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Bluehole Studios' PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is one of the biggest, fastest selling games this generation. The real surprise is that the game is still in Early Access and developing at a rapid rate. However, one thing could hold up the game's meteoric rise: microtransactions.
According to the creative director, Brendan Greene, he's not too worried about the rising backlash over microtransactions, which he explained to GamesIndustry.biz in an interview. He explains that the reason for the backlash was because he made a promise that there wouldn't be any microtransactions before the game graduated from Early Access, but then the team added in microtransactions and the internet hate machine went into first gear...
We got hit hard. I said we wouldn't have microtransactions until we left Early Access, but it comes from my naivety. To be fair, we're still not adding any kind of skin system with microtransactions fully until we leave Early Access, but we do need to test it, and we need to test percentages.
Greene went on to say that the backlash likely only represents a small percentage of the PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds community, and that the Steam store reviews that are being bombed with negative reviews only represents a small percentage of the community as well.
In Greene's mind it's a fair risk since the data shows that a larger percentage of people aren't affected by the small percentage of people who are angry about Bluehole breaking its promise and adding in microtransactions before coming out of Early Access. He estimated that the Reddit community alone only makes up for about 10% of the player base, and so the team is willing to risk making a core part of the community angry in order to test and expand on the microtransactions.
The thing is, we've seen this thing happen before with other established games such as Payday 2, where the developers promised that there wouldn't be any microtransactions. Later on Overkill added microtransactions and the game was subjected to the typical rage from the internet hate machine. Steam reviews were bombed, the Reddit pages were filled with invective, and comment sections were fiery. While Overkill thought it could weather the storm and that things would go back to normal, it never did. In fact, things only got worse, and apparently sales were affected enough that the team had to scale back on the microtransaction model.
Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar also recently got a taste of the cumulative rage from the internet hate machine in the form of attempting to block the use of single-player mods in GTA V for people who just wanted to play offline in peace. Given the tens of millions of people who own GTA V, the people angry about the mod policy only made up a small percentage of the overall user-base, but the game's Steam page was filled with negative reviews and forums across the web had nothing but contempt for Take-Two. The company eventually rescinded the policy and things went back to normal.
Bethesda and Valve also know the situation all too well when the duo attempted to implement paid mods into Skyrim, only for the hate to become so vitriolic toward both companies that Gabe Newell himself had to hold a small town meeting of sorts on Reddit to assuage the community. Eventually, paid mods was retired shortly thereafter.
Bluehole is playing a dangerous game by poking the hornet's nest of goodwill with this move. While Greene believes that microtransactions will be a great way to keep the game profitable for a long time to come, he needs to remember that financial currency is worth a lot less in mind-share weight than good-will currency among the gaming community. It's definitely something to consider when looking at the overhead success of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, which is set to continue to break sales records this year after moving 10 million copies on PC alone.