WE HAVE A LOOT CRATE SITUATION
The prevalence of loot crates in AAA games, and why they don’t belong.
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.”