout starts to fall apart.

Like I said, the option to enter a human-only free-for-all doesn’t open until you reach level 10. This sounds like a short trip up the XP ladder but turns out to be a thankless trudge through quicksand. There are four computer ‘factions’ each offering their own special pre-built death machines as rewards for leveling up but these too aren’t available until level 10. Likewise, the core game soon becomes mired in half-baked crafting mechanics. Creating new and dangerous machines is heavily limited in the beginning both by what pieces you can earn in battles but also by your level. At level 8 you will be able to put more pieces on your car than at level 5, for example.

At the beginning, you can get a lot of joy from unlocking new components – tin armour, tractor wheels, spiky plough bumpers. Initially the limits placed on you force you to get creative. How can I attach this giant spike to the front of my machine without going over the piece limit? How best should I combine these guns to make the most of the power usage limit? It’s the inviting puzzle of a post-apocalyptic mechanic. But as things go on and new pieces refuse to make themselves known for longer and longer periods of time, the grind for improvement becomes noticeably unpleasant. And look, who’s that coming over the dusty horizon? Why, it’s Unpleasant Grind’s best friend, Microtransactions.

When I said that this game shared some DNA with World of Tanks, I really meant it. All the microtransaction guff visible in Wargaming’s endless WWII deathmatching is also visible here, right down to the large sums of money for bundles containing big ol’ monster vehicles (one bundle charges as much as 60 dollars for a single tank and all its parts). What’s worse, all the game’s systems – the market, the crafting benches, the editor – form a kind of mechanical cartel which reinforces a dull grind, only avoidable by investing a sickening sum of real money for some fake coins. While this might be forgivable in a free-to-play game like World of Tanks, it is repugnant to see in an early access title which already costs £25 in the first place (and this is actually a point of confusion, since their website describes it as “free-to-play”).

When I say the systems work as a cartel, that might not fully explain things. Let’s take a gander at the game’s crafting system and see what I mean. In the beginning you can manufacture guns, engines and so on with a handful of scrap which you earn in battles. But to craft newer, more powerful items, you will need copper, another thing to grind for and one which only appears in a different ‘type’ of battle. And after that you need wires, which you earn in another type of battle. And after that, electronics from another type of battle. Here’s what that menu looks like.

“Get wires!” it demands. “Get scrap! Get the chassis!” Rather than having a single currency or rewarding you with all things at once, it posts these battles – all of which are identical – composing a list of samey, grindy “quests”. All I want is to build a silly car and shoot people with it. Please, game. Please.

Not only will you need to collect all these items, plus some other necessary pieces, you’ll also need to “rent” a workbench for in-game credits. 25 credits will let you craft 5 parts (guns, etc) for example. You can get these credits by selling other guns, engine parts, radiators, and stuff you don’t need, on the market. Got all that? Okay, go ahead and press the craft button. Now wait several hours until your piece is completed.

If all that sounds annoying, don’t worry, you can just buy the thing you want on the same player-run market. But you’ll need those in-game credits again. The most expensive cannon in the game currently costs 22000 credits. If you were to buy these credits from the game’s store, rather than slowly (very slowly) accumulating them through selling item after item, it would cost you $294. I haven’t even mentioned ‘fuel’ or ‘coupons’ or ‘fusion’ yet (I won’t).

As you can see, there are a host of irritating prerequisites to fulfill before you can even properly use this obtuse system of crafting. The whole interface is a mess of parts, currencies, copper, coupons, wires, electronics. It’s an over-complicated mish-mash – a huge disappointment when you consider the fun you could be having if the game just simplified all this. How easy it could have been to have two things – car parts and scrap. Or, even simpler: new catalogues of parts tied to each level.

But that would benefit the player, not the microtransaction gods. I cannot emphasise enough how much of a shame this is, because the actual game buried underneath all this nightmarish grind-goop is excellent. Build a weird apocalypse car and go to war in it? Yes, please! If only you could make things like those shown in the exhibition tab without jumping through all these disgusting hoops. Some hoops? Fine. But not these hoops. These hoops are rotten. If the system of progression was designed like any other fully-paid game I would be screaming at people to play Crossout. It’s not. It’s designed to be a drag. As a result it becomes a rip-off, either in time or money.

