We Discuss Loot Boxes, Dirty Airport Floors on Waypoint Radio


I’ve been listening to Waypoint Radio for about three months now and this is the topic that finally made me open an account. I genuinely enjoy the show and everyone’s oft varied opinions in it, but Rob really just got my ire up something fierce.

I’m someone who now has to keep continually marking games off my wishlist because loot box mechanics are cropping up in them. Hell, AC: Origins was gonna be the first AC game I bought since the Ezio era since so many people have talked about it as a return to form, and I was hyped for that! But if the loot box thing pans out, I’m not getting it. I’m just not.

I also deeply disagree with the idea that cosmetic rewards are so worthless. The example of Overwatch applies especially to me. The game regularly hosts big events in which the entire point is the cosmetics, and when you put so much value on those things, they become real commodities, in my opinion. When you tell players a thing has value and pour so much effort into that thing, saying “oh its just a cosmetic” feels deeply disingenuous to me. We can’t put so much focus on character creation in games then also say the power to control how you look in a game is worthless or tertiary to the experience. The ability to express yourself through your avatar always has worth. We are just seeing a hard monetary price put on that now.

And like, especially since you can get these loot boxes without cash. They are a core part of gameplay. They don’t stop being a core feature when there is also a trumped up alternate, financial means of collecting them that you want to stay. That argument is just a No Sell for me.

And it’s gambling! I think it’s actually really insulting that on one had we say “these are games that stand on their own merits and are good games worth your time” and at the same time diminish the effect these gambling systems have on people! Why have we gotten to a point where we care so damn little about people susceptible to these mechanics? I feel this would not be the case if there was a growing trend in the industry that somehow enabled or encouraged players with other forms of potential addiction to buy alcohol they would not otherwise be in contact with.

Like, if nothing else, can we please kill and bury the idea of “I have more willpower than you, this is your own fault?” 'Cause dang. Uncool.

Even someone’s story in this very thread about how they have gradually increased the amount of money they are willing to spend on loot boxes for an Overwatch event has me worried. I think if the ask is for us to wait around and trust that publishers are not going to abuse this tactic until outside intervention stops them, that is an enormous ask.

I’m not hitting the “bitch” button, I am genuinely worried about what the state of the industry is going to be in the next few years, and this change is becoming more prevalent and more insidious with every wave. I’m really goddamn worried.


Well their not getting any money from me if the game is road blocked by pay wall that only the 1% can pay for. I don’t want my singleplayer to be screwed with.


Blaming people with gambling addictions instead of the companies that exploit them is super not cool, I was really shocked someone at Waypoint would make that argument. I’m worried that games are going to exploit people with gambling addictions more and more unless laws are put in place, in a majority of countries where games sell well, against loot boxes that are straight up gambling. We need more people talking about how making gambling a normal part of games is extremely dangerous for a lot of people, not people making excuses for the companies that are doing this sort of thing.


I listened to that bit again, and…I’m still not really seeing that conclusion? It felt really targeted at the heavy consumerists who raise a stink over any perceived loss of game value. When Patrick pointed out the abuse angle of the systems, Rob had a “yep, can’t really argue with that aspect of it” response.


So like… this is a relatively new trend in video games, but Magic: The Gathering has been following this model of real money pay-to-win blind packs for over two decades and is more popular than ever. This form of gambling via blind packs is nothing near new, and it’s based on collecting sports cards which is a much older tradition. It’s definitely predatory, like all marketing schemes are, but is there a real solution being proposed besides ‘stop it?’ Are we mostly just upset that this form of monetization has found its way into a place it didn’t used to be?


I agree with most of what you said, however I feel that there’s a little more nuance to the ‘cosmetic rewards in loot boxes are okay’ argument than you let on. I haven’t seen many people arguing that cosmetic items are worthless. The argument tends to be that they aren’t required (or have the impression that they aren’t required) to play and complete the game or to be competitive in multiplayer modes. That as long as you can reasonably earn them by playing, then the micro-transactions are unnecessary additions for those with more money than time or who just want to further support the games they love/play a lot.
Furthermore, I would agree with you on Overwatch and align closer with those who argue that cosmetic DLC is okay while still having severe grievances with timed or similarly exclusive cosmetic items (which is actually the viewpoint I’ve encountered more often). The way that Overwatch releases seasonal content with artificial scarcity via time-limits is worth criticisising despite being okay with purchaseable cosmetics (because it creates a sense of urgency that alters how people either play the game or think about the purchase). I think the added urgency (the feeling of “missing out”) is the truly predatory part.

