WE HAVE A LOOT CRATE SIT­U­A­TION

The preva­lence of loot crates in AAA games, and why they don’t be­long.

GAX (Malaysia) - - FEATURE - By Ian Chee

If you had asked us what was the great­est plague to have af­flicted video games a few years ago, we would’ve said ‘mi­cro­trans­ac­tions in full-priced games’. This year though, that award has to be given to the un­reg­u­lated gam­bling that is af­fec­tion­ately called ‘loot crates’ or ‘loot boxes’.

Ever since the ar­rival of DLC and sea­son passes, AAA games have more or less stopped of­fer­ing the com­plete ex­pe­ri­ence at the stan­dard price of US$59.99 (trans­lates to around RM250 here, with vari­ances across dif­fer­ent ti­tles). Not con­tent with the new (read: higher) up­per limit for profit, mi­cro­trans­ac­tions are added in to re­move it al­to­gether, and then loot boxes are forced in to sell more mi­cro­trans­ac­tions. It’s one of the few things that give us the im­pres­sion that pub­lish­ers are greedy, and can never make enough money. So with plenty of con­ver­sa­tions sur­round­ing the sub­ject in re­cent weeks, we too would like to do some­thing about it. We want to tell video game pub­lish­ers to stop this, and we need your help. But be­fore we get to that, we’d like to so­lid­ify our ar­gu­ment by telling you why loot boxes are the bubonic plague that will bring the Black Death of video games. Of course, we’ll also throw in ex­am­ples of games that are try­ing to kill the in­dus­try with th­ese im­moral prac­tices.

It’s glo­ri­fied gam­bling

Let’s face it, spend­ing money for only the hopes of a good re­turn of in­vest­ment is gam­bling. Plain and sim­ple. It’s preda­tory at best, and it’s what gets peo­ple with gam­bling ad­dic­tions hooked in the first place. It’s also what cer­tain game pub­lish­ers are hop­ing will hap­pen when they put such me­chan­ics in the game. And sadly, it works. That’s why it’s still such a preva­lent thing.

While our level of dis­dain to­wards the prac­tice varies, all of us here can agree that hav­ing mi­cro­trans­ac­tions in a full-priced game is a bad idea. This is be­cause none of us en­joyed the idea of hav­ing to pay a hefty pre­mium for a game, only to have to pay more to play as if it was a freemium mo­bile game. This was bad enough that the re­source economies of such games are usu­ally bent out of whack to en­tice you into per­pet­u­ally buy­ing them, but at least you knew what you were pay­ing for.

Ex­ac­er­bate that by re­mov­ing the knowl­edge of what ex­actly you’re pay­ing for, and you come to the mess that is loot boxes – mi­cro­trans­ac­tions that give you a random item of as­sort­ment of things that you may or may not want. With luck, you get what you want early on, but if you have luck as rot­ten as sewage mat­ter, it means buy­ing them per­pet­u­ally be­cause there’s no stop­ping you from get­ting du­pli­cates.

In the case of Over­watch, many would ar­gue that it’s fine be­cause it’s purely cos­metic, and that you could get them for free. For the sake of ar­gu­ment, we will con­cede this point. But then came Mid­dle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Bat­tle­front II, which stopped be­ing just cos­metic, but we’ll get to them later.

The En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware Rat­ing Board (ESRB) doesn’t con­sider loot crates gam­bling, sim­ply be­cause you are guar­an­teed to get some­thing in re­turn, even if what you get in re­turn has close to no value. It’s kind of like lot­tery tick­ets that give you back a dol­lar when you’ve other­wise gained noth­ing in re­turn, even if the lot­tery ticket would’ve cost 10 – it’s tech­ni­cally no longer gam­bling, even if you still lose money. It’s a mat­ter of se­man­tics at this point, and if we were to use the ESRB’s logic, then our very own hill­top en­ter­tain­ment city isn’t a place where you go to gam­ble ei­ther, if the casino starts im­ple­ment­ing a sys­tem where ev­ery ta­ble or ma­chine dis­penses a 10 sen coin ev­ery time you play one of the games.

It cuts ex­ist­ing con­tent from games

The best ex­am­ple here is Des­tiny 2. Shaders in Des­tiny were in­fi­nite use items, and they be­came con­sum­ables in Des­tiny 2. And to make mat­ters worse, when you get them from loot boxes, you get them in sets of three, when you need five for a com­plete set of ar­mor. The chances that this isn’t a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion are next to none.

And then there’s Forza Motorsport 7 and mods. They are now locked be­hind loot boxes, which make things espe­cially in­fu­ri­at­ing when in pre­vi­ous Forza ti­tles, you ac­cess mods from a menu, not loot boxes or mi­cro­trans­ac­tions. While at the time of writ­ing, the loot crates (called Prize Crates) are not ob­tained us­ing real money, the game’s de­vel­oper Turn 10 has con­firmed that there will be an op­tion in the fu­ture, when it adds To­kens to the game.

Th­ese are just two ex­am­ples of con­tent that were avail­able in pre­vi­ous games that have been hid­den be­hind the ran­dom­ness of loot crates. Sure, you can still get them in game, but it’s def­i­nitely a con­scious de­ci­sion by the de­vel­oper or pub­lisher to make them more dif­fi­cult to ac­cess, un­less you pay real-world money. And in­stead of just let­ting you pay money to get it, you have to pay money for a chance to get it, which goes back to our gam­bling point.

“Let’s face it, spend­ing money for only the hopes of a good re­turn of in­vest­ment is gam­bling. Plain and sim­ple.”

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