A mere decade ago, sometime just after the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the concept of microtransactions was introduced to the general public with Horse Armor DLC. As can be expected, most people thought that Horse Armor was a ridiculous waste of money, and they yelled “Never again!” When games like Evolve and Street Fighter X Tekken tried to nickle and dime people with content that should’ve probably been included in the base game, people once again rallied around the phrase “Never again!” Then, as mobile games like Clash of Clans and their almost predatory microtransaction schemes became more and more popular, people met this new threat with the only weapon that they had: “Never again!” However, for all their fervor and almost naive convictions that microtransactions should be eradicated, it appears as though the people who have cried “Never again!” have been dealt a final, resounding blow in their fight against microtransactions with the release of Destiny 2.
Ironically, this coup de grace didn’t come from Bungie or Activision, or for that matter, any game development or publishing company. Instead, it came from other gamers and consumers, people who have the most to lose if microtransactions get out of hand. Rather than being united by the hope that being able to vote with their wallets will maybe send a message, people are seemingly quite divided on the issue, with some taking a hard stance against a new form of microtransactions while others may as well be rushing to the defense of a questionable new practice. This minor civil war of sorts was instigated by Destiny 2’s new shader system, which lets you apply a color scheme to each of your armor pieces, but each individual color scheme is a one-time use item that is effectively destroyed upon application. In other words, if you want to make your helmet blue, you better hope that you don’t run into another helmet that you like, because you won’t be able to make it blue as well until you either run into another blue shader or pay some real money for some extra shaders.
While one side is adamant the new shader system is nothing more than an extension of corporate greed and fear for the future of Destiny 2 if such ambitions are left unchecked, another side dismisses such claims as hysteria. “It’s just cosmetics,” the latter group says. “It doesn’t have an affect on the gameplay,” “It’s not pay to win,” “You get a lot of shaders by just playing the game anyways,” the latter group claims, and to a degree, they are correct: being able to change the color of your armor means very little in your average Destiny 2 PvP match seeing as how you can’t really camouflage yourself into the environment. Then, without fail, the former group will always bring up the slippery slope that the new shader system could lead to, to say nothing of the fact that since shaders are now a limited resource of sorts, you will always be incentivized to save them, thus making character customization less of a feature that anyone can use at any time for your amusement and more of a privilege or a commodity to be monitored and rationed.
More level headed observers would point out that, distasteful gameplay mechanic change or not, no one is actually forcing anyone to spend real money on Destiny 2’s microtransactions. Those same observers may also point out that the slippery slope argument is quite valid as the first Destiny released with no microtransactions whatsoever, and now you can buy emotes, shaders, ships, Sparrows, and more, and those are just some of the more palatable items that are for sale. It is no secret that Bungie used the last year or two as a testbed to see what people were willing to “throw money at the screen” for, and it turns out that the answer is pretty much anything and everything as long as it is marketed as being this super special premium item that you can show off and lord over the peasants and the commoners who didn’t want to fork over real money.
It really doesn’t help that Bungie isn’t even trying to hide this new source of revenue with the usual claims that it funds future content or somesuch. Luke Smith, Destiny 2’s design director, stated that “…we want statements like ‘I want to run the Raid, Trials, or go back to Titan to get more of its Shader’ to be possible” as justification for making a gameplay feature that we have all taken for granted into an asset to be monitored. For context, it would be like a clothing company saying that the clothes in your closet will deteriorate the moment you put something else on to encourage you to go to the store more often, yet people are more or less publicly defending Bungie since some of the more common shaders are, well, common and easy to find. Bungie being able to change the droprate of every shader in the game overnight has apparently not bothered such individuals who insist that because this previously free(ish) resource is plentiful, there is no problem with someone monetizing it; it is assumed that such individuals are also fine with the concept of “premium” bottled water.
That this kind of discussion about Destiny 2’s new shader system exists to begin with ought to be a tragedy in and of itself, as it seemed like it was just yesterday that people were rightfully and unanimously complaining about how you could only obtain the skins from Overwatch’s first Summer Games event through sheer luck or opening your wallet. In Destiny 2, you can get an entire Exotic weapon if you pre-ordered the game, and yet here we are having discussions over whether or not the new shader system is a distasteful step back from the old system in the first Destiny just because you can obtain such things through normal gameplay. Who knows what gameplay feature will be monetized in Destiny 3 now that Bungie has been given an inch of leeway thanks to how some accept the corruption of character customization options as the new normal; perhaps in a couple of years we shall look back upon this incident in fondness as we bicker over whether or not being able to buy in-game ammo with real money counts as something that impacts gameplay. Either way, microtransactions have latched onto games as a leech would, and they are here to stay with Destiny 2 since Bungie did what very few other developers could do by integrating microtransactions into otherwise core gameplay mechanics, and some have accepted this as fact, some may as well be welcoming it with open arms, and some cling to their convictions.
It is rather mind-boggling that all it took to cause people to (indirectly or otherwise) defend a microtransaction system was to strip away the convenience of a previously established feature, repackage it in a new and shiny box, and give everyone a very slim chance of getting an exceptionally shiny item in said box, but, in a way, defenders of Destiny 2’s new shader system have been proven correct: there is no slippery slope because it is now a cliff, and we are helping others push us off of it.