As an example of this viewpoint, listen to the latest Bombcast (linked to time 1:31:56) from the site Giantbomb (mentioned by others earlier in this thread). After Brad Shoemaker makes the bold claim that Overwatch has a good implementation of loot boxes, Ben Pack and Jeff Gerstmann pointed out a great caveat that the timed seasonal DLC are, in fact, bad.

To put into perspective how strongly they support cosmetic DLC (which is why I’m using them as an example): Brad Shoemaker plays a lot of DOTA2 and supports its cosmetic free-to-play model (which has a chest opening animation which mirrors the slot-machine feeling of ‘nearly winning’), Ben Pack and Jason Oestreicher are used to paying for costumes in fighting games, and Jeff has recently responded to a Tumblr question that: “I’m generally fine with anyone selling cosmetic items in any way they like, but when they cross over into being relevant for gameplay, it’s a problem.” So know that they strongly support the “cosmetic DLC is okay, including as loot boxes” viewpoint.

Anyway, the following exchange happens (linked to time 1:31:56)

Here's a transcription if you are unable to listen, although I have not edited out their "likes" and such mannerisms so reading it may be more difficult.(italics represent's their emphasis and I've bolded the key lines)

Jason Oestreicher: How much is Blizzard making for loot boxes? Millions?
Jeff Gerstmann: Hu-Hundreds of millions!
Oestreicher: Billions?
Gerstmann: Yeah, like all-a-a lot of money. But also-
Ben Pack: Those Halloween ones just dropped this morning.
Gerstmann: Yeah, and that stuff’s all cosmetic and -
Brad Shoemaker: Yeah! Like it can’t be said enough: Overwatch: Good. Forza and Shadow of War… maybe not so good.
Gerstmann: They made-ma-Well…
Pack: Well… The one thing I will say that is not good, in my opinion, of the Overwatch stuff is like the timed seasonal stuff where it’s like you’re never gonna get a chance to get this one again. Like, the summer olympics or whatever.
Shoemaker: Sure, sure, right. But that’s like… Well yeah I guess -
Pack: Because then it’s like, say -
Shoemaker: - That does create some pressure to like “maybe you should buy it so you make sure you get it”.
Gerstmann: Limited edition virtual items are scummy!
Pack: Yes.
Shoemaker: Yeah, that part sucks. That part sucks.
Gerstmann: Like the idea of - and I feel that way about the [Player Unknown’s] Battlegrounds, like the crates that kind of came into the game and went out.
Shoemaker: Yeah.
Gerstmann: Like just tur… just make more stuff.
Shoemaker: Yeah like. Like if someone puts down the three laws of loot boxes or whatever, law number one should be: shit in loot boxes should never affect the way the game plays.
Gerstmann: Right.
Pack: Yes.

Something I especially liked about this exchange is how Brad vehementally points out that “loot boxes should never affect the way the game plays” in the same breath as agreeing that limited cosmetic items are bad. It makes it clear that they all think, once the chance to earn the cosmetics is made limited, this does affect the gameplay (as it incentivises different play-styles/grinding or pouring in money to obtain them). They essentially believe that once the cosmetic item is made into a limited edition commodity, it affects how the game is played and is also bad (whether directly purchaseable or via loot boxes).

I’m not saying you should change your mind but I did want to flesh out the viewpoint to make it clearer where I, and others, currently stand.


Great work and great point! I would oversimplify it even further and say that everything, cosmetic or otherwise, is worth something, otherwise no one would buy it, duh. So, when we talking about guns, that actually shoot better, or just skins for those guns, we talking about same things: we talking about abuse of psychology, about peer pressure, about FOMO, etc., etc.


Thanks. I rewrote that comment a couple times both because I know I’ve been being a little overzealous in this (and similar) conversations of late, but also because I really didn’t want it to sound like I was attacking @ArcturusOne’s comment. I really do agree that the passive acceptence of gambling-esque systems is a problem and we should be more sceptical of them. I just wanted to expand the viewpoint a bit, and I used an example both because I think it illustrated the viewpoint well, but also to stop the idea I’m talking on behalf of others.

Anyway, brevity isn’t my strong point.
Also, I just learned the term FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) from your comment, so thanks for that.


