Though the beta for Star Wars: Battlefront II just started, it's only added fuel to the fire for a conversation that's dominated the last few weeks of games: loot boxes. Rob, Danielle, and myself weigh in on whether some players are being overdramatic, or if the industry is overreaching in a way that'll quickly backfire. In The Question Bucket, we mull over how boring it can be to play a "bad" character in a video game, the ongoing debate over whether you can like a game when its creators are shitty, and more.
I think Rob is on the money when talking about the vocal opposition to these revenue streams often coming from people who do engage with them.
The person who thinks that a game has become purely Pay 2 Win has internalised this idea: if you do not pay, you will not win. Who better to feel compelled to pay into a system in order to continue to enjoy the game than someone who realises this? Who better to work out which of the ways of paying are infinite sinks and so “exploitative” and which you can just use sparingly to get a major advantage over people who don’t pay. “Oh, I’m just getting the full value of the game”; “Well I clearly like the game so I should tip the devs with a small transaction”; “It’s just like buying content DLC really, even if it seems to be very much cheat code content I’m buying here”.
Let’s talk about FM7. If you do not pay for the $80 or $100 edition (or buy a $20 DLC for the $60 base game) then you are not a VIP. As Rob mentions, he tends to drive those “Forza Edition” cars a lot; they came as part of the VIP bonus. One of the reasons for doing that is because FE cars come with a bonus, something like “complete a race on Track X for Y bonus XP”. These are the cars that have already broken the game’s economy, because exploits exist like setting a 30 second race and using the fast restart at the end to start a new race every 40 seconds - with a fixed (significant) bonus XP and a linear levelling curve (not exponential) this means you’ll level way too fast (more than every minute, not every hour) and levelling rewards you, so it’s a cash exploit too. But you can only do that because of the broken rewards (designed to make those FE cars “special”) and just using them at all is a major boost. Pay 2 Win. You can get FE cars if you use loot crates or get very lucky in the base game, but VIP players get those exploit cars for free at the start of the game.
Let’s talk about FM7. If you do not pay for the $80 or $100 edition then you are not a VIP. They used to (in previous XB1 games, not in the 360 games) get a coin doubler. That this became a limited use item in FM7 was shouted about so loudly that two days after release the devs said they’d revert it back to an infinite coin doubler. Players demanded Pay 2 Win put back into the game because it was tied to the stuff they paid for as “premium” players. They became worried their infinite charge Pay 2 Win item was becoming a limited use item they’d have to keep paying for.
It is only the loot crates and having to gamble your credits for rewards that players have hated (the vast majority of the cars come from buying with in-game currency, not crates). Players in those very same posts decrying the Pay 2 Win stuff creeping in (note: you cannot currently pay real money for crates, that’s coming in a future patch) are also demanding the above Pay 2 Win stuff be “fixed” (ie made as good as it was before). They demand that their $20 VIP status should give them a huge boost in the game. They know the real problem is these paid crates (that they currently can’t even pay real money for) and not the things they’ve already paid real money for.
What a principled stand. The Pay 2 Win is good if I pay for it to get an advantage but bad if I don’t want to pay for it and feel like I’m forced to to avoid being disadvantaged.
I call bullshit on that. Also, with other stuff that Rob said in that episode and in couple of “Idle Weekends”, it all sounds very dismissal-y to me. “If I can control myself, so should you. And if you can’t, that’s your problem.”
I’m with Patrick, there are laws against those things, and for a reason.
Oh I absolutely agree that this stuff is going down the path of gambling and is going to attract heavy regulation if developers don’t stop patting each other on the back about how smart they are for reading a book on pop psychology rather than on ethics before designing the systems.
But I also think that a lot of people who are “against” all of it (but are still engaged, they haven’t walked away; they purchased FM7 on day 1 and post about it on forums just about Forza) are in fact definitely not actually concretely against it to the point of not engaging with it. You’d be hard pressed to find a post on Reddit about the FM7 stuff that doesn’t mainly involve users who are both angry at loot boxes but also angry at not getting an infinite coin doubler. Those are both bad so why it one being demanded be reinstated while the other removed? It’s because the $20 VIP is the deal with the devil done, it’s the P2W people have accepted as ok. It’s how you get ahead for only a one time payment of $20. But no further, right?
12 years ago I played a really tiny online game that had about 80 players online at a time. I spent thousands of hours over many years playing that game (…time I wish I had back!) The best items in that game were only accessible by being purchased, and they were incredibly expensive. Maybe $20 for one sword. I always got the impression that the people buying those items weren’t rich either, many of them were only teenagers or young adults. That game also had loot box equivalents, with random chances for items as well. So for me the loot box thing has been a part of my games for a long ass time.
