'Shadow of War' and 'Forza 7' Are Poisoning the Concept of Loot Boxes


#1

Done right, it's a fun way for players to gamble in mystery. Done wrong, it feels exploitative and destructive to good game design.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/8x8bpv/shadow-of-war-and-forza-7-are-poisoning-the-concept-of-loot-boxes

#2

It’s pretty hard to poison something that’s already poisonous.


#3

be sure to use promo code “podcast” everyone


#4

I think there are ways to do it “right”, but I don’t think there are any ways to get around it being exploitative. The entire concept is to exploit the gambling reflex in people, and there’s no way to add actual money into that equation without exploiting people’s personal weaknesses.

Games like Overwatch or PUBG strike a decent balance by making them purely cosmetic and doling them out with decent regularity, PUBG even goes the extra mile by allowing you to directly purchase whatever specific item you want from other players if you can stomach the cost. That said, the amount of time or money required to complete the collection is astronomical. If you want everything Overwatch has to offer, there is no way to guarantee that. Sure with limitless funds you could gamble long enough to be reasonably certain, but that’s not an actual solution. People either resign themselves to not getting what they want, or they throw money into an RNG and cross their fingers.

Now none of these games gate progress or features, your gameplay experience is intact, but that’s absolutely exploitation. It’s a less awful exploitation and it doesn’t punish you compared to other players, but they’re absolutely designing their system to be an endless money pit.


#5

I’m more shocked it hasn’t happened sooner. Gamers themselves have been so vexatious regarding letting developers and publishers using other revenue streams that, of course a more horrible solution of trying to wring slim margins from AAA games would appear. It’s a proven concept that makes money even though it is horrible. But at the same time, Gamers do what they do best and constantly complain. “The industry is always trying to sell ne something” which of course is no duh, Capitalism. But there’s this paranoia that the gaming industry is this Scrooge McDuckian paradise where Bobby Kottick jumps into his money bin every morning when the reality is that big AAA games have slim margins and development is combustable (Mostly with real cash). And no one is allowing the industry to explore other revenue generators. For example, product placement and advertising. That’s a good one. Nearly every AAA blockbuster has some form of it (Or if it’s made by Sony pictures. ALL OF IT.)

I remember last gen when EA tried pushing free content for games like Army Of Two that were sponsored. Kike a whole new game chapter presented by Pontiac or NFS Getting a content pack hosted by Coke Zero. Branding, sure. But it was passing on the cost away from customers. Ads on the dashboard could go get hecked but if it brought me a net benefit like 1 vs 100. That’s more than fine for me. But gamers, did what they do best and complained, complained, complained like this was undermining the integrity of the game. Uncharted has a Subway promotion? Boooo. Games are ART damnit. Get rid of it. And no one stopped to realise how silly it was to cut off games that are already on slim margins to cut off a revenue stream no matter how much Naughty Dog tried to have a laugh at their own expense. Gamers disliked product placement, in game ads. Anything the industry was selling, Gamers weren’t buying. And of course, Microsoft bought the technology and company behind “Live” in game ads and it died a death.

Nowadays the minute there’s a Destiny 2/PopTarts combination. Everyone’s quick to dunk on it on twitter with their hot take. What if as part of the deal, Keloggs Co pushed some cash towards a new Strike and Crucible map along with a free “Tony The Tiger” shader for everyone? Would it bring good will or would people still complain? Is the purity of the Destiny 2 experience that important a cereal brand is ruining the lore? (Duh, no. If you got mad at Destiny Poptarts. Reconsider what you get mad at every day.)

Here’s an interesting one from a game released recently. If you play NASCAR Heat 2. All the DLC related to Toyota and Toyota Drivers is free. Free Paint schemes, Challenges, spotters from Toyota teams and more. But the ingame running order screen looks like this. Granted, there’s a realism aspect at play since NASCAR itself is loaded with product placement (The Final Lap is even brought to you by Credit One Bank) but if a big honking Toyota advertisement is the price for getting all the related DLC for free. Would you take it? I absolutely would.

So what we are at is again, the unsustainable nature of AAA meeting the immovable object that is the Hardcore gamer who demands their gamers pure and free of “Shilling” but is also totally against DLC, lootboxes, expansions or anything that actually helps make an AAA game. And the darker the methods go, there are still more gamers lined up to complain in a never ending struggle. (They are down for the merch though. The merch serves all. The merch soothes all. Consume the merch. Slather it all over your body)


#6

I don’t think loot boxes in and of themselves are a bad thing, necessarily. In a multiplayer setting, I’d rather have the option to slowly accrue whatever cosmetic items are added as DLC, rather than buying them piecemeal or part of an expensive season pass. I’d especially prefer them over multiplayer map packs which heavily fragment the playerbase.

