The video games industry is home to a growing number of incredibly shady and dodgy business practices. Microtransactions themselves qualify – especially things like in-game currencies, randomised loot boxes, and any microtransactions in games aimed at kids. But of all the corporate fuckery seen this side of the Star Wars: Battlefront II disaster, Sony and Polyphony Digital have to take the crown with Gran Turismo 7.
In case you haven’t followed the story, a quick recap. Gran Turismo 7 is the most recent game in Sony and Polyphony Digital’s long-running racing series. It was released on the 4th of March 2022, and in the weeks prior to launch, copies of the game were sent to many outlets for review. This is pretty standard – just like film critics get to see films ahead of time, video game journalists and commentators are often able to play games ahead of their launch. That’s how publications – and even some YouTubers nowadays – are able to get their reviews out before or just after a game launches.
But reviewers didn’t realise that the version of Gran Turismo 7 that they’d been playing was deceptive. And yes, “deceptive” is the right word – because there’s absolutely no way that this was anything other than intentional from Sony and Polyphony Digital. If you believe this was all an innocent mistake then I’ve got a bridge to sell you! Sony and Polyphony Digital essentially created a different version of the game for reviewers to play – a version of the game that hid the extent of Gran Turismo 7′s egregious microtransactions.
By doing this, Sony and Polyphony Digital hoped to score rave reviews for the game – a racing sim which, by all accounts, has thoroughly enjoyable gameplay. They fully intended to conceal just how heavily-monetised Gran Turismo 7 actually is, lest the microtransactions drag down the game’s review scores during its crucial release window. And do you know what? Their shady plot worked.
Gran Turismo 7 raked in rave reviews, including from a number of publications and websites that I read and would generally trust. It didn’t really occur to me that they’d all had the wool pulled over their eyes by a dishonest corporation and its equally despicable subsidiary. But that’s the reality of the situation: Sony and Polyphony Digital lied to reviewers, showed them a willfully dishonest misrepresentation of Gran Turismo 7, and hoped that they could get away with it.
Within hours of the game’s release on PlayStation 5 earlier this month, the microtransactions were switched on. An update a few days later then “rebalanced” the microtransactions to make them even worse – providing far fewer in-game rewards, making vehicles more expensive, and generally turning the game into a monetised mess that would give other microtransaction-riddled titles a run for their money. And all of this came in a game that Sony has the audacity to ask players to pay a minimum of £65 ($70) for.
When the Battlefront II debacle exploded in late 2017, it felt like a turning point. Electronic Arts had pushed too hard and too far, and the result was a backlash that seemed, for a time anyway, to genuinely frighten some of the biggest corporations in the industry. Governments began looking at lootboxes and microtransactions in a serious way for the first time, and legislation was passed in some jurisdictions that has meant some games have had to be adjusted or even pulled from sale entirely.
There was a chance, back then, for the campaign against microtransactions and these kinds of awful, anti-consumer business practices to really have an impact, and for players to fight back and demonstrate to corporations that there are limits to how far we can be pushed around. Sadly, though, with other news stories taking up airtime, the issue fell away almost as quickly as it burst onto the scene. In the months and years since, corporations like Sony have slowly ramped up their microtransactions and other in-game monetisation plans, leading us right back to a very familiar situation.
It should go without saying that what Sony and Polyphony Digital did is wrong. Categorically and unequivocally wrong. They lied, misrepresented their game, and arguably mis-sold a product in such an egregious and disingenuous way that it could very well fall under the legal definition of “false advertising.” Sony has never been a consumer-friendly company, make no mistake about that, but even by their standards, this is a new low.
There’s also egg on the face of a lot of reviewers, commentators, and publications – many of whom should know better than to take a company like Sony at its word. Pre-release review copies of Gran Turismo 7 still contained things like in-game currencies and the in-game microtransaction marketplace, and some reviews even made note of these things, with some particularly pro-Sony publications optimistically suggesting that the microtransactions wouldn’t be all that bad or would be “totally optional.”