I can’t come at the Loot boxes thing without putting it through my own experience buying them. Years ago, before I started university I played a lot of Team Fortress 2. I went through a phase of hat buying and probably spent hundreds of dollars of money I couldn’t afford on hats/crates, and the games that came with hats (such as Sam & Max s3). I’ve always felt incredibly ashamed of getting addicted to hat buying because during my teenage years there were issues involving gambling, bankruptcy and pawning our stuff to buy food, so I always tried to be incredibly skeptical of anything that felt like gambling, and typically wouldn’t go near it. But then I messed up and wasted way too much money on an addiction that my family didn’t even know about.
Knowing how easily I fell into that habit when I was going through a terrible phase means I don’t even accept the existence of purely cosmetic microtransactions at this point if they are based on random chance from crates. The way I see it is, if even one other person in a bad financial/life situation gets addicted to it the way I did, then the cost of those things existing is just way too high.
I don’t have a story similar to yours but I am inclined to agree. Loot boxes that drop from in game activities are one thing, but having them tied to your credit card number is just dangerous. Folks turn to gambling for a variety of reasons and it is too easy for it to become dangerous and exploitative.
It’s also a bummer that fully featured single player offerings are turning to loot boxes. Hell, give me seasons passes, I’ll take them over loot boxes!
When loot boxes effects the way I play a game, specially when I paid the game up front and it not a multiplayer game, that going too far. I do buy boxes in Overwatch but that helps fuel continue development to a great game and the boxes are not preventing me from getting better with D VA. I fell off of free to play games cause of micro-transactions and random loot and seeing single player games use it will turn me off from the start.
The reported loot box issues have put Shadow of War, Forza 7, and now Ass Creed 12 or whatever this one is on my no buy list. It’s too bad because I was looking forward to all these games but I just don’t want to deal with the extra mess.
I came here and created an account specifically to say this. What Rob had to say about micro-transactions and loot boxes really rubbed me the wrong way. Speaking out against business practices while simultaneously indulging in them does not make it a moot point. In the false equivalency that is the Modern Warfare 2 analogy, sure, but people buying into loot boxes don’t always want to do it.
I have more restraint than most people I know, but I’ve still spent more money than I’m comfortable with on games because I felt pressured to do so. Before the change to Overwatch loot boxes a couple of months ago (which tweaked the algorithm to heavily favor new items over duplicates/coins), I was constantly debating with myself over whether I should spend more money on the game. I set a simple rule for myself: I will buy $10 of loot boxes at the start of each event and hope for the best. By my second event, it was $15. By the third, it was $20, and thankfully I’ve held fast there. Even though Overwatch is one of the mildest, most inoffensive cases of loot box implementation, I still felt pressured to drop more and more money for a random chance at a cool thing. That is gambling, so it should be treated and regulated as such. Just because one person has an iron will and is not susceptible to predatory business practices does not mean that other consumers experience them in the same way. I have the furthest thing from an addictive personality, so I can’t imagine how other people are affected by some of the more egregious examples of micro-transactions.
I feel much more comfortable with the current system, even though I’m still not entirely pleased to be cranking the handle on a slot machine regularly. I would much rather drop a fiver for every legendary skin I want, with the option of rolling the dice on a loot box at a lower price tag. I engage with the business practice because I want the product or service it may provide. I still don’t have to like it and I can freely advocate for it to change. It seems very strange that someone would deride or discredit a group of people who do not possess the faculties to defend themselves from business practices that are known to be predatory.
EDIT: I’ve re-listened and I feel as if I’ve at least mildly misrepresented Rob’s argument. Most of what I said still stands, though. Also worth noting: I am very intentionally avoiding NBA 2K this year because I know that that is the exact type of game which can send me down a spending hole.
Apparently the loot boxes in Assassin’s Creed Origins aren’t going to be purchaseable for real money, so it’s effectively just part of the game’s reward system loop.
Since someone brought up TF2, I wanted to point out Valve’s own roster of games in this topic. By and large, they’ve been proponents of the worst practices of manipulative blind box mechanics. Some bullet points off the top of my head:
When CSGO’s crate system was (lazily) imported into TF2, it not only required you to buy into that campaign, but also pay the usual $2.50 troll toll to get a key for any crate drops that you were only eligible for after filling out tedious objectives (that often caused players to deliberately play in ways that were not conducive to good teamplay)
During seasonal tournament events in Dota 2, the buy-in reward structures often involve spinning literal roulette wheels for potential high-value items, no joke
The existence of item trading lead to actual external marketplaces that put real-world dollar values on these cosmetic items, meaning that you were were doing legit gambling on crates in these games
Valve did nothing about the continued existence of websites–particularly around CSGO–that allowed people to bet their cosmetic items on competitive matches (of which often advertised these services on-stream), until it became legally inconvenient for them to continue ignoring the issue
There are virtually no systems in any of these Valve-operated games that allow players to slowly pursue the higher value items; you pay for crate keys or you live on scraps
Not to defend how the blind box systems are in this new slate of major game releases, but Valve’s whole history in using the system has been so incredibly shady that I was taken aback at how much more attention was paid to games like Overwatch where their own blind boxes are far more ephemeral.
