Why Loot Boxes Are Here To Stay

There’s no end in sight.

You may remember my post about loot boxes, when I talked about how Forza Motorsport 7‘s system in particular wasn’t the worst example. Loot boxes are still a blight in gaming, but despite the practice of including these systems in modern, full-priced games being widely criticized, they aren’t going anywhere.

The vocal critics of loot box economies would definitely love that to be false, but that just isn’t the case.

The reasons why they’re going to stick around are pretty simple: they work, and we enable them.

$$$

STAR WARS Battlefront II Loot Boxes GIF

Microtransactions alone are profitable, and it’s likely that loot boxes are even more so. Regardless of the outcry from critics, loot boxes have taken a foothold in the gaming industry. Overwatch, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Destiny 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Forza Motorsport 7, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, and soon, Star Wars: Battlefront II all have adopted the practice in one way or another.

It didn’t really occur to me at the time of writing my impressions of Star Wars: Battlefront II just how pervasive microtransactions are (hopefully this will change), but the newest Battlefront seems poised to entice its players into spending as much as money as possible. This is due to the way that progression is structured, forgoing more traditional structures in favor of a more aggressively monetized system.

That being, you gain more abilities and weapons primarily through the acquisition of crates. You see, you gain credits from completing matches, which you can spend on crates that contain upgrade cards, weapons, and more importantly, scrap. The scrap is what’s used to purchase upgrades outright, and can be found in small quantities inside crates or retrieved by breaking down upgrades you don’t want, or duplicates you don’t need.

Of course, the way around bothering with scrap will be to just buy some crates with real money.

And some people won’t have the time to worry about grinding for credits, will have the extra cash in their pocket to spend on the game, or are simply impatient.

And I can’t say I blame them.

Inconvenience

I’ve been there myself, back when I was playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2 with friends. I picked up the game long after it had released, and we were playing the game’s co-op mode against the AI. Given that I was new to the game completely, I was stuck with all the starter gear, so I had two options: I could grind out the experience I needed to unlock the weapons in multiplayer, or I could buy the shortcut kits.

I just wanted to play with my friends without being a liability, so I chose the latter. I didn’t want to invest dozens of hours playing multiplayer in a game that had long been forgotten by the gaming community, just to get equipment that didn’t suck. I just wanted to play with my buddies. Evil? No. Stupid? Maybe. Impatient? Yes.

But that sort of mentality isn’t the only reason why microtransactions are still around, and why loot boxes are here to stay.

I’ve heard the saying “Speak with your wallet” used a lot in the past in regards to protesting these types of practices by game publishers, but it’s just a platitude in this context now. People seem to think that the simple act of not buying a loot crate, weapon skin, or money pack will do the trick. That publishers are going to stop their aggressive monetization strategies just because a portion of gamers don’t take part, but it doesn’t work that way.

As I said earlier, Microtransactions are ridiculously profitable, and not everyone needs to participate for publishers to rake in piles of cash. Take-Two, for instance, has pulled in over $500 million in revenue from GTA Online alone… That’s not in sales of Grand Theft Auto V. That’s just money packs sold. In terms of their Megalodon Shark Cards, that would be 5 million sold (which would be $40 trillion in GTA Online).

And that’s old news.

We’re All To Blame

I’ll posit that the most vocal critics of microtransactions and loot boxes are partially to blame as well. Professional gaming news outlets, which often lament the inclusion of these predatory systems in games, still give the biggest offenders tons of great publicity.

Destiny 2 may have been slapped around for the new Bright Engrams, but it’s still adored by critics. Grand Theft Auto V regularly makes headlines even today. Star Wars: Battlefront II will probably get its day in the sun as well, and once professional sites like Polygon, Gamespot, and IGN get the obligatory “this game has microtransactions in it, and you should be outraged” post out of their systems, you’ll start seeing tons of posts lauding how fun it is to play.

Similarly, independent pundits like Jim Sterling and Joe Vargas (among others) often make the obligatory “this game is going to be the end of gaming as we know it, because microtransactions!” videos and posts, only to later play those games for views. They posture against the developers and publishers of those titles, then give the game publicity as they play it, often talking positively about the experience.

The independents put up a little more of a fight, often qualifying their opinions of the game in question with anecdotes of how the monetization strategies featured in the game they’re playing is predatory and wrong, but that’s usually about it… Because they enjoy their time with the game, and they want to stay in the spotlight of relevance. Professional outlets are far more shameless, often overlooking anything negative in order to feed the hype machine, and heaven forbid you say anything negative about a popular game before it releases.