Too many publications, websites, and even social media channels and YouTubers now work hand-in-glove with corporations like Sony. Their refusal to think too critically about the obvious microtransactions and willingness to give Gran Turismo 7 excellent reviews in spite of that is testament to that. There’s a twofold fear that many professional journalists and the outlets that employ them have – on the one hand, they fear that being late with their reviews will lead to fewer clicks and thus less money, and on the other they fear that being too critical of a company’s latest title will cost them in the long run, whether that be in terms of access to review copies in future, or just in terms of what can be a profitable business relationship.
So while I’m happy to place the blame for this on Sony and Polyphony Digital, because they are the ones who lied and misrepresented Gran Turismo 7, there are quite a few reviewers and gaming publications that need to take a long look in the mirror. They are not completely innocent parties to this either, and clearly something has got to change in terms of the working relationship between the games industry, the people who cover it, and the players themselves.
To deliberately conceal the extent of Gran Turismo 7′s microtransactions is disgusting behaviour from Sony and Polyphony Digital – but it’s more than that. It’s an admission from the corporation that they understand how unpopular and unwarranted microtransactions are in a game of this nature. At a minimum of £65 ($70) for the price of admission, many players would quite rightly expect to be able to play the full game and unlock all of the vehicles on offer.
I can’t help make a comparison to last year’s Forza Horizon 5, a game I got via Game Pass and thoroughly enjoyed. Simply by playing Forza Horizon 5 and completing races and missions, I unlocked new vehicles and in-game currency to buy other vehicles. After around 45 hours, I’d unlocked almost 100 different vehicles from trucks and four-wheel-drive cars all the way to supercars and hypercars. In Gran Turismo 7, you’d be lucky to have acquired enough in-game currency for one single vehicle after that length of play time – and the obvious reason for that is to essentially force players to pay for microtransactions.
For me, this is beyond the pale. Sony and Polyphony Digital owe their players an apology. Moreover, they need to strip as much of the microtransaction marketplace from Gran Turismo 7 as possible – just as Electronic Arts did when the Battlefront II debacle threatened to overwhelm them. The only way to make this right in the long-term is to abandon this microtransaction model. If the game was free-to-play, it would be a different conversation – though hiding aspects of the monetisation or the prices would still be wrong. But in a game asking £65 ($70) up front from players, there was no justification for any microtransactions to begin with, let alone ones as egregious and interfering as those present in Gran Turismo 7.
Lying to reviewers and commentators will have consequences. Many publications have been burned by this, with angry players turning up to leave comments on reviews pointing out that there are particularly aggressive microtransactions in the game that they should’ve been warned about. Hopefully that will mean some of these journalists will think more carefully about how they review games like Gran Turismo 7 in future – but the reality is that it will probably just mean that players will have an even harder time knowing which reviews can be trusted.
There was no need for Gran Turismo 7 to spend its first few weeks embroiled in controversy. This was an own goal from Sony and Polyphony Digital; a PR calamity that did not need to happen. Microtransactions shouldn’t have been present in the game to begin with, but if they were the corporation needed to be honest and up-front about that – doing whatever possible to provide a justification for their existence. Lying and covering up the microtransactions is something I regard as a tacit admission that Sony and Polyphony Digital understand that they shouldn’t have put them in the game to begin with.
This is the worst example of microtransaction misbehaviour in several years, probably since Battlefront II. I hope that lessons are learned from it. It would be great to see some collaboration between reviewers and publications in future – refusing to review a title or award it a score until the full extent of its microtransactions are known would be one way to shut this down and prevent another corporation from trying to get away with this despicable misbehaviour.
So that’s where we’re at. If you bought Gran Turismo 7, you have my sympathies. We’ve all bought games over the years that were disappointing for one reason or another, but it can be particularly frustrating to look at a game that had so much potential to be great, but which was ruined by some corporate-mandated nonsense that really just spoilt things.
That’s really how I see Gran Turismo 7 – it’s a game that had potential, a title with seemingly excellent racing gameplay, but one that has been soiled by the truly awful way that Sony and Polyphony Digital chose to treat players. Don’t despair, though, because there are plenty of other racing games out there!
Gran Turismo 7 is out now for PlayStation 5. Gran Turismo 7 is the copyright of Sony Interactive Entertainment and Polyphony Digital. Some images used above courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.