Loot Boxes, Supplemental

We already know that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has loot boxes and that they’re bad, but we can always use more articles about them, right? In the comments of that Kotaku article though, someone questioned the author about what exactly the “moral issue” is when a company is trying to extract money from their consumer base. The author responded with some more general criticisms of capitalism as a whole and the conditions it creates, but when pressed by the commenter again, came back with this:

If you really want the “Heather isn’t fucking around version,” here it is:

Loot boxes are, ignoring the hair splitting of insufferable pedants like yourself, gambling. They are crafted, from probabilities to visual to their contents, to condition individuals and encourage repeated purchase and use. People with addiction problems will be funneled towards a system designed scientifically to exploit them. Kids will open the shiny boxes. They’ll do it with their parents credit cards without understanding the effect. Players frustrated with the grind will throw down money because that’s what the grind is designed for: to fuck you over and take your cash so some executive can take a vacation while the people in the trenches crunch.

If you don’t see what the problem is or if you somehow think this an acceptable state of affairs or what to talk about how it’s some God given providence of the rich to seek further profits at any cost, I don’t know what to tell you because I am so very tired and I just don’t know how to explain to you (or anyone anymore) that you should care about other people.

Yeah, that.

Pretty much the only thing I would add to that is how the rise of “recurrent consumer spending opportunities” has perverted the fundamental design of these games. SWBF2 doesn’t need loot boxes in order achieve some gameplay goal – progression from simply playing the game is more than sufficient to generate fun. The loot boxes exist to make money, and that’s it.

If you don’t care because you’re not going to be playing SWBF2, well… just wait a while. Guild Wars 2 introduced the Mount Adoption License as a method of randomly delivering 30 new Mount skins. Most of the outrage has understandably been directed towards the fact that it’s gambling, especially if you were only interested in a few of the skins (a few of which are for a mount you might not ever get). But here’s the real rub: 30 Mount skins were introduced into the game with zero gameplay elements. These aren’t spoils for defeating a boss, these aren’t the rewards for a long quest-line, these aren’t the goal at the end of a difficult achievement. Nope, they’re just item shop fodder. If each were attached to a task that took an hour to complete, that’s like a month of casual content removed from each individual player.

Do loot boxes make games better? Fundamentally, that’s the question you should be asking yourself every time. A raid boss dropping random gear on a weekly reset creates content by encouraging you to face that raid boss again. A loot box dropping random gear does… what? You do not have to care about other people – although you probably should – to care that loot boxes are fundamentally destroying elegant game design. Instead of developers focusing on tighter gameplay loops or additional content, they care more about monetization opportunities. Which used to be “sell more copies of the game,” but is now “sell random in-game content for cash.”

You know, I never thought we’d see something more abhorrent than on-disc DLC. But here we are.

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Posted on November 13, 2017, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Agree on the fact that F2P elements like lootbox stuff taking away from gameplay-based design is a problem, but that’s been a F2P issue since day one really, so its nothing new. Each player has to look at the specifics of each game and decide if they want to support whatever balance the devs are going for.

    LoL/CoC both have shops, but in neither do I feel that an overly large portion of dev time is spent on them vs updating the actual game. Factor in both games actually being free, and someone would have a hard time arguing that F2P is a negative for either game (both games make more money because of the F2P model vs box sales, and that increased revenue has lead to greatly increased investment in game dev, which is a big win for players).

    But SW:BF, where you pay for the box and then have a crippled version of the game until you grind/pay, with negative F2P elements on top of that? If you buy that game, I don’t want to hear later from same person how the game industry is going in the wrong direction, because they helped push it there.

    The dumb part of her comments is of course the ‘save the kids’ part, which is always such a lazy and terrible example, because its just some shitty parent shifting the blame from being a shitty parent to a videogame they allow their child to play.

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    • Yeah, a lot of absurdity has been performed in the “save the children!” cry, but I posted that quote because I do feel that we’ve entered a strange time in which we as people have lost the plot – so caught up in “it’s not technically gambling” that we no longer question if any of this makes our games better.

      Like, who cares about payslopes anymore? LoL/CoC are kings of the payslope, in which the very nature of the game is designed to become less rewarding over time compared to the initial dopamine dump. How many real-world days do your buildings take to upgrade these days? Each individual wall costs how much? I’m not going to speak much for LoL, but the current hero pool is 134. How many can you earn via F2P and how long does it take to unlock each one?

      None of that matters anymore, between EA’s Battlefront 2 nonsense and Activision patenting game-rigging. I’m to the point where I am actively wishing for the mythical game industry implosion.

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      • In CoC the payslope is only a payslope if you actually pay. Otherwise its that progress just takes more effort the longer you play, which I’m fine with (in basically every RPG ever, the first 10 levels are faster than the last 10, and that’s always been fine and still is). My walls right now are 3m each, but you know what else takes a lot more time? Getting good at TH10 attacks compared to TH7, so again, it’s fine/balanced.

