A bold new era is upon us: where games can both come with a shelf price AND have almost required in-game purchases. Eh… what can you do?
If you follow any gaming news (or visit Reddit) then you probably saw the overwhelmingly negative feedback against EA/Dice for Star Wars: Battlefront II‘s lootbox system. While many gamers were cynical about SW:BF2’s release, I don’t think anyone foresaw just how badly the publishers would shoot themselves in the foot over this one. When a user on r/StarwarsBattlefront asked about the calculated time for unlocks, EA responded saying that the time to unlock was to give players a “sense of pride and accomplishment. Most readers, myself included, saw this as a copout for what obviously seemed to be a built in push towards buying the game’s loot boxes. This netted that EA rep with the most highly downvoted comment in Reddit’s history, exponentially more than when another game developer (an employee for Riot Games’ League of Legends) stated that he wouldn’t mind if a controversial streamer died of a coke overdose or testicular cancer. Damn.
But downvotes are one thing. How did the bastion of enraged gamers treat this decision? Probably not harshly enough. Number-crunchers show the company took, at most, a 2.7% hit to their value, which they can bounce from with whatever their next move is.
SW:BF2 still looks like a great game, and if you’re a fan of the universe or the first one, that’s asking a lot to stay away from it. This isn’t the first time that there’s been a huge public outcry against a developer/publisher practice and a battle cry to boycott the game. Search for “Steam Boycott” and you can see any number of user communities calling for a boycott for one reason or another, each with users in the group buying the game.
I know a few friends who were upset about EA’s response (and Dice’s corresponding AMA afterwards), but most of them still bought the game. And it sounds like they’re enjoying it. Heck, Grantzy here got the early access and I honestly can’t wait to play it with him. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yeah, kinda.
In my Top 10 Favorites list, I mentioned that I loved Shadow of Mordor, but would refrain from buying Shadow of War because of the scuzzy lootbox practices. In that game, you can grind out powerful orcs and gear, or you can just buy it. I figured the whole point of the game was to fight the captains and let them best you or exploit their weaknesses to obtain the gear or army you wanted, meaning that loot boxes would take away from the game. But I found myself buying a pack when they were on sale and it made some encounters significantly easier. Did it feel a little skeezy? Sure did. Call me Ratbag. And I don’t plan to do it again, but I didn’t plan to do it in the first place.
Battlerite caught me on sale, too. Same with Overwatch and League of Legends. And I’m a guy with a decent amount of self control, but I’m also a guy with some small disposable income, and these companies know how to advertise. Furthermore, I don’t feel bad about buying cosmetic items; there’s nothing scummy about looking cooler than your opponent for a few bucks. Plus, that stuff is addictive. The lights, the sounds… it’s a casino, and devs probably paid top dollar for psychologists to figure out how to get you addicted. Don’t believe me? Search YouTube for ‘loot box open‘ and look at the millions upon millions of views on these videos.
None of these guys committed the cardinal sin of letting you buy power with money, though. In the past, that was reserved for anything by Nexon, but more and more we’re seeing companies push the envelope, chasing those whales who account for more recurring sales than giving a one time shelf price. EA tried it here, and now we’re seeing Hi-Rez do the same thing with Paladins, the free-to-play Overwatch game. Most fans are in an uproar, but I imagine the pencil-pushers ran the numbers and figure it’s the best bet at this point.
Still, this is the first time the internet’s gotten mad enough about one of these constantly encroaching practices that some governing bodies began to take a look at the loot box practice as gambling. It’s a good start, and it got some immediate change. EA may have been scared enough to swear off the loot box scumbaggery in Battlefront II for now, but they’ll be back, and in greater numbers.