For single-player games it’s definitely very nonsensical. At this point, most people would expect or even anticipate a season pass for a game like Shadow of War since it would be a guarantee of substantial new content over the year after release. Loot boxes as a concept just aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution to monetizing a game.


#7

Go the chinese route with making %'s visible by law or just get rid of them. I hate loot crates immensely.


#8

A lot of these in-game monetization schema are fundamentally down to a few facts

  1. AAA Games cost too much to make
  2. the antiquated $60 price point is something that the market won’t let you change directly

Even something like a Call of Duty, a massive-seller, fundamentally is a $120-$150 game to its core audience, they just don’t charge it all at once.

For all that Gamer Twitter likes to whine about DLC and other stuff that lets teams extract more cash for their product, these things sell, and sell well.

Everybody should also keep in mind the “follow-the-leader” effect. Loot Boxes are coming into a lot of AAA product now because they started becoming obviously successful ways to make money for a few games in 2014-2015.


#9

This right here.

Games today are cheaper than they have ever been to buy, yet they are more expensive than ever to produce. I think a lot of people fail to grasp that these aren’t purely greedy cash grabs, without money hooks after the fact through DLC or microtransactions, lots of these games would never be green lit in the first place. There’s no way Capcom would have poured tons of money into a single player only Resident Evil game without some other plans to capitalize on that.

I’m really struggling to think of any big budget games that have had zero add on purchases in recent memory. Even Nintendo is in on the game these days.


#10

as the market demand for pointless 4K resolution increases, it’ll just get worse, too.


#11

I’m concerned how the loot box system inherently tries to abuse human psychology to keep people hooked into a system. I think even cosmetics are dangerous because there is still value that people attach to those that they would spend with outright cash if possible but instead they must gamble for them.

And the system of breaking down loot you get into an in-game currency to buy cosmetic items isn’t any better as it forces you into the gambling system instead of giving you the option to buy the item with cash.

I think the system is inherently abusive and that it is devaluing a lot of games to people because the system gates them off from things they want by placing in a system they don’t want to engage with.

I, for one, will try to avoid games with these systems as much as possible as I think they are harmful to the medium and prey on the addictive habits of certain people.


#12

I don’t think there’s a good way to do loot boxes. I think there are more obnoxious ways and less obnoxious ways, but none that are actually good.

There also seems to be no good arguments made for them - the points made by the guilty developers quoted in Patrick’s article all apply at least as well to simply offering paid in-game currency that would allow you to buy the orcs, cars, skins, weapons, whatever that you want. No-one (including, incidentally, Patrick himself) made any points at all in support of the idea that adding randomness benefits the player at all.


#13

The rub there is that it’s very difficult to put a price-tag on, say, a new Tracer skin. At least one that’s guaranteed to be bought by enough players to be worth the effort. She’s a more popular character, so should it be $7.50? Or since it’s a less visually complex skin, should it be $2.00?

Then you get into the issue of the devs potentially giving less popular characters less new cosmetics because people are less likely to buy them. In Dota 2, Pudge has eighteen cosmetic sets because he’s the most popular hero and people are guaranteed to want them. By comparison Chen, the least popular, only has five. And they’re of a much lower production value, as you can tell.

You don’t really run into that issue in Overwatch nearly as much because since regular lootboxes will contain items for every hero, and event boxes will contain event items for every hero, the team is motivated to make cosmetics for all heroes whenever possible.

Loot boxes absolutely exist as a means to prey upon the addictive tendencies of people, in order to make the maximum amount of money possible in a way that isn’t as destructive as map packs or as unreliable as piecemeal DLC items. But to say they’re just plain bad, no matter what, is missing the forest for the trees.


#14

I’m failing to see how lootboxes bought through microtansactions are acceptable in a game that is not free to play (and I’m not sure about those). It is predatory even with cosmetics, if someone doesn’t care about cosmetics well good for them but to the ones that do it’s manipulative.

And honestly that attitude “games are too expensive, they need to make the money back somehow” is the type of laissez-faire BS that is usually use to justify abuses. To workers with crunch, unpaid hours, mistreatment and customers with the whale hunting, ending cutting DLC selling crap that is becoming so pervasive lately. If they can’t make the money without exploiting workers and customer in unethical ways maybe they shouldn’t be in business. The fact that a lot of developers don’t do it is enough for me to see it as a failure of those companies and not something that customers have to endure because “is the only way”.

DLCs and microtransactions can bee implemented in good ways to make more money after release but fuck lootboxes.


