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On Dead Space 3, Tungsten and Microtransactions

Tungsten is an ugly pimple on the awkward face of a developing industry of microtransactions. It sticks out and is quite hard to look at. It literally lurks in a corner of the Dead Space 3 resource shop, waving its $ flag shyly but resolutely.

The weapons system in Dead Space 3 is actually pretty solid. By introducing crafting and customization they managed to both retain the existing depth and strategy of the staple Dead Space weapons and upgrades AND add a new layer of customization depth. Most importantly, they've eliminated the annoyance of a multitude of ammo types and streamlined the inventory experience by having all their weapons share one type of ammo. It feels both more powerful and more elegant.

The old system already had hints of this unity and customization in the form of Power Nodes: a powerful item that could be used to both upgrade equipment and unlock loot-filled rooms. Power Nodes were mostly found around the world and could also be bought with game credits that Isaac would find by stomping on dead necromorph torsos. Which made no sense. Which is why an economy based on a crafting system makes much more sense for a game where the protagonist is an engineer.

To keep the balancing sane, though, something had to take the place of the Power Nodes. All crafting resources in Dead Space 3 serve a specific purpose and are thematically tied to the items they can be mixed to produce - yet no resource is as special as Tungsten. Like the Power Nodes of yore, Tungsten is tightly tied to the production of pretty much any key item that is worth crafting. Extremely rare to find, Tungsten is a strategic resource that drives most meaningful crafting choices. By rationing the reward rate of Tungsten, developers can effectively balance the main upgrade path for Isaac's weapons and armor. Tungsten is Power Nodes is premium currency.

And like most premium virtual currency, Tungsten can be bought with some of your finest real-world dollars.

Tungsten is an ugly pimple on the awkward face of a teenager in the developing industry of microtransactions. It sticks out and is quite hard to look at. It lurks in a corner of the Dead Space 3 resource shop, waving its $ flag shyly but resolutely. Tungsten vandalized the fourth wall by graffitiing a dollar sign onto it. And the other three walls, by definition, could only watch.

I can understand the arguments for Tungsten. I get that spending $$ is not critical path in the game and so I don't need to worry about it as a player. Yet it's there, staring at me, and so I worry about it. I get that nobody is forcing me to spend my $$. And yet the resource I can buy with real money is the one resource I can use to craft all the items I want. And I super-get that we are living in a time of microtransactions and so we should welcome our new $$ overlords. But there's a time and place for everything, and this hardly seems like the right time and place for Tungsten.

I grew to love the Dead Space franchise because of its atmosphere. While playing Dead Space you never feel safe - anything can happen at any time. Necromorphs attack you at save points, while unarmed, in elevators, in rooms too small for two people, while you're wearing a straitjacket… you name it, Dead Space has it. This game is frickin' creepy, and it keeps you on edge because, at the end of the day, you're role-playing a regular dude who is impaling and mutilating zombies with a line of mining tools that he has fashioned into weaponry. Weaponry that functions with a limited amount of resources that must be carefully rationed.

But here, take my $$ and give me a fully loaded Monster Impaler 3000 please.

I don't (just) have a gripe against Tungsten because it's asking me to leave a 50% tip on an expensive meal. I have a gripe with it because in a game where I give myself into the atmosphere, it's asking me to suspend my belief and take out my credit card. But yes, just as I value immersion, I also value respect for my spent dollars. And so Tungsten offends me because we have grown used to a way of crafting these experiences that doesn't involve any monetary contract other than the one we sign up front. And so when the waiter asks if I want to add extra cheese for $2 I respond that no, that I paid for the carefully crafted 5-course chef's tasting and so why would I even consider adding cheese? Just bring me what I paid for.

The truth is that Tungsten, more than angry, makes me sad. Because out of all the potentially great things that are currently happening in gaming, microtransactions are the one that make me feel most icky. I am literally on record saying that "if Dead Space 2, at the end of a chapter, asked me if I want to send ammo to a friend, I would say yes". But instead it asked me to buy Tungsten. And I said no.

Edit: grammar and correct form of Dead Space. 

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