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Has the end of microtransactions for Middle-earth: Shadow of War come too late to matter?

This week Monolith Productions announced it will be releasing a sizeable (and entirely free) update for Middle-earth: Shadow of War in a few months which will, among other things, completely remove the game’s microtransaction system.

The presence of microtransactions was regarded by many as a blemish on what is otherwise a very solid sequel, so the removal of the system can only be seen as a good thing. However, one can’t help but wonder why Monolith chose now, a solid six months after Shadow of War first launched, to scrap a system which fans were complaining about even before the game’s release.

Setting An Example

The optimist in me likes to think that Monolith decided to scrap microtransactions for no other reason than knowing it was the right thing to do. After all, if there’s one thing that a vast majority of gamers can agree upon, it’s that they really don’t like it when microtransactions show up in their game, especially when it’s a single-player game like Shadow of War.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a developer decided to scrap an entire revenue generation method in the wake of negative feedback. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who still remember Diablo III’s auction house, a system which was universally reviled since it allowed players to buy and sell items for real money (with Blizzard naturally taking a cut of all sales). It’s not hard to imagine Monolith looking at all the goodwill Blizzard received after the auction house’s closure and deciding to go a similar route.

Another optimistic way to look at the situation is that Monolith could also be trying to set an example for other publishers and developers who choose to include microtransactions in their games. Microtransactions on their own aren’t necessarily a bad thing (free-to-play games have to make money somehow, after all), but the gaming community has been quite clear in its distaste towards the trend of microtransactions in full price triple-A games. No matter how unobtrusive or out-of-the-way they are, the mere presence of microtransactions tends to leave a bad taste in players’ mouths, and this could be Monolith’s way of saying that it’s time for things to change.

Late To The Party

As optimistic as you want to be, however, there are some hard truths about the removal of Shadow of War’s microtransactions that are hard to ignore. There’s no way Monolith and the game's publishers at Warner Bros. didn’t know how much players were upset about microtransactions before Shadow of War launched, and yet they kept them in anyways. The gesture of removing the microtransactions would certainly have had a much greater impact if it had happened before or even shortly after the game’s launch, rather than six months down the line.

In fairness to Monolith, it took Blizzard nearly two years to remove Diablo III’s auction house, but taking six months to finally do something you knew your fanbase wanted from the beginning still has the ring of a hollow gesture. This is especially true since, in a more cynical light, there’s really not much of a downside from a money-making point of view to removing these systems at this point, after six presumambly profitable months. 

If we were to pop on our tinfoil hats for a moment, there’s also the possibility that the removal of microtransactions six months out was a pre-planned strategy from the very beginning, but was something that understandably couldn't be advertised in that way.

Smooth Sailing

Regardless of how each individual player may feel about Shadow of War’s removal of microtransactions, we can at least agree that it will lead to more positives, rather than negatives. Simply perusing the comments section of Monolith’s original announcement  post is enough to show that the studio’s plan of garnering good will is already working, especially since we’ve got more free game content to look forward to on July 17. Plus, it’s unlikely that the orc follower microtransactions in particular will be missed, since it’s already pretty darn easy to farm powerful orc followers without ever touching Shadow of War’s in-game market.

They say it’s best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and if the removal of Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s market and accompanying microtransactions means that the game will be a more immersive fantasy hack-and-slash experience, that’s totally fine with me. Here’s hoping other developers and publishers will at least consider the implications of adding microtransactions into their games after they see how Monolith and WB have handled this situation.