Many folks will be able to overlook those niggles and the interminable grind. It’s also possible the rate of progression will be reworked. But for me it is currently like traipsing through a bog, and the sheer grubbiness of all the menus doesn’t give me much hope. A horrible thing to have to say, because the wasted potential here is astounding. It’s like someone took all the joy and creativity of Besiege and made it competitive (again, what a great idea) but then they soaked it in grind, leveling, bad AI, icky microtransaction bait and then – consulting no-one – slapped a full-price tag of 25 quid on it. A big disappointment to see so many unforgivable flaws in such a wonderful game, where they simply don’t belong.

Crossout is on Steam for £24.99/$29.99. These impressions were based on build 1332430

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45 Comments

  1. stuw23 says:

    I can don’t mind micro-transactions on free-to-play games – developers gotta make money somehow – but when the base game already costs £25? No way. Especially when, judging from this, it looks as if the game has been designed to have micro-transactions as a central part of how to progress. That’s really quite sad, and has totally put me off checking this out.

    • stuw23 says:

      By which I mean “don’t mind”. Oh, for an edit button!

      • Czrly says:

        I have come to terms with the missingness of the amending-knob. I think most RPS loyalists know and understand and so errors and omissions are given lee-way and the community has become one of tolerance and forgiveness… and, frequently, good laughs. This is definitely preferable to the usual unashamed ninja-retraction-disease that often prevails when controversy arises – see any thread about Brexit on a forum with edit capabilities, for example.

    • rukimster says:

      The thing is, there are NO microtransactions in the game apart from the three DLCs you can buy to get access to the game. There is NO way to further add in-game currency to your account.

      This is ridiculously shoddy journalism by RPS’s standards. Mr. Caldwell heavily hints throughout the whole review that you need coins to succeed in this game (which may be true), but he’s flat out wrong in implying that you need to invest actual money. Even if you wanted to, you simply CAN’T. Please get your facts straight next time, RPS.

      • CorpseLike says:

        +1 to rukimaster!
        At the moment the game is in Closed Beta Test and the only thing Crossout is asking money for is ACCESS to the CBT. With CBT access you get your money’s worth of ingame funbucks and a selection of car parts, which can be acquired by just playing the game. Basically, you’re buying a bit of a headstart into the progression. Aside from that there’re no microtransactions whatsoever.
        Another thing about AI bots is that at low level you don’t get many actual people, but after getting past level 10 (fairly quickly) you start to encounter real players. I view under level 10 experience to be a sort of prolonged tutorial, and trust me, you need it. Thanks to hugely flexible vehicle editor people area able to create very devious crafts even with limited amount of parts they have at the start.

  2. TeaEarlGreyHot says:

    Wish they would have just slapped a 20-30 dollar tag on this and not done MT’s/terrible grind. I’ve been looking forward to this title :/

    • LionsPhil says:

      I suppose there’s a risk it’d have had no playerbase.

      I can’t help but wish more people would try a kind of shareware-y model for multiplayer games that don’t the kind of guaranteed audience that’d fork out for them without getting hooked first. Toxikk seems to be trying that, and as far as I can see so far hasn’t had to sabotage its game design for the sake of its monetization strategy (“make a game good enough that people want to buy more of it”…and I say this despite being pretty lukewarm on it).

      • Baines says:

        Work on the AI and build a solo campaign, and you’d have a fallback for the player base.

        This could have been the revival of car combat games like Twisted Metal, and something that could have had legs for DLC expansions. It is a shame to see good ideas wasted on yet another microtransaction focused MMO that will die once they run off enough players.

      • Czrly says:

        It almost guarantees that this will be dead at birth, though. There’s no way the multiplayer community will reach critical mass if the game is premium-with-micro-transactions, in the saturated markets of 2016.

        • operf1 says:

          It’s not premium. It’s in closed beta now and you can pay for early access pack which a pretty common practice for free-to-play games.
          In addition to CBT access you’re also getting in-game coins and a car, and you’ll get them again once the OBT starts after a global wipe.
          All this is clearly stated in Early Access section on Steam-page of the game (but not in this preview).

