Ubisoft's explanation for the volume of its For Honor microtransactions may not be popular, but it is correct. Modern game design centers on longevity and personalization, but the current design space simply makes it unrealistic to expect that we can always count on unlocking everything.
Some background. A fan on Reddit recently did some number-crunching, and found that collecting every piece of cosmetic content like outfits and emotes in For Honor would cost a whopping $700. This caused some consternation among the community, leading Ubisoft to respond in a live Q&A. The comment has only fanned the flames.
"We never had an intention for you to unlock everything in the game," game director Damien Kieken said. "For us that doesn't really make any sense. We applied RPG mechanics on top of a fighting game in a PvP environment. Let's say in World of Warcraft, you would never try to unlock everything for all the characters. Same thing in any MOBA."
He went on to say that they designed the game believing most players would gravitate towards only a few characters, and that prediction has proven true so far. He called the cosmetic items "endgame content" and said they will be continuing to release content. He did suggest they may change based on feedback and data.
The community has ranged from disappointed to angry in response. To an extent this is to be expected. Power users are bound to expect more from their games, and as gamers, we've been conditioned to squeeze every last drop out of a game. However, Kieken's analogy was sound. In an online game, with a continuous stream of updates, the goal can never realistically be to reach 100%. Even devoted players of League of Legends, World of WarCraft, or Hearthstone, don't often achieve 100% completion. Only professionals, who make it their full-time job, manage that.
Prioritizing your favorite classes and customizing them to your liking is part of the game's design, and chasing cosmetic items is a new form of progression for long-term, ongoing play. To whatever extent we think of this as a drawback, it's a by-product of modern game design, not a conscious choice from Ubisoft to gouge customers. The backlash was and continues to be that Ubisoft expects its users to pay massive sums of money, but Kieken's response was just the opposite. Not that the company wants to force its fans to pay hundreds of dollars, but that they hope those fans will realign their expectations and simply pay less.
This isn't to say that Ubisoft should give up on pleasing its fanbase, however. For developers, there's obvious value in keeping your most devoted fanbase happy. They're the most ardent supporters and evangelists, and with careful cultivation, they'll be the ones still playing the game long after the casual base has moved on to the next flavor du jour. The company could and should seek ways to make the ramp a little easier, perhaps with greater rewards for time played, so that power users who are more prone to split their time between 6-8 characters will still feel just as satisfied as those who only play two or three.
Still, the community will have to meet the company half-way. The game wasn't designed to let players easily obtain absolutely everything, and as games borrow more and more DNA from the role-playing and MOBA genres, that design philosophy will continue to propagate. Given that, it's vital to let go of our completionist instincts and take games on their own terms. Sometimes, that means taking a pretty good game and enjoying it for what it is.