Middle-earth: Shadow of War and the Loot Crate Saga

It’s the middle of 2017 and I think the video game industry is getting a little wild with the idea of loot boxes.

Originally I wasn’t planning on writing a piece about loot boxes, but some things happened over the past couple weeks where I feel like I need to get some things off my chest. Hatm0nster, over at Virtual Bastion kind of led the charge with this topic last week so make sure to give him some love as well.

Before we get into the topic at hand, let’s start at the beginning. While not the originators of the idea, loot boxes are a feature that was really made popular by the competitive shooter, Overwatch. For those who don’t know, loot boxes represent a way to keep players hooked by offering randomized content or loot for doing something like reaching a new progression level.

With profit margins always a massive concern for publishers and studios, loot boxes have been identified as a sure fire way to keep the retention rate high as well as offer an easy way to monetize the experience. Games like Overwatch also let players purchase loot boxes in exchange for real money, something which has no doubt helped Activision/Blizzard’s bottom line.

So where has this gone off the rails a bit? Let’s explore.

The easiest answer is that everyone and their mother has started to add this feature in, likely trying to catch lightning in a bottle in the same way as Overwatch has. The newly released shooter LawBreakers has it, Heroes of the Storm added it with their 2.0 update, Star Wars Battlefront 2 has a system, Fortnite, and to a lesser extent, Injustice 2. There are plenty more examples that can be made, but in an effort to keep the word count down, I’ll stop there.

Shockingly, Monolith and Warner Bros confirmed late last week that Middle-earth: Shadow of War also features a loot box/microtransaction system, to which many players cocked their heads to the side and collectively said: “What?”

Now, I personally don’t mind the idea of loot boxes but when a game like Shadow of War introduces them, I have to start questioning things. According to the press release, players can purchase loot chests, war chests, XP boosts, and bundles with in-game currency or premium currency unlocked primarily (though not solely) with real money. New types of orcs, in-game gear, and more can be found inside these chests.

While the press release clearly states that players can unlock everything by simply playing the game and that none of this is required, fans are up in arms over this inclusion. For me, I simply didn’t understand the need for it. From a gameplay perspective, it really is entirely unnecessary, as players can find and possess as many orcs as they want while playing. However, from a business standpoint, I know that it’s going to generate a lot of revenue. People can swear all they want about never using it, but players will no doubt throw money at it. It’s a feature that’s basically little risk, high reward.

And there’s the crux of the argument. The feature itself doesn’t need to be in there at all, so naturally, it’s assumed that the only reason it was added is to make more money. Obviously, Warner Bros would never admit that, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, there’s little reason to believe otherwise.

At this point, I feel like we’ve reached a loot box saturation point. It’s my hope that the old tried and true unlock method won’t be forgotten or outright replaced by randomized content through loot box systems. It’s true, loot boxes provide a brief thrill, but I feel like there’s a greater reward in working towards a specific item and finally unlocking it. I’m starting to worry that loot boxes will become the new normal as we head into the later months of 2017 and then into 2018.

What’s your take on the loot box system? Love it, hate it, or feel indifferent? Let me know how you think this system is going to shape the gaming industry going forward. 

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5 Responses to Middle-earth: Shadow of War and the Loot Crate Saga

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this. While I suppose lootboxes have a time and place, they really need to be added intelligently, not just as a money grab. I mean, the fact that you can earn everything in the game OR buy it makes Shadow of War’s inclusion a little better, because it’s not punishing players for not spending money, but… seriously, guys? But as long as they make money, I think devs will keep adding microtransactions, unfortunately. As out-of-place as they can be.

    • Right, exactly. I know they added online functionality but it’s basically a single player game….part of the reason why adding loot boxes makes it look so bad.

      Shadow of Mordor had this great feature where the dev released new skins you could use instea dof the default Talion one. I’m hoping that A. this feature returns in more detail and B. it’s not stupidly locked behind this new loot box system.

  2. Hatm0nster says:

    In the case of Shadow of War, I don’t think it’s a just a matter of adding an unnecessary mechanic to the game. Everything *can* be earned just by playing the game, but is that really what Warner Bros. wants players to do? Of course not. They’re not going to add something like this is in and just let players ignore it. They want players to spend the extra money, and they’re going to make it as tempting as possible to do so. That means changing the gameplay, most likely by making it more grindy.

    Loot boxes in games like Overwatch are…tolerable. Competitive multiplayer sort of lends itself to grind anyway, so putting in loot boxes there is…okay. I won’t say it’s good because they replaced a superior system, but I can at least acknowledge that they can have a place in that kind of gameplay loop. In the case of a single-player experience like Shadow of War though, the developer had to change the way the game works in order for this system to be worthwhile. And if you’re at the point where you’re tempted to buy a legendary orc rather than go out and get one in the game, hasn’t the game failed you as a player? If players become willing to spend money instead of playing the game, doesn’t that mean that the gameplay, the experience itself, has become worthless in their minds?

    • Well, said.

      I think that’s where the major disconnect here is: the fact that this is a single player game with this feature show-horned into it.

      You’re right though, if this was another multiplayer shooter, I don’t think the outcry would have nearly been as big.

      Plus, considering how beloved the first game became, I get an added sense of betrayal from the community.

      • Hatm0nster says:

        Yeah, that feeling of betrayal is definitely there. People don’t like to be taken advantage of. The worst part is that WB isn’t even ashamed of it. This was announced via their own livestream with a tone of “we’re doing you a huge favor with this.” They must think we’re stupid.

        I don’t want the game to fail, but I wonder if they see any negative repercussions at all for this.

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