  3. jasta85 says:

    Believe it or not, the game used to be a LOT worse. ALL of your vehicle components had durability that would degrade whenever you lost a game (didn’t matter if you survived a match, if you lost, you lost durability).

    people were having to make incredibly boring and unoriginal designs simply to get enough materials to maintain their truck and prevent it from falling apart, every match was incredibly stressful and extremely rage inducing if you lost because of something silly like one fast enemy capping your base while your team was destroying the rest of theirs on the other side of the map.

    Fortunately they changed that system (probably because their playerbase was bleeding away really quickly). So while the game is very grindy right now, it’s downright heavenly compared to the past, which is saying something.

  4. Lord_Mordja says:

    Re: the cost, it looks like it’s doing the same thing Paragon did in that you can pay to enter the early beta but it’ll be free later on. Published by the War Thunder guys, which is a good game but grindy as all get out.

    • rukimster says:

      It’s currently in CBT and scheduled for free OBT later on, but you can purchase immediate access on Steam. I agree that it’s confusing, yet it’s just another example of the author refusing to do his research and stating how the game’s business model actually works.

  5. colw00t says:

    Wow, this looks a LOT like Auto Assault from a decade ago, except somehow worse.

    • geldonyetich says:

      Autoduel got me excited for the genre of post-apocolyptic vehicular combat.

      Auto Assault took that away. It wasn’t even that terrible of a game, NCSoft might as well have not pulled the plug, but it was a grind that ultimately was not fun enough to last.

      As for Crossout, if it’s limited to 8v8 arena fights, why not play better established titles like Robocraft of Mechwarrior?

  6. Monggerel says:

    MONETIZE MEE!!!

    • Monggerel says:

      hmm actually that was way too enthusiastic
      monetize me
      dude
      why not

  7. milligna says:

    We really need a sturdy, super playable adaptation of Steve Jackson’s Car Wars with endless modability.

  8. Shinard says:

    Designers of the world: Stop doing this. Stop making games which can’t be enjoyed without microtransactions. Especially not full priced games. Especially especially not early access full priced games.

    It’s not big, it’s not clever, and I’d be willing to bet it’s not profitable. I have never paid for microtransactions when a game forced them on me. I have happily shelled out when I enjoyed the game before paying. You are stabbing yourself in the foot, especially especially ESPECIALLY because it seems like Crossout would have sold very well w/o microtransactions.

    • operf1 says:

      It’s not a full price game! What this preview clearly lacks is to state the fact that right now you’re paying for early access to close beta and also huge pack of in-game coins and a car.
      When open beta starts later this year, the game will be free-to-play. And all early access players will get their coins and a car back after the global accounts wipe.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        So at the moment it’s a full-priced (but unfinished) game, and later on it’ll be free-to-play with micro-transations (although $60 isn’t my idea of micro), is that correct?
        Full price with micro-transactions would obviously be worse, but paying for beta access is pretty bum, and micro-transactions aren’t any better.

        • Alexander Trifonov says:

          Yes, it will be a regular free-to-play game with microtransactions. There will all kinds of DLC, not just $50 ones)
          As for purchasing CBT-access – it’s totally up to players, they can wait for Open Beta and download the game for free. I should note that it’s not the only way to get into CBT of course, there are giveaways and such, and anyone can sign up for it at official website.

  9. Budikah says:

    These people are connected with Gaijin Entertainment.

    I’d stay away from them.

  10. bill says:

    Am I the only one who keeps reading the name as Croissant?

    • iRaphi says:

      well as long as you are not grossed out by it ;)

      • iRaphi says:

        I hate myself, I wanted to write crossed out instead of grossed out…
        Since my pun is destroyed I’m just gonna leave here all quiet and stuff; DON’T LOOK AT ME!!!

  11. Premium User Badge

    keefybabe says:

    Whenever I see this, all I can think of is the old Amiga shooter, crossout (or x-out)

  12. Kotrin says:

    I must admit, I’m a bit disappointed by this review. To point out my small list of gripes with this review:

    – There are no “bots-only” battle where a single player fight only against bots. The PvP matchmaking system gives at least 2 live players to each side, and up to 1 bot difference at most for a greater number of live players.

    – The only “microtransactions” that exist within Crossout are those happening through the market, which is 100% player-driven. Players just set the price and choose to buy or not as they see fit. Item prices aren’t controlled by the publisher.

