I picked a bizarre time to get burned out on Payday 2. After a summer of binge-heisting and badgering my friends until enough of them were hooked for us to form a semi-competent criminal crew, we all needed a break from the clown-clad chaos. And so just before Crimefest, the yearly in-game event during which game developer Overkill drops some of its most exciting additions to the game, I uninstalled Payday 2 to make room for some other games in my backlog.
Less than a week later I began to feel like I’d made a wise decision as article after tweet after reddit post exploded over Overkill’s addition of microtransactions to their cult heist shooter. For those who aren’t in the know, Payday 2 has always included loot drops after each match where players receive new weapon modifications, customization options, and other in-game rewards. Back in October, Overkill added a new type of loot: Safes. These Safes initially could only be unlocked with a Drill item available only for real-world money (about $2.50 when they first arrived) and often contained stat-boosting weapon skins that could only be obtained through Safes. Players, citing a statement by game developers that “...PAYDAY 2 will have no micro-transactions whatsoever (shame on you if you thought otherwise!)“ began claiming that Overkill had lied to them and that the company had betrayed its fanbase.
From the sidelines, I played Metal Gear Solid V and chalked the whole affair up to another great game falling into mediocrity for the sake of squeezing a little more cash out of its players. However, just a few days ago I got the itch to mask up and daisy-chain bags of loot out of a bank again, so I reinstalled Payday 2 and plunged back in, expecting to wince at how far one of my favorite games had fallen.
And you know what? I couldn’t tell a difference. Sure, I did bump into a guy with a zebra-print gun in one game and I even had a Safe drop as my reward for a heist (I haven’t opened it), but otherwise the game I’d loved before the addition of microtransactions was exactly the same as the game I was playing now. Surprised, I did a little digging to see if Overkill had backpedaled and scaled back the implementation of microtransactions since the whole flap started. The only change, as far as I can tell, is that Overkill has made it so that Drills occasionally drop as loot rewards, removing the necessity of a real-money purchase to open the safe. This doesn’t seem like a major change, but is certainly a welcome one.
After a few more heists, I started thinking. What about all this is so bad that you can’t find a positive review on the front page of Payday 2's Steam page, even months later? I did some digging, and the main complaints of the community are threefold:
- Overkill went back on a promise to never include microtransactions in Payday 2.
- A weapon fully modified and with a Safe-only skin applied to it has a statistical advantage over a fully modified gun that uses only equipment available without a microtransaction purchase.
- Overkill is still releasing paid DLC content even after the addition of microtransactions to the game.
As to the first...yeah. It does look like that’s what happened. Overkill released an official statement telling its fans that Payday 2 wasn’t going to include microtransactions (although, in fairness, the wording of the quote in context can be read as applying to a specific update, not as a blanket statement for all future updates) and at some point changed their mind and implemented the Safes. I don’t really want to go out of my way to defend this because, quite honestly it’s kind of a shady thing to do and doesn’t reflect well on the attitude of the developers. I will say, however, that this doesn’t seem like enough of an issue to provoke the kind of hate Payday 2 received over it, especially given how vocal its fanbase has been before now in praising the game and its devs.
The second concern of Payday fans has to do with the nitty-gritty of weapons statistics. Each of the skins released with the Safes update has some sort of weapon-specific stat boost it applies to the weapon. For example, the biggest stat boost given by a skin (at least when the skins were released) is the +8 Stability boost given to the Deagle pistol by the Midas Touch skin. Compare this to the OVERKILL compensator available for the same weapon, which gives +10 Damage and +6 Stability (while taking away 2 points of Concealment), and is available to anyone as part of the base game. Even if you aren’t interested in reading the numbers, the TL:DR of this is that, at least on paper, the stat boosts given by microtransaction skins are comparable to things available in the base game, not grossly overpowered “pay-to-win” cash grabs.
Furthermore, Payday 2 is an entirely cooperative game. All 4 players are working together to accomplish a goal, opposed by AI opponents. If Payday 2 were a competitive game (or hell, even if the game actually tracked and displayed match statistics after each heist), I could understand the frustration in players being able to pay money to get a weapon with boosted stats. However in practice it doesn’t really matter at all to most players what weapon their fellow heisters are using. Four additional points of Accuracy applied to an AK Rifle is not a make-or-break bonus. Honestly, I wouldn’t even notice the difference.
Lastly, players have protested Overkill’s continued release of paid DLC alongside these microtransactions. Many players seem to feel that microtransactions and paid DLC are an either-or kind of thing. A developer can have microtransactions OR paid DLC releases, but both is seen as greedy. In Payday 2's case, the DLC Overkill releases includes (usually) a new weapon or set of weapons, some masks, and a few customization options for around $7. Nothing fancy or outrageous here.
Alongside these paid DLC releases, Overkill releases for free to the community a set of new heists or characters. Arguably the largest part of each DLC update is the heists. These entirely new levels and storylines are released completely free and can be played without issue by anyone who owns the game. For a game that releases as much of its content for free as Payday 2 does, it feels ungrateful to demand that the developer not be allowed to charge for the less interesting part of that content.
Ultimately it just makes me sad that a game that has bucked the trend of dumbed-down shooters and spectacle over substance looks to new buyers like a cash-grab waste of time over this. Microtransactions didn’t ruin Payday 2. Nothing ruined Payday 2. It’s a fantastic game and you should be playing it. So if you need me, I’ll be over here cracking safes and saving my bitching for the next time a Cloaker shanks me from behind.