Activision's Call of Duty does game microtransactions correctly

As more big-budget game publishers experiment with microtransactions, it's no surprise that Activision is giving them a try with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on the Xbox 360.

But players should put away their pitchforks. Compared to recent attempts by Electronic Arts to nickel and dime its customers in Dead Space 3 and Real Racing 3, Activision's microtransactions for Call of Duty—or "Micro Items," as the publisher calls them—seem pretty harmless.

None of the items affects your ability to play the game, and many of them are purely cosmetic. For instance, players can purchase a bundle of weapons camouflage, targeting reticles, and a custom Calling Card for 160 MS points. These items affect the way a character looks, and what the player sees the on the screen in battle, but provide no tactical advantage.

Same goes with the "Flags of the World Calling Card Packs," which cost 80 points per region pack. Calling Cards are just background images that appear underneath the player's name, so once again, these are just cosmetic items.

A scene from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

The closest Activision comes to changing the actual game is selling an "Extra Slots Pack" for 160 MS points. This item allows players to have 10 extra Create-a-Class slots and extra media storage for emblems, screenshots, and in-game films. The only in-game benefit here is that you can have more custom loadouts to choose from at a time, but you still have to put in the time to unlock all the necessary gear and become a better player.

In addition, Activision is selling Nuketown Zombies, a map that was only available with the limited edition of the game, for 400 MS points. The publisher gives away the Nuketown 2025 map, which was previously limited to people who pre-ordered the game.

No online pass required

Keep in mind that Activision doesn't require an online pass for Call of Duty multiplayer. That means whether you buy Black Ops 2 new or used, you can still play online at no extra charge. Also, Black Ops 2 is now four months old. While it's clear that Activision wants to wring a little more cash from new and old players, at least the company didn't bludgeon loyal players with in-game purchases right out of the gate.

Activision's approach is basically the opposite of rival publisher Electronic Arts, which included microtransactions in the single-player component of Dead Space 3.

Although in-game items were hardly necessary to succeed, they were a constant distraction from Dead Space's drama, and the ability to buy your way through the action sullied the sense of danger and suspense that the series has tried to offer. Also, EA charges $10 extra for multiplayer if you buy a used copy of Dead Space 3, assuming the included Online Pass voucher has already been redeemed.

I know gamers love to hate Activision, but they should hate clumsy microtransactions even more. With Black Ops 2, it seems Activision has applied a fair amount of care in adding in-game purchases, making sure they don't affect the actual game or provide an unfair advantage to deep-pocketed players. If we're going to call out the worst efforts, we should also give praise to the best ones.

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