Of course, gamers are just as guilty, myself included. I made my case against Destiny 2, only to turn around after launch and buy the game… Once for Jennifer, and again later for myself. We enable the publishers whose practices we loathe by purchasing their games, even  if we don’t take part in the shadier parts of their business.

What the publishers see is that no matter how vociferous the outrage is, how volatile the market is, and how shady their practices are, people will still buy their products. We still buy their games because they’re still fun, and we’re often willing to overlook the negative aspects in favor of experiencing something the rest of the community is into.

So while the current anti-microtransaction hate train is heading for Star Wars: Battlefront II, I can’t see anything changing in the near future. Loot boxes are here to stay, and we’re all to blame.

What do you think? What can be done to combat this newest trend in gaming? Is there any hope that things can change?


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17 thoughts on “Why Loot Boxes Are Here To Stay

  1. Goodness, this is a sticky issue. I don’t play any games with microtransactions simply because the kind of games that have them tend to coincidentally fall into a genre of games that I don’t enjoy, but I experience this problem a lot with DLC. It’s really cruddy to lock major story content behind a paywall, but as long as I fork out money to get that story then I’m going to keep funding the very problem I rail against. And as you said, even if I don’t buy the DLC, if I simply buy a game in the franchise I am still supporting the practice. I think we’re all simply going to have to accept the DLC/microtransaction issue or otherwise make some overdramatic changes to the games we play.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s unfortunate that it isn’t easier to fight the problem, but I don’t think that anything short of a scorched earth approach would make a difference. I also don’t think that gamers are willing to do what it takes to dissuade publishers from continuing…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For sure. That would mean NOT purchasing the games responsible for this mess – maybe even not purchasing from those publishers period. And that’s definitely a drastic measure – we’d be missing out on new entries in our favorite series!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep, paying for convenience; just how it is and it won’t stop as long as it’s enabled by players. MMOs have been doing micro-transactions for years before it became popular with loot crates & boxes from the more recent trend. It’s effective because many players enjoy the feel of having an edge against other players or just a convenient part of equipment that’s easy to get from said crate.

    I don’t think it can be avoided, and if it could, it would have to be from the Publishers; they would probably increase the prices of individual titles to make up for the loss of profit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What is crazy is my first thought is Overwatch and how much I loved the lootboxes- I also do not pay for them. I tend to not oay for extras and all that because I mean, affording it? Yeah, funny.
    Never really came to mind that I need them in games – I just warm people I am not that high level or whatnot and I forget they are an option sometimes.
    But this is a real issue.
    I know my husband has been tempted before – and has resisted. Or he will do the “one-time first package for $4.99!” Type of deal.
    I hope somehow the madness stops. Sucks that people are buying them just to advance or be on par with others. No thanks. Maybe this is why I stick with mostly RPGs where I don’t need them as much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you described about your husband is exactly what works on me. Those introductory deals and “sales” on microtransactions and loot boxes make it ever more enticing to buy them, and I hate that it works on me. I always stop myself, but it gets harder and harder when I want a shortcut.

      Like

  4. This topic is something that gets talked about a lot, more so since the release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. For some reason while people see this like an abomination that came out from the nine circles of hell, I swear that I must be in the minority of people that can see both the bad as well as the good when it comes to the design of microtransactions in the video game industry.
    First of all, this is something that won’t go away. It has been established in numerous ways that it’s a practice that works with very few flaws. Yet it depends on how the publisher/developer wants to use it that can make it either a good addition, or break the fun for the consumer all together. There’s a sort of Herd Mentality when it comes to this ordeal in the gaming industry, which to be honest is more fascinating than terrifying to look upon.

    Now the practice has been there for a long time, mostly seen in Freemium games (think Clash of Clans, Niantic’s Pokemon Go and Ingress, Machine Zone Inc.’s Game of War, King’s Candy Crush etc.). Here the practice is for you to spend money in ways to make it more convenient for you to complete goals in the game. Since the longer you get in the game itself, you begin to notice that finishing even small projects within the game takes days to finish. Here paying small amounts of cash to get a strange amount of in-game currency fx. pay $4.99 which equals 550 Pokécoins, which you then can use to buy in-game items fx. for 80 Pokécoins you can get one Incense or Lucky Egg…yet how much does 80 Pokécoins equals in real money spend?

