GAMING POINT OF LOU – LOOT BOXES
(Image Credit: Blizzard)
I very rarely do an opinion piece, if for no other reason than they just start fights with anonymous keyboard warriors over the internet. And we all know how those turn out. But there is a phenomenon in today’s gaming environment that I need to talk about for a few minutes, and that phenomenon is The Loot Box.
For those of you not in the know, Loot Boxes are quickly becoming THE standard for how rewards (loot) are doled out in online games. They are crates (boxes, engrams, etc), that are earned through gameplay. They can also be purchased with either in game currency, or more prevalently, real world money. When opened, they will contain randomized loot for said game. These boxes run the gamut from minimally invasive, to positively game breaking. I am going to discuss my feelings on three examples of these boxes. I am going to start with Overwatch, journey through Destiny 2, and then finish up with Battlefront 2. As a control group, I am going to compare all three to another game. This game does not contain loot boxes, but is still very good at getting people to spend money, and that game is Warframe.
On the minimally invasive end, we have Overwatch. In my opinion, this is the model that all developers should follow if they feel the need to include loot boxes in their game. All items contained in the Overwatch boxes are PURELY cosmetic. Boxes can be earned fully through gameplay, and do not affect game balance in any way. The other nice thing about Blizzard’s system is that every single cosmetic item in the game also has an associated cost, so that you can save up in game credits to purchase a particular character skin, emote, spray, or pose withough leaving it up to RNG (Random Number Generator, it’s a universal gamer term for randomized loot drops). If you are so inclined you can also purchase loot boxes with real world dough, as I look at the Xbox store, there are options ranging from 2 – 50 loot boxes running from $1.99 all the way up to $39.99. Blizzard also does a very nice job of not making you feel forced to empty your bank account, unlike some other companies. (cough cough Activision, cough cough EA)
On the, lets call it prostate exam level of invasivness is Destiny 2. For Destiny 2, Bungie and Activision made the extremely unpopular decision to lock a fairly large amount of in game items behind these loot boxes. (which are called Bright Engrams) Whereas in Destiny 1 items such as Ghost shells, Sparrows (think speeder bikes from Star Wars), Ships, and Emotes could all be earned through in game activities, or purchased from vendors with earned in game currency (Glimmer). These items are now locked in loot box hell. Sure, the game drip feeds you the odd Engram through game play, but the real reason for this is to get people to pluck down their hard earned cash on Silver. Silver is only acquired through microtransaction, and range from 500 Silver for $4.99, all the way up to 5800 Silver for $49.99, and the Engrams in game run from 200 Silver for one, to 800 Silver for a pack of 5. Now much like Overwatch, the majority of the items in the Engrams are purely comsmetic. It’s just the brazenness with how they took a whole host of items that were purchasable / earned in game and locked them behind an RNG pay wall that has the Destiny community in an uproar. Personally I don’t feel the way the #RemoveEververse people do. I never found myself grinding for a Sparrow in D1, and I feel no particular need to do so now, but I can understand why some people are frustrated. Then again, there are people that like to bitch about anything and everything. So the engrams give them another reason to do so. Destiny 2 has far more important issues that need addressing than ancillary items that don’t have an affect on how the game is played, so I would rather Bungie spend their development time on that.
Now for the full on Colonoscopy. The example of all that is wrong with Loot Boxes. A case study of how to not only piss off an entire fan base, but tank your own game. And that is Star Wars Battlefront 2. Now before I start, let me say that there is no more hated publisher than EA. They have been accused of not only employee mistreatment, but also a willingness to fleece their customers for every dime they can. Battlefront 2’s Loot Box system, was SO bad that they had to temporarially disable it days after the games release due to player backlash. BF2’s system was about as brazen a “Pay to Win” system as there has ever been in a game. The issue stems from grind balance. Sure, you could “earn” a loot box through gameplay, but the amount of time investment was so steep that it basically forced players into paying for the crates. Crates are the only way to acquire “Star Cards” and Crafting Parts, which are the principle way to upgrade and outfit your multiplayer character. Now that is bad enough in my book, but lets add into it that the crates also contain in game Credits, and these Credits are the only way to unlock the hero characters such as Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader,. Yes, you heard me right, even after taking out a second mortgage to purchase “Crystals” the Crystals CAN’T BE USED TO EVEN UNLOCK A DAMN CHARACTER!!!! That is all tied to the randomized number of credits you would earn from purchasing and opening the loot boxes. So regardless of which path you choose, The Light Side (grinding, and earning stuff in game) or The Dark Side (Pay to Win), you have no clear cut way to unlock everything in the game. It’s the age old Carnival trick of buying tickets in packs of 3, but every ride costs 4. It’s just a way to get you to spend $$$, and in my opinion is dispicable in a game that already costs $60.00 or more depending on the version you choose.
Now on the opposite end of the spectrum is Warframe. And before I start let me preface by saying that I think Warframe is a fantastic game, it’s fun as hell, and free to boot. If you’ve never given it a chance, please do so, it truly is a labor of love for developer Digital Extremes. And wow is there a ton to do in it. With that said, Warframe has also perfected the art of prying open your wallet. And before the Tenno revolt begins, let me explain. Being a free to play game, players already feel generous about plunking down $$ to help support a game they enjoy playing. Outside of your starting “Frame” and Weapons, every other item is available for purchase with “Platinum”. (the games premium currency) Of course DE is happy to sell it to you with options ranging from $4.99 for 75 platinum, all the way up to 3200 platinum + frame mods in a bundle for $149.99. To be fair, all items are earnable through gameplay, and there are even ways to earn Platinum through in game activities. (Maroo’s Bazaar being a notable one) What Warframe does well is make it an excercise in “How Much Is Your Time Worth?” Sure you could spend countless hours grinding for the specific part needed to finish your Frame or Weapon, hoping that RNJesus grants you the part, then waiting the requisite number hours for it to craft (anywhere from 12-72 depending) . Or, you could just plunk down the money. and buy it outright. Now with that said, you still have to level up the item, so there is still an inherent grind. But for the people who don’t have countless hours to spend in the game due to real world responsibilities, (probably the majority of us) ,this allows us to enjoy everything the game has to offer without ever feeling stuck. Obviously this system works, as Warframe has been around for almost 5 years now, and just celebrated it’s largest ever update, “Plains of Eidolon”. And as I stated above, the game is FREE. You could play it for years and never spend a cent, as long as you don’t “mind the grind”, and DE leaves the monetary expenditure completely in your hands.
All in all Loot Boxes IMHO are a growing concern for us gamers. Especially as game companies practices become more predatory, and in some cases straight out encouraging paying to win. It remains up to the players to speak not only with our voices, but with our wallets. Don’t buy the game, don’t buy the loot box, let the market determine the outcome. Remember this one important thing….. nobody is FORCING us to do anything. It’s all our choice. Companies like EA and Activision only really care about one thing, their bottom line. That’s how WE affect change, affect their bottom line. Then they pay attention.
Until next time everyone,
Be good to one another,