Loot Boxes Suck, But What Takes Their Place?


#1

Last night, VTM News reported Belgium’s Gambling Commission gave the Internet what it’s been demanding: a formal declaration loot boxes are gambling. Though criticisms over loot boxes has gained fiery momentum in recent months, buoyed by sloppy integration in games like Forza Motorsport 7 and Shadow of War, everything crystallized over the egregious nature of Star Wars Battlefront II, a game where the loot boxes seem to go well beyond merely providing an additional revenue stream, and negatively impacted the game itself.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/kz3vka/loot-boxes-suck-but-what-takes-their-place

#2

$40 games.

Loot boxes not being purchasable for real money in SWBF2 isn’t going to hurt EA’s bottom line so the lack of them isn’t going to harm game budgets. If you’re not actually losing money to not have real money loot box purchases then why does removing them require you to find new money elsewhere?

And yet, the money has to come from somewhere.

But, if we assume that money has to be found elsewhere… $40 games. The current $60 SRP price tier for AAA is only holding games back from becoming a much larger global phenomenon and hobby for all ages at all levels of disposable income. There simply aren’t enough people who can spend $60 on a game to fund these development budgets. Thanks to almost zero duplication costs from digital distribution, there is no need to have a high asking price that turns away the potential audience who cannot see value in such expensive products. Massive markets are completely unavailable at this price point. Every publisher trying to maximise their revenue per user (rather than aggressively growing the total user base to match other entertainment mediums) is also mainly spending to cannibalise the revenue stream of their competitors in the space, because at these prices they can’t find a new audience (especially in the wake of the global recession) and so are fighting to take money that would otherwise be distributed more widely as people would purchase more games (and be able to take more risks, enabling the medium to develop faster from faster innovation in the AAA space).

Ultimately this has to come with a move away from focus testing with young straight White men and realisation that the vast majority of the global market is not going to be accurately represented by that small niche. But if the AAA industry really wanted to make money now everything has become digital and duplication is almost free (so there is no floor to profitable sales of additional copies) then they should move to $40 SRPs. Double the audience, cut back on wasting money attempting to take money from other publishers, increase game budgets, remove any exploitative monetisation practices. Become the mature commercial entertainment form that music and movies are by charging a price that far more people can afford.


#3

You nailed it. Price point is a huge factor keeping many away from buying. There’s no reason a primarily multiplayer game (or primarily single player game for that matter), needs to be $60. Just look at PUBG, which retailed for $30 and sold a bajillion copies.

On the flip side, publishers should be able to charge more than $60 if they feel there (EDIT their*) game warrants it. I mean, for folks where Destiny or Madden is their one game purchase a year, paying $80+ might not be a big deal. Not saying that every publisher needs to do this, I’m just saying that the industry MSRP for boxed games is antiquated and needs to go.


#4

My big issue with the discourse around the cost of AAA games and their price and the practices that are justified by these costs is how little data AAA companies actually disclose around their games. Now I know games are expensive to make, but only because many indie devs are willing to disclose numbers, AAA publishers refuse to disclose hard numbers for almost anything when it comes to total sales or total gross. Instead they want to to tell consumers “games are expensive to make so we need to do [shitty thing]” without giving the numbers to back it up.


#5

Let’s assume the premise is true. Creating games at the high end of the scale, with the highest-fidelity graphics, post-release support, piles of features & content, the most AAA of AAA games cannot be funded without continuing income from microtransactions. Here’s my 100% self-centered reaction: good, cool, fine. In order to be persuasive, microtransactions need to be implemented as part of a treadmill, and 95% of the time a treadmill just makes the game worse. If the economic realities of the game industry mean that I can have either a shiny bad game or a less shiny good game, that’s not actually a hard choice.


#6

I’m all for a way to let people spend real money on a currency that allows you to buy the thing you want but without the randomness factor of a lootbox built in.

What is so incredibly nasty about lootboxes is that they combine real money purchases with the randomness of loot, meaning they prey on people weak to gambling. It gets even nastier when, like in Battlefront II’s case there are real in game benefits. so theoretically you could spend real money on something and get no benefit.


#7

Ideally the thing that would take the place of loot boxes… is democratic control of the workplace.

Seriously. Rein in the amount executives can make, organize labor, and as others have said here, re-examine the cost/value of the games being made.

But mostly get rid of bosses.


#8

This article suffers from a pretty incorrect and, honestly, kind of manipulative base that “loot boxes fund games companies”. It’s no secret that the video game industry massively exploits its labour force, leeching off the dangerous “tech culture” thats spawned in the last few decades to convince workers that the company is more important than everything else. Thus overtime, non-secure jobs, layoffs after big projects or failed projects are rampant and incredibly common. Video games exist currently as a big money fountain for investors to grow fat off, and absolutely none of it is going to the workers actually in the industry.

The fact that studios have to put massive layoffs and studio closures on the line is a big indicator that the actual day-to-day of existing in the industry is that to make a video game is to put your entire livelihood at risk. If the industry wasn’t an absolute fucking mess then studios wouldn’t have to bank their entire existence on making a hit video game in order to rake in investor money. Loot boxes exist not as a way for companies to fund their next project because they most likely see none of that money - it’s a lure for investors to give them money so as to tap into the whale fountain. The trends for visual fidelity and scale exist for the same reason, because investors want to see blockbusters that will pull in huge amounts of money (Look at the language around the recent Call of Duty game “surpassing the sales” of multiple big name movies combined for an example)

The entire industry has been forced to dig itself into a hole by men in suits who want nothing more than to see the first sign of oil. We’ll probably see the whole thing collapse under its own weight (by the looks of things its already doing so) and loot boxes will only be a footnote in the reasons as to why.


#9

It’s like a millionth thread about those darn booty crates on this forum alone, agh.