    – The grind feeling happens but unlocking Engineer faction level 10 (where things get to be interesting) can happen after only a couple weeks of play, and that’s for the casual type. Since durability is gone for good there must be a kind of scale to prevent players from reaching peak abilities on their first month of play and then quit.

    – The main issue in the game at the moment is weapon balance, in the same tier some are notoriously stronger than others.

    • Antongranis says:

      “– The grind feeling happens but unlocking Engineer faction level 10 (where things get to be interesting) can happen after only a couple weeks of play, and that’s for the casual type.”

      A couple of weeks!? You say it like is a short time! Are all free-to-play games this bad?

      Personally, i would like to see progression models scaled back across all of multiplayer gaming. It should be the gameplay that keeps players coming back.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Why on earth would I spend two goddamn weeks just to get to the interesting part when there are thousands of games out there that are interesting right off the bat?

      • Kotrin says:

        …For the same reason giving a Ferrari F40 to someone who just got his driving license is a bad idea.

        To me the first 10 levels of experience are much like a tutorial to the game to me.

        If you’re out for immediate satisfaction how can you deal with the grind to level cap that happens in every game outta here? Maybe you consider this as a loss of time, but maybe it’s meant to make you learn the game mechanics.

  13. DailyFrankPeter says:

    I don’t like this trend of pay-to-free-to-play. OK, so F2P doesn’t work (market is saturated) and the devs need to make their money somehow – but let’s just have normal pay once games again, for goodness sake.

  14. Alexander Trifonov says:

    Hello Brandon,
    As a developer’s representative I want to thank you for highlighting those parts of the game that you liked. But it make me sad to see some misconceptions that people might get while reading your preview.

    The game is in Early Access now on Steam and there is a huge section on the game’s page about our future plans. One of them is about business model – Crossout is a free-to-play game and will be available to everyone once the Open Beta starts later this year.

    It is a very common practice for ftp-games to allow players to purchase some founder packs or whatever they are called, to get into closed beta, provide valuable feedback and support the development financially. And, most importantly, once the game goes free for everyone, get the equivalent of those $29.99 in premuim currency and other in-game goods.

    Another important aspect that is mising in your preview is a player-driven economy. Real money isn’t the only way to get coins – everything you crafted or gathered in PvE-missions can be sold on market, the players set the prices themselves and we see a lot of smart businessment out there alredy that study supply and demand, etc. You may not spent a single cent of real money but have thousands of coins out of successfull deals. Practically no other game ftp-game allows to trade premium currency between players and with influx of new players with the start of Open Beta it will very interesting to see how the economy will evolve.
    WBR

    • Alexander Trifonov says:

      Sorry for typos((

    • Veav says:

      Hello Alexander,

      As an actual player of the developer’s game I want to thank you for responding to this post. But it makes me sad that you’re not acknowledging the very real issues with the game model as reviewed.

      A player’s success in the game should not be the result of market manipulation any more than it should be paying for currency. You should be able to play the game to progress. I can’t pop open the game right now so this isn’t going to be factually accurate but to craft an uncommon shotgun say you need 2-3 common shotguns, 2-3 specific common tires, and 2-3 specific common cabs. To get a single shotgun you need to pay 300 scrap or play the shotgun PvP and hope to get lucky, because you might get a shotgun, or you might get something else that doesn’t help with that need, or you might get nothing at all. That’s assuming you win! You need to grind the slot machine for hours and pray you get the parts you need. But okay. Maybe that’s a form of progress.

      On top of that you need 50 copper. If you turn in a decent performance in a basic PvE mission you get 5 copper. So next you need to grind the raid machine for hours and churn out copper. If you could just back-to-back raids this wouldn’t take long but matchmaking for raids is a chore; I’ve never been able to connect to anything but the most basic raid and even that is a shot in the dark. Why does your “estimated time” underball by a factor of ten? Then after every raid you’re back in the menu with no option to continue in the current group, starting the timer over again. But okay. Maybe this’ll get better when you go open beta.

