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.
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.
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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