    Then we have the practices that you see in major games, such as Valve’s Counter Strike, Riot’s League of Legends, Blizzard’s Overwatch, WB Games’ Middle-Earth: Shadow of War…you get the idea. Here the microtransactions doesn’t impact the way you play the game, but helps give you in-game items that can be equal what upgrading your gaming rig or even just acquiring the newest model of an equipment, such as a smartphone. It all then boils down to keeping you hooked with the ablility of chance, for that upportunity where you finally get the skin you always needed…until the next one comes out.
    It’s a pathological gambling addiction that not only keeps you hooked and engaged in the game for what the publisher wants…longevity. Sure you don’t need to pay any money at all, but it has been engrained into our society that if you don’t have that bling, then you’re not in the herd and are yesterdays thing.

    I believe this is where the hate comes into play. In freemium you really don’t care or won’t even notice it, as said before it makes it more convenient to cash out that small amount for a getting over that hurdle. Where as in newer games, you are paying out $50-$120 for a game (if you’ve also preordered or gotten the deluxe edition for that extra goodness), then have the “option” to pay even more to get extra in-game items for you to use. Yet it doesn’t hinder you can play the game through from the beginning without paying a single dime. It’s really just there for you to get more if needed.

    Do I support this practice? Only if used correctly and in most ways it is, but sometimes we get those black sheeps that clearly only intend to squeeze every cent out of your wallet (looking at you Battlefront II, that I so dearly hope they change it before release). Is it shady? That is up to the eye of the beholder.
    However, one thing that needs to be made clear is you do have the power to not take the action in either buying these games (however, I think you will miss out on an experience by boycutting that way) or just don’t buy the in-game bling.

    Sorry for the rambling, but I really enjoyed your article and would love if people talked about this in a more civil manner like you, instead of flailing their frothing mouths of anger in any direction where a person could be hearing it.

    Stay Cozy and enjoy the weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like you, I don’t have an irrational hatred of all microtransactions, just when they’re used in ways that seems predatory or unnecessary. I can understand why some single-player games have microtransactions, but I’m not a fan of loot boxes as a way to distribute anything that isn’t cosmetic in nature. The randomness of loot boxes invites too much exploitation in my opinion.

      I really do believe that those that are wringing their hands and tearing their robes in protest over loot boxes in full-priced games aren’t as devoted to their protest as they make it out to be. If folks that are chomping at the bit to end microtransactions and loot boxes being used were serious about their cause, they wouldn’t give the offending games the time of day. That’s the only way I can see things changing in their favor.

      I appreciate that people like us can have a discussion without it devolving into spittle-drench flame wars as well! Maybe then we’d actually see more getting done, both in gaming and in general.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, it’s not often you get to sit down and really talk it through without having to convince one person is better than the other, experience with encounters of said people have showed me that is what they tend to do.
        Who knows if the design of the payment system will be changed in the future, but I believe there’s a good chance that it will. It needs action to be taken, but also patience as it won’t change over a year.

        Like

  5. I think the issue with some games and loot boxes is that you do need to purchase them in order to gain certain elements of the game which is ridiculous and unfair on the games audience,

    Like

    1. That’s the ticket right there. Finding the appropriate balance that doesn’t punish players who don’t purchase the microtransaction items.

      I think that’s why Overwatch is seen as less of a problem, and why Star Wars: Battlefront II seems much more insidious.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think in the case of many newer games, the micro-transactions aren’t taking anything away from the core content but they provide players who are willing to dedicate themselves further additional perks to stand out from the regulars.

    Battlefront II is following a similar path to Titanfall 2 which continues to have incredible long term value thanks to the continual updates which don’t cost players a dime. However if players of Battlefront are willing to pay for a slightly better/prettier TIE Fighter because they play it every night well good on them too. I don’t play any of these regularly enough to notice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get what you’re saying. Much like Kariyanine and others, it makes sense that as long as people are gated off from the main attraction for not spending additional money, it’s less nefarious.

      I do agree with that; Elite: Dangerous being a fine example. I can appreciate that Star Wars: Battlefront II won’t have paid DLC as a way to deliver additional content, but I don’t like the direction that the progression system is shaping up. It can still change, but it appears that EA designed a system to heavily incentivize purchasing loot boxes for class cards and weapon upgrades. If loot box content were limited to strictly cosmetic items, I doubt it would be as reviled.

      Liked by 1 person

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