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On July 10, Riot Games‘ tactical FPS shooter Valorant released its new “Elderflame” weapon skins. These weapon skins are the first Ultra skins to be released in the game (and are not even the highest announced tier, Exclusive, which might leave you rightfully worried for what those will cost). Whilst the Ultra skins are undoubtedly impressive, the price tag left me stunned.
£100/$100. That’s what the whole bundle will cost you. Or, as Riot Games would like you to see it, 9,900 Valorant points (VP). That is a gross amount of money for in-game cosmetics. But you don’t have to buy them, right? Sure, yet the people at Riot Games, and all the companies pushing micro-transactions everywhere, really really want you to. As always, their marketing to this effect is extremely persuasive.
Mislead and Make Money
Firstly you have the skin tier-list, which tells you that these Elderflame skins are Ultra skins. They are special. They are better than those other, cheaper skins. You need them. Trust us. Next you have the marketing of the bundle itself. You are told that when you buy the bundle, you get certain added items for “free”. You are told that it is a much better deal to buy all the skins as a bundle, than only buy the one or two skins that you actually want.
And of course, cost-wise, it is.
It has been specifically designed that way to get you to spend the extra money. One Elderflame skin costs 2475 VP, whereas the bundle of five (and the bonus “free” items) will cost you 9,900 VP. That is a massive discrepancy in pricing. So much so, I would imagine that most people thinking of buying an Elderflame skin for their favourite gun have been sorely tempted to buy the whole bundle.
This isn’t even the end of the issues, however. Firstly, you have the “£4.99 isn’t £5” pricing strategies. It’s a pretty common sales technique, and so not a problem — or so you might think. Simply accepting these misleading practices because everyone is doing them leads to worse and worse practices down the line. This is shown in the offensively obvious decision to price the skins in between VP purchase tiers.
That means, if you really just want the one Elderflame skin, you can’t simply buy exactly 2475 VP. Instead, you either have to buy multiple smaller amounts of VP (in quantities of 525, 1100 or 2250 VP) to get over the 2475 threshold, or one larger amount of VP (4000) that is strongly portrayed as the better deal. So, again, you are constantly coaxed into spending more and more money than you may have originally wanted to.
The Hidden Cost of Elderflame
Next comes the most misleading thing of all. When you buy these Elderflame skins for £100, you aren’t even buying everything that you have been shown in the flashy adverts. Instead, you must spend even more money on upgrading your skins in order to unlock those impressive animations and effects.
Yes. Upgrading skins you have already paid £100 for.
It doesn’t even sound real. Worse still is the hidden cost on these upgrades is even more expensive than buying all the skins in the first place, nearly twice as much in fact. To buy and upgrade all your skins fully, you would need to spend around £300, as detailed in this Reddit thread.
All of this shows micro-transactions have evolved from the simple ‘pay this amount of money and receive this thing’ into something more sinister, in the same way that loot boxes or misleading subscriptions services have. Prices are concealed behind fake currencies, hidden costs appear after you have made your purchases, and every technique and strategy employed is trying to lead you to spend more than you want to.
Companies have to make money, but do they really have to make money like this? To me their greed and lack of care for the consumer is laughably apparent. Their prices, and what they are selling for them, are offensive. And no amount of saying that “Oh, everyone does it’ or “Oh, you don’t have to buy them, so what’s the problem?” will help us when companies tighten the screw even further, after being rewarded so heavily for what they are getting away with now.
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