#15

Overwatch, while not being perfect with it loot boxes, offers it as a actual side that doesn’t effect the way you play and they make sure to be creative with what you get from the boxes. Shadow of war and Forza gameplay suffers cause the systems that the game needs are in “random” loots and go as far as having the best in paid ones.


#16

I don’t think anything justifies the abuses, and indulging in my video game hobby is something I struggle with in terms of labor practices and manufacturing of electronics.

That said, I don’t think acknowledging the huge gulf that’s growing between game prices and game budgets is simply “laissez-faire BS.” Mario 64 cost $70 back when it came out, the equivalent of about $110 dollars today. The amount of staff needed to make that game is a fraction of what it costs to make something like the latest Assassin’s Creed. Even ignoring salaries, those staff require office space, computers, electricity, software, etc. So while Mario 64 probably had a very generous budget and was one of the most polished games of its time, the amount of resources needed to create it is a fraction of what a similar title costs to produce today, but at the exact same time they get to charge effectively half as much for the end result.

AAA game development is in a really weird spot right now, and labor practices are a not insignificant part of the problem. That said, no one puts the tens of millions of dollars needed for a AAA game on the line these days hoping to break even or make a modest profit.


#17

Lootboxes have a place in the industry, and I’m glad Patrick highlighted this–mTX is a great way to A) fund new content over time and B) continually evolved a service based game.

But the real meat of the argument here is: does every game need to be an online service game? And I think when a publisher spends a certain amount of money on a project, the answer is, yes, they want it to live for 2-3 years and continually update with new content.

Engagement and monetization are the major drivers for the games industry now, and I’m afraid that full game sales aren’t enough any more (even PUBG, who’s sold 10m+ copies, will embrace mTX to make long-term revenues.)

Even with all that said, microtransactions are only welcome when they’re done well and balanced properly. What we’re seeing with Shadow of War is rightly called experimentation by Mr. Klepek; it reminds one of the experiments that came before it.

I think gamers should be hesitant to blame Monolith for this. The team put tons of effort into the game. Same with Turn10 - Remember that Microsoft typically monetizes all of its major first-party games in some way, and mostly it’s via microtransactions and loot boxes.

This is the way the industry is going, and I don’t think anyone has to like it, but I think it’s important everyone tries to understand it. Raw hate will change things, but what you’ll end up doing is hurting the developers as the publishers are nigh untouchable. When projects go south, it’s the developers that suffer, not the Ubisoft’s or EA’s or Activision’s of our industry, but the THQ’s and Volition’s.


#18

I don’t disagree, game development is in a complicated place, the piece on the risks that the developers of Cuphead took is a great example. My point is that it isn’t an excuse, otherwise we’re just removing failure from the table for big companies and making the workers and customers pickup the tab. I don’t hate DLCs and microtransactions as a way to make more money at all just some implementations and lootboxes are one of the worst. Besides a lot of AAA games already are basically $100 or more for the “complete experience”.

For example Rocket Leage is a game that I love, played more than 500 hours and I’m happy to pay more money to support it. I already bought almost all the cars at $2 each (except the ones I really don’t like), the only way to get more is with lootboxes so to support the game I went for it and spend $5 in 5 keys. There was one car that I wanted so used all the keys in that type of crate and got two different decals, 2 of the same boost and the other car of that crate. I spent more that twice the price of a car and didn’t get what I wanted, the only way to get that car was spending an indeterminate amount of extra money with no real guaranty, so I left the game very frustrated. Right there they lost all my good will, but in the whale hunting business I don’t matter. If thats the only way for them to make money I’m happy to see them gone (I don’t think it is).

But passive acceptance is only going to keep things this way, publishers won’t change their practices and developers, workers and customers are going to pay for the party over and over. I get the argument, but it feels like an attempt to silence criticism or justify the status quo. “Shut up nothing is going to change why bother” or “shut up I want to buy the game and not feel guilty”. It’s self-indulgent at best.


#19

I know they used to get hate back in the day, but I wouldn’t mind paying monthly subscriptions for multiplayer games that I really enjoy, and for games like Call of Duty just separating the single player and charging a flat fee for it.


#20

I’ve yet to find an example of loot boxes making a game better. The argument is always centered around the publisher/developer’s revenue, which I’ve never found to be a compelling argument. If your game’s scope is beyond your budget, find ways to cut costs. Maybe don’t bloat 20 hour games with 40 hours of filler content. Maybe focus on unique gameplay hooks so that you don’t have to sell your game based on scale or graphical prowess. Maybe choose a less costly art style. The solution should not be to defile your game with predatory monetization schemes that prey on the subset of your consumers who have low impulse control or gambling addiction.