But… why does there need to be any system for paying publishers more? If you like a game and continue to play it, a game with a solo campaign that you entirely pay to run or online that’s all peer to peer and so also something you and the other players are basically entirely paying to run, then why do the publishers (as this is who gets all the money for the AAA games we’re talking about) need more money? They set a price, you paid it, you own it, you have already paid to enjoy it forever. My books don’t expect me to send cash to the publisher because I liked it. Buying early (with long tail slowly declining prices) means you have already paid more to access it closer to the $60 launch price.

It’s not like Destiny 2 is giving away new raids every few months like WoW: you have to pay them for that (per item rather than the monthly of WoW). It’s not like there isn’t a monthly schedule of cars that Forza will charge you to download going forward (offering packs with literally 1% more cars for a small fortune). You are already paying for what you got and will pay more to get anything more so why should we expect to give publishers more money?

If you love a game, find out who made it and get ready to enjoy the next game they work on. Tell your friends and they’ll buy the game and it’ll do better. But don’t throw money at the publisher as if that is not one of the worst neoliberal individualism traps of capitalism. Talking of the Bombcast episode, “oh, I hope the developers get some of this” is not a good take (pet peeve activated). It’s not because consumers are too tight with their money that workplace exploitation happens. It’s because managers and capitalists have built the system to work like this.

We should strongly push back against the false blame of individualism. To not do so leaves us open to being misled, which makes us complicit in further labour exploitation. To speak more broadly than video games labour, you cannot “save workers” by paying their oppressors more. Such systems under capitalism still lead to funding debt bondage and other carceral trafficker “diversion programs” like Punjammies - advertised as being the ethical choice, ensuring your money doesn’t go to modern day slavery, and yet designed to do exactly that as the false charity of the executives builds a state-sanctioned trafficking system around violent raids and the threat of incarceration.


Oh don’t worry, I didn’t take your reply in bad faith. I’m always looking for more gaming podcasts and Giantbomb’s name keeps coming up. I’ve just been enjoying the more, erm, diverse offerings that Waypoint has, but I’ll def listen to the episode as soon as I can download it. But the transcripted bit is on point, def.

And honestly, I like cosmetic DLC. I’ve bought it for games I put a lot of time into because I like the increased customization and I want to support dev teams. Like, I have almost all the costume DLC for Gaige in Borderlands 2, because I love that game.

It really is the gambling aspect that makes me incredibly worried as it becomes the rule rather than the exception. I would probably celebrate regulations that enforce an M rating on these games, but even then… jesus, they are playing with fire and raking in so much revenue and are showing no signs of slowing as an industry.

:clap: :clap: :clap:


Okay good. Especially with your comment pointing out you made an account to post it, I got self-concious that I may accidentally chase you away.
I really enjoy Giant Bomb’s Bombcast (and the Beastcast with their New York team) but don’t feel obligated to schedule in their (massive) podcasts. It’s admirable to focus on more diverse perspectives first.

Welcome to the Waypoint Forums @ArcturusOne, by the way.


(I’m gonna ignore the whole part about publishers vs. developers vs. customers, simply because it’s another huge thing. No offence!)

Because of this, and this, and a bunch of other totally actually legit reasons.

This $60 thing is not set in stone (it was $50 not that long ago). And games cost different amount to make, and they appeal to different amount of people, and they get delayed, etc., etc. You have right to say that you not gonna pay more, and devs should budget accordingly. Sure. But if devs can explain to me, why they are selling this additional stuff, and if I want it for some reason, and if I don’t make the game worse for anybody else, why not?

If you looking only at bad examples, then, yes, we need to burn it all down. And I can’t give you a lot of good examples, not really :­) But I don’t have any problems with different monetization models, DLCs, preorders, etc. by themselves. I have problems only with bad implementations.


I don’t see why a hugely profitable and still growing industry that is selling a luxury product has any place to say “oh, we need you to put up with our anti-consumer nickel-and-diming practices that make you feel like your purchase is less rewarding than it could be because we’re just so so poor and desperate for money in order to make these things”.

Like, make stuff to delight us and see how it goes. Make things that people feel are valuable and sell those things - games that don’t feel hollowed out, that don’t cost $60 while being monetised by exploitative F2P psychological tricks, expansions that offer a meaty and self-contained additional chapter on top of an already complete experience and without replacing your interface with adverts for those extra chapters (*NPC pops up and starts selling player on DLC in your base camp*). We’ll look for major industry contraction but so far it’s not happening. The industry has grown with the user base, has successfully transitioned to radically lower unit costs, and looks to be doing extremely well (according to publisher financials and industry analysis reports).

