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.