First of all, I love Starhawk. It’s an awesome sci-fi third-person shooter that allows you to call down buildings and vehicles and things from space with its Build and Battle system. Of course, this is nothing I haven’t said already. I did give the game a fairly high score in my official review, after all. Additionally, I praised the game for taking a cool new approach to distributing add-on maps, and I explained why the recent layoffs at Lightbox Interactive make me so sad.
So, just last week I was trying to explain to my roommate why I love this game so much, and I figured it would be better if I just showed him instead of continuing to explain it. So we loaded up on alcohol, stuck the Starhawk disc into the PS3, and started shooting things.
As we were exploring the Build and Battle system (where you open a wheel that shows you which structures you’re allowed to build by pressing the triangle button), I noticed something fishy. On the menu, there were a couple structures that were covered up by a shopping cart icon. This was starting to feel like a microtranaction shop rather than a typical Build and Battle menu.
So I checked out the PlayStation store, and sure enough, there were some very microtansactiony things for sale. Most of this stuff was just character skins and new paint jobs for vehicles, and I’m totally fine with that. I mean, if people want to blow their hard-earned money on cosmetic gear while supporting the people who worked so hard on this game, I’m not going to complain.
However, there are a couple new buildable structures up for sale as well. One of these things is a Pod Launcher. For those unfamiliar with the game, instead of spawning at a random point on the map, you drop into the world from space in a Pod. This Pod can be controlled as it descends, and if it lands on an enemy it will outright kill them. Normally, you can only drop into your own side of the map or near a deployable Outpost. With the Pod Launcher, though, you can fire your Pod deep into enemy territory, and, according to the official U.S. PlayStation website, you can “use the Pod Launcher to jump from base to base in the blink of an eye!”
Now, this allows players who pay the $4.99 asking price to have a legitimate strategic advantage in battle. That’s completely uncalled for, as many of us paid $60 at launch for this game already. Now we have to pay more to retain our competitive edge?
Additionally, you can purchase a Grizzly Rig, which is a new type of mech. (Actually, the PlayStation site prefers the term “exo-armor upgrade for ground troops.”) While this gives less of an advantage (since there’s already the Hawk mech in the game, and the Hawk can fly), I did wind up in several matches where the only deployable mech was the Grizzly. To clarify, this means that in those particular matches, I couldn’t call down anything mech-related without paying $4.99 to unlock the Grizzly Rig. (Both the Pod Launcher and the Grizzly Rig show release dates of September 30, 2012.)
What makes me sad about all this is that I spent so much time defending the game’s policies toward giving players free map packs and things like that. This is legitimately awesome of them, and it’s very forward-thinking in terms of keeping the player base unified. But these buyable structure types make this into a “pay-to-win” game.
Now, any developer who includes a microtransaction store in their game will be quick to assure you that there won’t be a problem with “pay-to-win.” I’ve learned that most of the time they’re lying about this, and they’ll ultimately include some sort of sale item that improves your chances of “winning.” But this at least shows that most developers aren’t comfortable with the term “pay-to-win.”
This simply isn’t the case for Starhawk. They’ve embraced the “pay-to-win” dogma, and are using it to scrape up some extra revenue from already loyal customers. To me, this seems like a huge middle finger to all the people who have already given their support for the game, especially those of us who have been evangelizing it for them, bragging to all our friends (and Cheat Code Central readers) about how purely awesome Starhawk is. And I can’t help but resent them a little for this.
My prediction: The “pay-to-win” items in Starhawk’s microtransaction store are a terrible move. This will likely chase away the people who have been loyal in the past, thinning out the server population, undoing everything their free map packs have achieved. In fact, this could ultimately be the game’s undoing.
I spent a lot of time boasting about how great this game was and how refreshing the developers’ philosophies on game add-on content were. Now, I might be forced to take back everything I said.
As much as it pains me to say this, you’ll have to vote with your wallets. Show Sony you don’t agree with pay-to-win store items by simply refusing to buy them. Hopefully they’ll get the message before Starhawk sinks.
Editor / News Director
Date: November 1, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*