Here’s a non-controversial opinion: the Santa Claus Pikachu skin in Pokemon Unite shouldn’t cost $40. I publish a lot of spicy takes here at TheGamer, but I’m pretty confident no one can disagree with this one – well, except for TiMi Studio Group. It thinks Pikachu dressed like Santa should cost $40, obviously, because that’s how much it costs.
Let’s just say everyone that isn’t making money from Pokemon Unite would agree that $40 is too much money for a virtual pointing red hat and a puffy red coat. The question is, should we care? After all, you don’t have to buy Holiday Style Pikachu if you don’t want to. There’s no gameplay benefit to wearing the Santa outfit – Pikachu doesn’t move faster, hit harder, or score more goals just because it's dressed like Old Saint Nick. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, right?
I see takes like often, not just about Pokemon Unite but about any game that sells cosmetics. Halo Infinite players shut down any criticism of the marketplace using the same logic: free-to-play games need to make money somehow, and cosmetic-only, non-pay-to-win microtransactions are the most ethical way to do that. If people want to spend their money on hats and shoulderpads, that’s their business. At least I get to play the game for free.
The problem with this laissez-faire attitude is that it ignores that victimization that occurs when microtransactions stop being micro. $40 is not a microtransaction, it’s the price of an entire game. The only people that would spend this kind of money on a Santa outfit are people that would literally buy anything, and that’s the problem.
It's well established that whales hold up free-to-play games. A study done by Vox back in 2014 discovered that half of all microtransactions in mobile games are purchased by 0.15 percent of players. As free-to-play has become a standard model for online games outside of mobile, the problem has only gotten worse. While we play Halo Infinite and Pokemon Unite for free, a very small group of people are paying for all of the servers and future development.
I worry about those people and the effect that inflated microtransaction prices are having on their lives. Some of the are rich, but a lot of them just can’t help themselves. It’s one thing to compulsively buy every new holowear that comes out when they’re $7 each, but Unite has four skins that cost as much as a six month old triple-A game. A $40 skin might as well cost $1,000. The only people buying it are going to buy it no matter what.
I don’t where the line should be, but I know $40 is way past it. Most of Unite’s skins are in the $6-10 range, but nine of them cost around $20, which probably crosses the line already. When Star Wars Battlefront 2 killed lootboxes in 2017, games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty have been pushing the price of microtransactions higher and higher. Santa Claus Pikachu might be the most obscene example yet, but as long as whales keep buying them – and the rest of us keep acting like its no big deal – then the problem will only get worse.
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