“Loot boxes” you say? Well, you might have heard of them? Because nearly every AAA game arriving this year has them somewhere. I mean, just head to an in-game merchant and boom! Bloody loot boxes all over the place. These little boxes of joy are full to the brim of goodies but with one caveat. So you need to cough up some more cash if you want to open them. In the matter of fact, it’s not just multiplayer games that loot boxes showing up in now either. It’s the single player ones too!
You see, it would appear that in this grand year of 2017, there are quite a few games making use of gambling *cough* I mean loot boxes…And here’s just a small list of those games: “Middle-earth: Shadow of War, “Star Wars Battlefront 2”, “Forza 7”, “Assassin’s Creed Origins”, “Destiny 2, “FIFA 17”, “Call of Duty WW2” (there are a few other games of the kind that got released earlier in the year as well). Anyways, I think you get the idea. That’s also why I think it’s safe to say that the publishers for the said games certainly want to make sure they damn well get their Christmas bonus this year.
You know, if there’s one thing I have a problem with regarding loot boxes in video games, it’s the fact that it’s basically gambling. So no matter how you want to dress it up, it’s gambling. In other words, you’re paying for something that you have no idea as to what you’re going to get. While you might be guaranteed to earn something each time, you will eventually see duplicates or other pointless crap while you go about your quest for the best items or skins.
Blizzard’s “Overwatch” is a perfect example of this, while yes “it’s all cosmetic” and doesn’t affect “gameplay”, the amount of useless crap you earn is insane. It makes the painstaking grind to earn a box in normal play feel like a bloody waste of time, which of course then acts as a lure for you to then spend real cash to get the items you want, that is of course if you’re lucky enough. However, you might be resistant to this like many are, but there’s still a great deal of people paying out extra money for these loot boxes, so why would that be?
Right off the bat, there’s the problem of addiction and in my opinion, when it comes to loot boxes, they are no different to slotting away 50ps in a slot machine. It’s well known that gambling releases the feel-good endorphin “dopamine” where the brain becomes conditioned into wanting more and more to trigger its reward system bringing in that feel-good factor, so the better the loot, the more likely you’ll buy another box. I even know personal friends of mine that have spent £100 plus on FIFA points just to buy “Ultimate Team” packs, desperate for building the best squad possible. For some, the lure can be too much, there are solid similarities to conventional gambling and the fact this is slowly infecting video games like a virus is not good.
There’s also the argument on how Microtransactions effect the game itself. For the likes of “Shadow of War”, it appears as if they become a more viable option over the tedious slog you will have to go through to build your army in the fourth act. This could add another 40 to 50 hours of gameplay, and to top it off, the true ending can only be unlocked this way.
Truth be told, they simply exist to speed up the process, and by then it’s possible you’ve become slightly addicted to opening the boxes with the in-game currency you’ve earned for free. Leading you to say the words “Well, it’s only £5, and I am enjoying the game, but it’s 1am, and I have work in the morning. So I’ll just get a couple” for some it might stop there, for others it doesn’t.
The developers themselves also make some poor excuses for them, especially in the recent Eurogamer interview with a “Shadow of War” lead designer who talked about microtransactions as an “easy mode” (what a surprise) and a quality of life change for those who don’t have the time to put double figure hours into video games. Which is interesting because “Shadow of Mordor” wasn’t a brutally difficult game and despite gamers not having enough time, quite a few got its platinum trophy (I got it twice on normal and GOTY) and that was without a loot box in sight. The easy mode excuse, well, that boils over to the “are games inclusive” argument, and I knew it wouldn’t be too long until you could pay to make a game easier.
Now if I’m to ask myself a difficult question it would be “are there any pro’s to having a lot of loot boxes in a game?”. Well, I guess it’s fun in a way to receive spontaneous rewards. Games like “Plants Vs Zombies” did it a fair job of keeping rewards coming without the need to shell out with real cash and filling out an in-game sticker album can be quite entertaining, but this is only down to the balance of play and reward if that’s not balanced, then well, perhaps the negatives outweigh the pros. The only other way to fix the issue is to vote with your wallets, but it might not be as simple as that.
Furthermore, there seems to be an odd infatuation with Loot boxes. Especially on YouTube, where you can find entire videos of people showing you what they spent their money on and then becoming ecstatically excited. Some of them can be ten minutes long as they open box after box getting various items, and after that ten minutes is up. You almost forget they just spent £100. To think, after watching several videos nearly £1000 has been spent on digital data that will likely be discarded the following year.
While of course I have no quarrel with how someone wishes to spend their money, it just shows that the publishers are getting what they want, and it’s free advertising for them. As more money is spent, the more loot boxes we see appearing in games. Voting with wallets might not be the simplest of answers when the activity itself is glorified, whether it’s sponsored or not.
When Loot Boxes start impacting game progression and turning gameplay that should be fun and exciting into a repetitive grind where it hinders progression, it damages the game. Furthermore, the lure of spending real cash is always prevalent. Of course as I sit here typing, it’s easy to say vote with your wallet, despite already paying £40 to £50 for a game…And that’s without thinking about the season pass or individual micro-transactions, but you tend to know what you’re getting into with these things, loot boxes on the other hand, is nothing less than pure gambling.
Sure, while you get something every time, it’s not always what you want, and it’s not always useful. However, it will always encourage you to re-roll the dice for a better chance for a legendary or exotic item. Oh, but wait, you’ve ran out of in-game currency, and you need to beat this last boss before you head off to bed. So if only there was a way to get some extra Orcs and powerful weapons in a very short amount of time. Well, you’ve just got paid, so £5 won’t hurt…
And with that said, what’s your take on this matter? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section down below!
Robin Ek – Editor and co-writer.
This is a personal opinion of the writer, and it doesn’t necessarily represent the other writers (nor The Gaming Ground´s) opinions.
The Gaming Ground
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