The Loot Box Effect

As I was cruising around for deals last week during Black Friday, I began to notice a trend starting to take shape with online stores. As you might imagine, recent EA games have begun to take a nose dive with user reviews (fair enough) thanks to all of the loot box insanity that has arisen with Star Wars Battlefront 2. The backlash has spread to games like Madden, FIFA, and Need for Speed Payback, which is a game that was also hammered for curiously gating much of its customization and progression through the idea of loot boxes.

Curiously enough, other loot box friendly games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War weren’t included in this practice, with many still sporting a sparkling 5 star user review.

So why is this? I can’t be 100% sure, but I do have a theory based on how the microtransactions and loot boxes are integrated into normal gameplay. With EA, it seems the publisher has made a point to tie a number of gameplay systems into the loot boxes including player progression.

Take Battlefront 2 for example. At its core, players upgrade their classes, vehicles, and heroes through star cards, which are earned only through loot boxes. Unlike Overwatch, loot boxes are purchased through in-game currency, and prior to its change of heart a couple of weeks ago, through premium currency. At the time, this meant that a player willing to spend real money on premium currency could effectively purchase new loot boxes faster than someone who was relying on currency earned through normal play.

So what we have here is a system that actively wants and rewards players for spending money on loot boxes.

When looking at Warner Bros and Shadow of War, we see a different style on display. The loot boxes in this game are basically more of a shortcut method. Using the in-game store, players can open chests that grant new orc followers or other in-game items and gear. Like most microtransaction enabled games, players can opt to spend premium currency purchased with real money or spend currency earned by playing.

As I played through the main game, I never once felt compelled or pressured to buy a loot box, even with my earned, in-game currency. Shadow of War always presented me with new loot and new orcs that using money in the store was really unnecessary. Yes, I could have purchased some epic level orcs, but honestly, part of the fun is just doing it yourself. The newly enhanced Nemesis System really takes care of you in this regard.

So could it be that the reason why Shadow of War has escaped the public’s wrath is that the game doesn’t reward people for spending money or tying critical gameplay elements to the in-game store? I can’t be 100% sure if this growing trend is a result of the aggressive nature of microtransactions in these EA games or perhaps that Battlefront 2 seems to have been the tipping point for the whole loot box concept.

Now, I’m not trying to justify the inclusion of microtransactions, I’m just trying to make sense of an interesting trend I’ve started to see online. Either way, it looks like games such as Shadow of War managed to dodge a bullet on this one. I’m curious to see what kind of change this outrage has brought on going forward.

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7 Responses to The Loot Box Effect

  1. Imtiaz Ahmed says:

    shadow of war did bring some negative reactions to loot boxes, but nothing like battlefront 2 got. I’m curious why as well. My guess is based on the reviews and such, Shadow of War doesn’t constantly throw it in your face and is merely an option. Battlefront 2 seems to do the exact opposite where it does things to remind you “hey, you can give us more money and possibly get more stuff”

    In the end, it sounds like the progression to Shadow of War is not heavily dependant on loot boxes, where Battlefront 2 started out with needing to invest a huge chunk of time to unlock just 1 character.

    • Absolutely agree. In Shadow of War, the store just seems to be there if you want it. Totally unnecessary for sure, but unlike Battlefront 2, it doesn’t make you visit it in order to open a loot box on a daily basis.

      That’s the key difference in my opinion, as Battlefront 2 basically forces you to go in there, acknowledge that loot boxes exist and basically require that you open them to progress.

  2. geelw says:

    As noted, SoW got singed pretty hard pre-release and post by some reviewers and fans for its lootboxing antics (and seemingly mandated pre-order this or you don’t get X shenanigans). But remember, it’s been out for a few months and gamers need something else to get pissed off about. EA is always an easy target for ire, but they really shot themselves in the foot here (as well as in a few of their other games where people have been griping about microtransactions).

    I knew this was going to happen as you can’t stop that faucet once the handle is turned and nope, turning the money grab off temporarily won’t help. Disney wants that ticket money for that new SW film and I’d bet you a penny that those microtransactions will slide back in if the film does well and enough months pass so those with short attention spans will buy in.

    • True, I remember the outrage after the in-game store reveal for Shadow of War. It’s interesting to think back on that and compare it to the current situation EA finds itself in.

      Unfortunately I also agree about the microtransactions eventually finding their way back in at some point, especially with the news that EA stock took a massive hit due to all this. Either way, it’s going to to be an interesting few months ahead for the game.

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