There is no quick and clean solution, I don’t think (or can you turn every country into communist paradise where people make games just for fun and release them for free?). But I would start with refunds. Refunds for everything: for digital purchases, for DLCs, for microtransactions. If there is a possibility of loosing money, publishers would be more careful in implementing stuff.

And, yeah, I get the irony (is it irony? I never sure about those things): it would be very hard to implement refunds across the board, but Valve and EA (yeap, them) are doing it to some extend already. And mobile app stores are even better at this, afaik.


#10

Activision CEO $14.9 million
EA CEO $5 million
Concept artist ~$50k
Level designer ~$50k
Overhead cost of development ~$60-100 million.

Someone who is good at the economy help me budget this my industry is dying


#11

Activision Blizzard 2015 dividends: $167 million (“modest”)
Activision Blizzard 2016 dividends: $189 million
Activision Blizzard 2017 dividends: $218 million
Activision Blizzard 2017 stock repurchase: $1 billion

Please, someone help me; my multi-billion dollar business is failing!


#12

It’s honestly absurd. I’m going to start standing outside AAA dev studios and handing out copies of the communist manifesto lol


#13

EA already has Origin Access, they can use that for continued access to the multiplayer. Sell Battlefront II as a €30 game + 3 months Origin Access for a total of €60. Or with a year of Origin Access for €120. Saves money on development too: no cards to design or upgrades to program.


#14

I’ve tweeted some of this and put some of this in the discord, so I hate to sound like I am beating a dead horse, but I guess I wanted to collect my thoughts in a orderly manner in a place where it’ll be visible yknow.

I think this piece completely misses the mark. I’m certainly not the first person to say that, there are several commenters above me who also said it and I largely agree with them, particularly Shivoa, HedinnWeis, and Lilly. The industry is just structured in completely unsustainable ways – ways that Patrick even touches on in the article – and ‘simple’ things like loot boxes just won’t fix that. Game budgets are way too high, especially considering the laborers see none of that money. The industry needs to lower budgets, and as many have touched on that should probably come at the cost upper management’s salaries.

I’ve seen a number of people saying “instead of loot boxes, consumers should be able to directly purchase cosmetic items that they want,” but I feel this also misses the mark. The other issue with lootboxes is that they prey on vulnerable consumers. As Patrick touched on in the Clicker Heroes article and Austin touched on in the Need for Speed article, lootboxes and many other free-to-play mechanics exploit consumers with addictive tendencies. I will simply never be in favor of systems that exploit people to increase revenue, which is why the answer has to come from publishers changing things on their end to decrease the cost of producing games. And as many have said above me, a huge chunk of the cost of producing games goes to upper management at these companies.

I feel like there are still one or two points I’m missing, but that’s more or less everything on my mind. Like I say, I think this article misses the mark. I think it frames loot boxes as a necessary evil, and I’m not convinced that is the case. I do want to say I’m not like capital u Upset with this article: I think this is a half-baked take that falls short of addressing systemic issues, which is disappointing because I feel Patrick and the entire staff of Waypoint are often very good about addressing those exact systemic issues.


#15

I’m reminded of how John “Papa John” Pizzaman complained that Obamacare would force him to raise prices by 10 cents, meanwhile they constantly give away free pizzas during the Super Bowl and run half-price deals every other week.

As many others have noted, the way EA has been all over the place with the Battlefront pricing made it pretty clear that this wasn’t a tightly calculated financial decision, it was simply priced at what they thought they could get away with.


#16

“Games are too expensive to make” has become some kind of truism with no real evidence behind it (that needs a serious review) or just a poor comparison of the costs and risks that indy games have and maybe small ones or new IPs, but the real offenders here are big AAA games that are almost guarantee to make all the money. Star Wars for f#@% sake.


#17

This seems kind of obvious? Just let players buy the cosmetics they want directly?


#18

I agree with you, but if it isn’t an industry wide push and one publisher decides to sell it for 40€, wouldn’t people consider it a subpar product on the price point alone ? Agressive discount, and marketing brainwash to make 60 the ‘premium product’ price makes it difficult for people to be certain that 40€ means as good a product as 60.

Especially in an industry already gatekept with the purchase of a console, they want the real deal. I agree with what you said, though, I’m just wondering about how it would be made common practice. Feel like publishers would have a better chance raising the price than lowering it.


#19

As console cycles can push down to hardware (new) costing as low as $99, I don’t think the hardware blocks access (especially with the used market for hardware never going away, unlike software which no longer has resale value when digital). Right now the sales look like you can get a PS4 or XB1 for $150 (after factoring in the gift card - which you would if you’re also buying game as you can use that card for paying for the software) this weekend. And we’re saying that that purchase that can give you 5 years of a platform to play most games on, but buying a single game on release is $60? That’s got to damage the market.

Is PUBG a low quality release based on not being $60? Is GTA V, still topping sales, considered low quality as it is no longer typically going for $60? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Show off your top-tier AAA game, let reviewers get it a couple of weeks early, let the word of mouth carry a game along with a PR push that explains why you’re a publisher who believes in the power of games and the broad appear of them all over the world and are pricing it accordingly to reach that enthusiastic audience. First mover gets all the potential credit for moving the industry forward. Putting prices up only makes it so there are less people willing or able to pay for what you’re selling and a digital copy costs you nothing to duplicate so any sale is profitable - it’s a great time (now big publishers like Ubi have noted almost all sales have moved to digital) to experiment a bit.


#20

Yeah, i think the solution is pretty obvious. “What comes next?” is not a hard question to answer. It’s a matter of whether we’re willing to admit it and take the actions to correct it. It’s great that games can be a thriving industry, but it all comes at the cost of suffering in the ways other industries got to this point: treating human beings like stepping stones.