      Let’s push this up to the rare shotguns. You need 2-3 uncommon shotguns, 2-3 specific uncommon tires, and 2-3 specific uncommon cabs. Each of those uncommon parts exponentially increases the grind required. There’s an easy shortcut – just buy one of the bundle packs, or buy the currency and snap it up on the market. Now you’ve got blues or purples or golds. Matchmaking doesn’t give a rat’s. I paid $30 and I have blue parts with no path to get purples other than grinding the slot machine for an egregious amount of time. The power score is an insufficient form of balance; if I don’t have rares, I shouldn’t be matched with rares, because they have a very real advantage. But okay. I can just try to avoid players to hunt bots- oh wait the bots are also spawning with rares now. GUESS I NEED TO ARMS RACE TO YOUR CASH SHOP.

      Crossout is a monetized/marketing beta for a pay-to-win game. I haven’t seen a single person on any forum report that they got a key by signing up for CBT – they all paid at least $20 to you or at least $30 to steam (monetized!) or participated in a convention/social media event (marketing!) I paid, because Hard Truck Apocalypse is the best thing ever, and what’s being done to this game breaks my heart. I can only pray Targem has rights to their assets; once Gaijin loses interest, they might be able to salvage the parts and make a REAL game.

      • Alexander Trifonov says:

        We do the closed beta to gather feedback and see what works and what doesn’t. There was already a comment here about removal of durability system, and this is one the huge changes to core game mechanics that we deemed necessary during CBT. Feel free to leave you suggestions at official forum, here’s not the best place for it.

        One thing that I want to point out here is another misconception – about pay-to-win, people really do like to apply it to any free-to-play game out there.

        There is nothing in Crossout which can be acquired with real money ONLY (which is pay-to-win is about). You can craft the best weapons in the game only by playing the game and gaining reputation with factions, not by getting Early Access packs. Or purchase them on the market from other players who spend their time and resources for crafting. You may not like the grind, and that’s your right, but such is the nature of ftp-games.

        • Veav says:

          I absolutely commend you for removing durability, and will commend you further if you move the decimal point on all recipes over one place – or matchmake based on equipment tiers, say – but I can’t comment based on what COULD happen, can I? All I can react to is what IS. Certainly no one’s offering to make these changes.

          Yes, I’ve heard the chestnut that it’s not pay-to-win unless the gear literally cannot be acquired by any other channel. If it takes weeks of conventional, uninterrupted gameplay to shovel your way through the slot machine to acquire a piece of equipment (just one! What build works with just one piece?) then what are you calling it, pay-to-progress? Pay-to-not-make-this-your-day-job? Pay-to-avoid-soul-crushing-tedium? It’s literally pay-to-win. You pay, you acquire better gear, you start seal-clubbing, you start winning. Anyone who tries to convince you differently is PR or a whale.

          Thank you. It IS my right to condemn the grind, just as it’s yours to justify and praise it as a marketing strategy. But I don’t think you can justify it as a feature.

          • Alexander Trifonov says:

            Like I said, it seems that you don’t like ftp-progression system in general. That’s okay, but it doesn’t make the game pay-to-win just because you can get something faster compared to simply playing the game. There are many players on our forums or Steam hub who will tell you otherwise, and it’s far less dramatic then you make it sound, seriously.

            Actually, people who crafted better parts themselves will be better in combat than those who payed for them on the market – just because they spent more time with the game and their personal skill is higher.

  15. Rob_Heinlein says:

    Wow…what a bad review.
    How can you compare it to world of tanks and fail to even mention that it was made by Gaijin (War Thunder)?
    That would have explained the system, the engine and a lot of the mechanics.

    And to complain about the grind in a f2p game…really?

    Disappointing.

    • Alexander Trifonov says:

      Just to clarify – the game is developed by Targem Games, creators of Ex Machina (Hard Truck Apocalypse). Crossout is actually set in the same universe, it’s a sort of prequel in terms of background lore.

      They’re using their own engine (the same as in Star Conflict), and Gaijin is a publisher.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      “And to complain about the grind in a f2p game…really?”

      Yes, we absolutely should continue to complain about shitty mechanics that make games worse. I don’t know why you would think otherwise.

  16. Behrditz says:

    So essentially its world of tanks style matching, with the crafting system from Warframe?

    The crafting time in Warframe is one of my least liked parts of that game. Im fine spending time grinding to get items, but dont then give me a second, arbitrary time limit before I can use them. Ive spent enough time getting them in the first place to make me decide to use a microtransaction or not.