        My wife has every champ in LoL, hasn’t spent a dime on buying champs. She plays 1-2 games a night. Prior to my brake, I also had every champ, all purchased without money. And we both had all champs just because what else are we going to spend LP on? It’s not like you actually need or benefit from having all of them (it kinda hurts you in ARAM in fact).

        Just don’t buy shitty games, play the good one (there are more good ones today then ever), and you are fine.

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  2. I would really love to see this discussion hearken back to the days of risk-vs-rewards mechanics. Does it really matter if a player earns something with his/her time, versus his/her wallet? People seem awfully willing to ignore the reasons for alternate monetization schemes coming about in the first place: Time Equalization!

    Gamers were on the subscription train for years until developers realized that instead of taking advantage of the time-rich gamer, they could also target and take advantage of the money-rich gamer as well. In a recent exchange I had with Tobold, he states that it is the time-rich gamers fault that we are where we are now in terms of monetization. I submit that the players who unwittingly supported F2P and the resulting monetization schemes are to blame, yet are now the most vocal in terms of where things have gone with lootboxes and P2W. Why would someone who doesn’t spend money on these games be concerned with lootboxes/P2W or whatever?

    Alternate monetization schemes were supposed to level the playing field in regards to time management and the ability to spend, so where are these great “equalizer” games of time and money today? Do they even exist?

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    • My stance hasn’t really changed since 2013: “time-poor” is nonsense. There is nothing unfair about someone being further in a book than I am, if they have spent more time reading it. Why would gaming be any different? As long as there are reasonable progression resets – something I am already in favor of – there is no harm to anyone.

      As for blame, well… anything said would be words shouted into the empty void. It sure as shit ain’t the time-rich gamer though, aka people who actually enjoy playing games. But between the developers who want to get paid and the people willing to pay to win, who can say which came first/is worst?

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  3. @Azuriel

    Yes, I remember that post from 2013.

    My counter question still stands, in that are there games where spending money on micro-transactions/lootboxes/hats…whatever, actually saves anyone time by actually paying? Does someone paying $1000 on lootboxes actually play any less than someone who doesn’t? I submit that they don’t. Time spent grinding for the items bought is only converted into match play at that point. I’ve known WoW gamers who openly admitted to buying illicit RMT Gold instead of grinding for it, and their /play time still doubles my own due to their ability to raid more because of the BOE epics they bought with the gold. Yes, it’s a case of the developer not benefiting from the 3rd party RMT, but why would the mechanic be any different under Blizzard’s own internal ability to buy gold? The whole “time versus money” debate falls to pieces under the current scheme of microtransactions/monetization methods, in that regard

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  4. Games aren’t for “gamers” any more, that’s the nub of it. There’s more money to be made from people who aren’t particularly interested in the production process, only in the product. They’re called “consumers” not “gamers” and what we used to call games are now becoming just another consumer channel.

    The whole lockbox/gambling thing muddies the waters a lot. Some of these schemes are gambling or facilitate actual gambling in secondary markets. Those need to be brought under the relevant regulation/legislation. The majority are not gambling and it is never pedantic to insist on accurate use of language. That’s where alternative facts come from.

    However, whether most lockboxes are or are not gambling in a technical sense isn’t the issue. The issue, as you suggest, is how the increasing prevalence of randomized upgrades purchasable with out-of-game resources affects the direction of development of the games. Gamers – the traditionalists – generally seem to feel it degrades the experience. It currently doesn’t directly affect me in that I almost never desire any specific item in any video game – I find far, far more entertainment than I can possibly use in the basic systems and content so anything that seems hard to get or overly expensive I simply ignore.

    Nevertheless, what does directly concern me is that, should the current trend for randomized, paid-for content become even more commercially successful it will drive future development to such an extent that the kind of games I enjoy will no longer get made. I do believe this will be the case for AAA games. I don’t expect any new, traditional style AAA MMOs to be made once those currently in development complete and I would imagine even those in development will change to accommodate the lockbox model if it continues to be commercially successful.

    That said, SynCaine is right. Traditional gamers who won’t engage with the new model will continue to represent a very significant (if diminishing) market share and there will be developers who will choose to target that demographic. We will still get the games we like – they just won’t be coming from the very large developers.

    On the other hand, whose to say whether the lockbox trend will continue to be successful? To some degree it’s a fad. In a couple of years it might seem as archaic as pet rocks or deelyboppers. We’ll have to wait and see. If it does disappear, though, either through legal restraint or consumer ennui, I would expect it to be replaced by something equally aggressive. I don’t think there is any chance whatsoever of major games development returning to a “Buy the game, Play the Game” Monthly Subscription model. Those days are gone forever.

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