Last week, Gran Turismo 7 was knocked offline for more than a full day, which threw into stark relief just how much of a nuisance it's online requirement seems poised to become for the duration of the game's life. But as part of that update cycle, Polyphony Digital also revised the in-game economy in ways that have immediately poisoned their relationship with a lot of their players. In a word, they gave everyone an in-game paycut.
As part of the latest patch, a number of the game's single-player race events had their winnings reduced by about a third across the board. A lot of these were races that players had realized were perfect for farming credits: lax entry requirements meant you could take an overpowered car into the race and dominate the field without much trouble (making it easy to get the clean racing payout bonus as well) and the races were short enough that they were a pretty efficient way of quickly building your in-game bank.
Game director Kazunori Yamauchi attempted to address this issue in a message to the game's official news page. After explaining that the day-long outage was due to the fact that the first version of the patch had caused the game to stop launching on some users' consoles, Yamauchi offered a justification for the sharp reduction in race payouts.
"In GT7 I would like to have users enjoy lots of cars and races even without microtransactions," he wrote. "At the same time the pricing of cars is an important element that conveys their value and rarity, so I do think it’s important for it to be linked with the real world prices. I want to make GT7 a game in which you can enjoy a variety of cars lots of different ways, and if possible would like to try to avoid a situation where a player must mechanically keep replaying certain events over and over again."
In a vacuum this message would probably be a pretty decent encapsulation of the balance issues that designers encounter when they design in-game economies, and the inevitable tension that crops up between wanting to leave players valuable rewards to pursue versus making a game where players are encouraged to play in whatever fashion feels most fun as opposed to efficient.
The thing is, Gran Turismo 7 isn't really that kind of game, and these economy changes actually make the problem worse rather than better. But the problem is more deeply-rooted than any specific payout schedules: it's the entire structure of the economy around the game's most valuable cars: limited-time availability, artificial scarcity, enormous in-game cost, and the fact that GT7 is always happy to snarf down a $20 bill to give a small bundle of credits.
It doesn't feel like a small bundle at first. After our producer Ricardo burned through the last of my cash hot rodding a VW Bus on a stream, I relented and took the option to "top up" my credits by spending $20 in the PlayStation store. In exchange I got 2M Cr. in the game, which was a bit of an extra payout because I was buying in bulk. But let's go with that exchange rate: USD $1 equals 100,000 Cr.
Let's place that in context: one of my "daily reward" roulette spins shocked me by not giving me the stingiest 5,000 Cr. reward and instead gave me a limited time "invitation" to buy some exclusive cars from Ferrari. So I headed over the Brand Central to see what I'd been invited to buy and found three advanced Ferraris, the cheapest of which was selling for 1.6M Cr.
This week, the Gran Turismo Reddit community has looked with grim irony on one of the cars available in the game's "legendary" car auction house, where historically significant or iconic cars are sold (as opposed to the humble offerings at the used car dealership or the factory-new vehicles on sale at Brand Central). Gran Turismo 7 is selling a McLaren for 18.5M Cr. Or about $185 USD if you just wanted to pay cash. Another popular thread is filled with frustrated players discussing what would happen if GT7 players refused to buy in-game credits en masse.
Ultimately, people were grinding because GT7 is shot-through with decisions to foreground rare, collectible cars whose prices demand a ton of race wins to afford. If Polyphony was concerned that people were going to end up ruining their own experience with the game via repetition, the solution was probably to create an easier and faster progress curve so that people who work up to the game's coolest cars while playing however they liked.
But let me tell you how that is working out for me: last week I spent $20, right? Put 2M Cr. right in my bank account. I've played a bunch since then and worked my way through a really challenging series race whose power level restrictions were giving me fits… and after all that I have 1.9M Cr. Because throughout that entire week of racing I was dumping money into more upgrades that gave me greater setup flexibility, and it's very easy to spend 100,000 Cr. on the full suite of optional components.
I'd have broken-even after all the upgrades except for the fact that I snagged a cheap Corvette Stingray out of the auction house for about 120,000 Cr. So basically I've played a lot of GT7 in a week, doing my own thing in my own way, and I'm not really a step closer to those mid-tier Ferraris I've been invited to buy. That McLaren F1? That is literally never happening if I keep playing the game organically and don't put more cash in. Oh and forget about converting any of my less-loved cars back into credits: in GT7 you can buy, but you sure can't sell, which mocks Yamauchi's stated desire to have the game's economy reflect real-world market dynamics.
Here, have an expensive muffler for a car you don't own.
The economics of GT7's endgame are souring the conversation around a great game. And it is still a great game: I spent the weekend doing 600 and 700 performance point races, and getting incredibly tight with a vintage BMW M-class that I turned into a general-purpose course-shredding machine, rain or shine. Between the green and the checkered flag, GT7 is magical, with incredibly detailed feedback and nuanced handling. Playing it is a reward in itself if there were no "hypercars" or prototype-class cars in the game at all I'd still say it's one of the best racing games in years. But they are in the game. GT7 badly wants me to know they're in the game, and at several points tries to funnel my attention and interest in their direction. I bet with this handling model they're a blast to drive. It is just too bad that they are also one of the worst bargains in games, priced within an in-game economy that is increasingly a worst-case scenario for where microtransactions would lead game design.
Yamauchi closed his note to the community saying, "We will in time let you know the update plans for additional content, additional race events and additional features that will constructively resolve this. It pains me that I can’t explain the details regarding this at this moment, but we plan on continuing to revise GT7 so that as many players as possible can enjoy the game We would really appreciate it if everyone could watch over the growth of Gran Turismo 7 from a somewhat longer term point of view.
That's a fair request. There's just one problem: GT7 is less than a month old, and nothing that's happened since launch points in the right direction. If we just extrapolate from the game's trajectory in the last few weeks, we can anticipate that Sony will be letting you buy cars with viatical settlements by this time next year. If it comes to that, just hope that you expire before the game's servers do.