Billionaires speaking through millionaire managers about how desperate they are for money should look to how much money they’re skimming off the top before they try and tell us about how everyone needs to chip in a bit more in order to pay for this entertainment. We’re already engaging in the most expensive mass media hobby with these current prices. If anything, they need to target lower unit prices in order to grow the base further (especially after a decade of austerity and lost growth reducing real-term spending power of consumers) rather than trying tricks to push prices up higher and praying it doesn’t contract the user base. Now per unit production costs are so low, it’s all about reach.

Here’s another of the big questions: is this additional revenue actually new money (consumers spending money they would otherwise have spent in other industries) or just taking money from competitors/other parts of your own company (“I spent $80 on X so I’ll not buy Y for $20 in the sale”) while the industry gets nothing more than a more hit-driven economy of high risks (which I’d list as unhealthy for the resilience of the industry as a whole)?


One question I have is if this is an area for law, what kind of laws would be put into place? I mean, we don’t outlaw gambling or alcohol altogether. We have some barriers to sale (be a licensed casino, be a licensed alcohol dealer), but I’m having trouble envisioning similar systems in a digital distribution environment.

Age-gating was discussed briefly, but lbr it has no effect. And as much as they discussed on the podcast Children Should Not Be Whales, I don’t think they are for the most part…? From everything I’ve read (admittedly not that much), whales are usually adults – kids don’t have that much money in the first place.


↓ ↓ ↓

If you gonna fix working conditions for dev, it’s not gonna change our discussion a bit.


But you’re not engaging with the entire point of my post: there is no falling sky, there is no desperation for money that must be recovered by nails digging into consumers. The economic health of the industry is not on life support. Why must we accept this supposition that we must all pay more just because rich people doing so well in the industry tell us that this is necessary while their financial reports to investors speak of the opposite? It doesn’t even make sense as the industry has plenty of space to grow the total user base with no increase in per-user revenue.

There isn’t even a pro-worker spin on this because capitalism does not hand over the profits of labour exploitation to the consumer (as my previous post you also didn’t really engage with noted).


I’m not, and I apologised for it:

But you ignoring the point that @Dixavd makes: that games cost more and more to make. Simple, indie games, that don’t have parasitic Bobby Koticks of the world on top of them.

And, honestly, we just repeating ourselves now. We all very polite here, and I’m happy to engage with you, all of you, but I fear that mods gonna be annoyed at us anyway :­) So at least on these arguments, that I already said everything I wanted to say, I’m gonna shut up.

It already has, actually. There are legislations in place of, for example, what you can do if your child spends a bunch of money. And what companies allowed to do in games targeted at children. (I’m not from US, so don’t ask me about details.) If you, as a parent, don’t care about that, then, well. You can technically buy R/18+ movie, or game, or whatever for you child anyway, so.


I’m not a parent, so I’ll admit I’m not up to speed on existing regulations re: children. (Although I would say that the ability to simply request refunds for in-game purchases made by a minor are just a natural interpretation of the fact that minors are not legally liable for contracts in general.) I doubt their efficacy on a large scale, given the number of twelve year olds playing COD and GTA, but in any case, the main question I was asking is: if the thrust of the argument is that loot boxes are fundamentally abusive in that they target psychological weaknesses (of people in general, not just kids) and data suggests that serious whales are likely adults, what is the proposed legal intervention (for those who want legal intervention)?

(I know that China has laws requiring that the loot drop rates be visible. But that doesn’t seem to address the main concern, as far as I can tell.)


Video games actually cost radically less today than at any other time to make; in terms of unit costs. It has never been cheaper to duplicate copies (thanks to cheap bandwidth and digital sales). The development costs are offset by expanding the market not by charging more for each copy (although profits per copy do improve as each copy costs less and less to duplicate). Without that detail being acknowledged then there is no way to understand this market. I’m not ignoring the point, I’m making a counter-point that it doesn’t make sense to take it in isolation from the growing market that already does pay for it - there is no smoking gun of costs necessarily eclipsing the market’s ability to pay for them as a whole or that raising retail prices generates additional income from the total market.


Counterpoint: oversaturation. Demand and supply are growing at the same time. How many more copies you are actually selling?

BTW, damn you Rob, it’s all your fault! *yawns*