I guess because those Valve games are free-to-play, but any real involvement in trying to acquire cosmetics in TF2/Dota/CSGO will run you far, far north of $60.
People who don’t care about it, not gonna complain, but people who want to engage with it, but in a right amount, would. Simple.
Here is my story. Not 1-to-1 to loot boxes in full-priced games, but similar enough, I think. There is a free2play MMO (“ArcheAge”). If you playing for free, then your crafting ability (it uses “work points”) is limited and you can’t own land (which is tied to crafting, too). If you paying for subscription, then you have more “work points” and you can claim plots of land, to build houses, fields, etc. And you can share that land with your party and/or clan. In my mind, it was like paying for “Minecraft” server to play with your friend. Fair enough, in other words.
Ok, but pretty soon they introduce special “work points” potions, that you can buy for real money, that make you into ubercrafter. But, also, you can sell those potions for in-game gold, so you can buy anything in a game if you willing to spend actual money, and a lot of it.
Was I wrong for paying for subscription? Nope. Should I be pissed, that they changed the rules of a game? Of course! Should I be pissed more, than people who didn’t spend anything? Arguably, yes. Again, not a 1-to-1, but similar in a sense that I can engage with something and complain about it at the same time. But from Rob’s position, or at least how I understand it, I can’t complain because I’m already in bed with a devil. Bullshit.
I remember when Sims 4 came out and the entire game felt so watered down compared to previous editions. It felt like the main game mechanics were strong but the clothing and furniture choices were so limited. An then the expansions moatly included new gameplay content but almost no aesthetic content. You had to buy all that stuff in little 10 dollar packs for Christmas clothes. It really fealt like they designed the entire game around the micro transactions and purposely gave you little to start with. Loot boxes may not be the same thing as expansions but they will effect gameplay. I already know what a free to play mmo is like and I don’t want every game turning into that because it’s a cash cow.
I never thought I would say this but I would like to see the government get involved. This is gambling aimed at minors plain and simple.
I will never be able to find the thread but years ago on the old steam forums someone posted a heart breaking story about how they were a recovering gambling addict and had found TF2 and it’s community to be a healthy alternative. Then Valve added crates. The person posted their transaction history from steam. Over $1,000 in one month on just keys. They were writing to say that Valve took this game that had been helping to turn their life around and drove it back into the ground. They wanted to warm warn others not to follow in their footsteps before uninstalling the game forever.
What an awful thing to happen. Here’s this person who found a supportive community and they had to walk away because Valve decided to introduce gambling to it.
It’s not that you’re damned for even buying into these services in the first place, but more that I don’t typically see many of the same vocal opponents of this latest DLC practice–e.g. Jim Sterling, TotalBiscuit, etc–exercise that same principled stand against, say, the manipulative practices of Valve to condition themselves as Your Best Buddy, Capitalism in psychologically pressuring Steam users to spend far more than they would otherwise on discounted games.
That’s probably more the point they’re trying to make than saying that anyone who has ever bought into games services are hypocrites for criticizing blind boxes in games.
Sure. And I did. I’m not buying “Shadow of More War”. But, again, that doesn’t mean that arguments from people who bought/gonna buy it are less valid.
Another kinda similar story from me. I don’t like what Ubi are doing on PC (I’m gonna skip “why”). They started doing that after “Black Flag”, which I liked, so I was OK with skipping “Unity”, but not “Rogue”. So I waited for a big discount and bought it on PS3.
It’s like a problematic content in a good game – it’s not always this binary situation of “you either for or against, nothing in between”. I would never fault anyone for “slipping”.
But I bought only one Ubi game since, on PC or otherwise: “The Division”, only to play with friends.
Ah yeah, I remember Captain Invictus from way back on the SA forums, he was ridiculously knowledgeable about third-party markets in TF2 and Steam. Cool dude, and I’d recommend other people listen to the video you linked to learn how buck-wild the economy in TF2 got over years of Valve not ever giving a damn in trying to keep it under control.
That wasn’t my interpretation of Rob’s position, at all. Yours is more reasonable.
I kinda dislike those two people from your example, so I maybe don’t know enough, but from what I know, TB is POS, that hides behind “I’m protecting the consumer!” rhetoric, not dissimilar to gamergate people, and Jim just gonna do anything for a laugh. I’m more in a RPS camp, that, for example, were never on a “never preorder!” bandwagon, but were often warning people about shady stuff. You know, trying to be reasonable. Not necessarily succeeding 100%, but trying.
In the end, yes, you can do loot boxes, microtransactions, DLCs, season passes, F2P, etc. right. There is a middle ground. It jast very, very far from what we often see today.