24

A Handy Chart

October 13, 2017 by Tim

Happy Friday the 13th! Last day to snag one of the posters from our store. Orders close at 11:59pm ET.

So, loot boxes, huh? You can’t turn around at the moment without seeing a game with loot boxes. It’s a bit of a hot button issue, and there’s no way I was going to capture the full spectrum of opinions regarding their use in a single comic, but I do want to share my perspective on them.

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First, I think we can all acknowledge that the mere concept of paid loot boxes gets our hackles up. Why is that? Well, the most obvious reason is that in their very worst implementation, it means someone can shell out a ton of cash to become, essentially, unbeatable. They can acquire power that makes a contest of skill irrelevant. They are paying to win, and that sucks because it makes you feel like you have to shell out cash just to play on the same level.

Which leads to the second reason we hate them: it makes us feel like we’re being milked. Like the developer sees us as easy marks, and that by putting shiny objects behind additional paywalls for a game we enjoy, eventually peer pressure will win out, we’ll cave, and hand over some money. And nobody likes to feel like they’re just a wallet to be drained.

So that is the worst case scenario with loot boxes, and while there are games out there that go full on bullshit like that, it should also be acknowledged that there are loot box systems at every step in-between the two extremes.

Video games are becoming more and more expensive to produce. Increasing the price of a game to $70 or $80 is likely a non-starter, and so developers and publishers look for other ways to bring in revenue, and that’s spurred the idea of gaming as a service. In that, rather than buying a game and that’s it, a game can be an ongoing service that continues to bring in revenue after the initial purchase. DLC, subscriptions, loot boxes, etc.

I understand the appeal of the model, and I do not fundamentally disagree with it. I do believe that loot boxes are a viable approach to revenue in a lot of games, and that they can be executed in a way that doesn’t necessarily harm the experience. But, because they can go so wrong, and because there is such a stigma surrounding them, the messaging of their implementation is just as important as their balance.

A couple of big titles this month have introduced loot boxes, and they’ve generated a lot of negative attention: Shadow of War and Battlefront 2.

Shadow of War lets you use real money to buy crates that include all manner of power ups, including orcs to use in your army. When it was announced, it sounded terrible, it sounded like straight up pay to win, especially since there’s a whole end-game that revolves around raiding other players’ keeps and defending your own.

In practice, however, I have not felt the slightest bit compelled to spend money on crates. I didn’t intend to regardless, but the crates I have opened (the game does allow you to earn currency) didn’t really impress upon me a need to buy them, as I’ve not once run short of orcs for my army. And recruiting new orcs doesn’t seem all that difficult. In fact, I’ve felt the orcs I personally recruited were always a better choice than the random ones from the crates.

So it seems to me like the option exists, as an alternative for those so inclined, who perhaps maybe want to save themselves a few minutes if their recruits are getting low, but at no point did I feel handicapped as the result of not buying crates.

That brings me to Battlefront 2. During the course of the beta, you could not buy boxes with cash, though it seems pretty apparent you will be able to at launch. However I did see some signs of a system that could prove incredibly problematic if not tweaked in the next month.

I ran across many people that played the beta quite a bit more than I did, and so they had far more unlocked perks and gear than me. Some of the time they killed me, and some of the time I killed them. In general, I didn’t feel useless just because I had an empty slot or two on a particular class.

But there were some abilities that just felt, to me, like they were not particularly balanced. A star card that reduced Boba Fett’s damage taken by 100% wile he was firing rockets. Massively increased rates of fire, or 50% more health in some cases.

These were abilities that felt like they significantly impacted a player’s performance (as exemplified by certain players running the table during post game MVP awards). Now this is, at its core, not so much of a game balance issue if these perks and abilities were tied to rank. If someone had played for fifty hours, you’d expect them to be more powerful than someone who had played for five.

But once you combine these abilities with the possibility of acquiring them on day one just by dropping a ton of cash, it drastically skews the playing field in a way that most players don’t find particularly fun. This is not, I think, a problem that lies solely at the feet of the loot box business model. In other words, it’s not the loot box system alone that is causing the problem, but rather the loot box system in conjunction with the game’s progression system that illustrated why achieving a balance between the two is so very important.

I feel like most gamers are fine with loot boxes that contain cosmetic items, and even accept loot boxes that maybe offer a bit of a time saver, but whose contents can be acquired via other gameplay means as well.

But if your loot boxes grant immediate, overwhelming shifts to power dynamics, or if their inclusion gives the impression that the game was designed around the expectation of their purchase (ie, attempting to remove your choice in the matter), then I think the system is doing more harm than good, and short term gains may translate to long term losses as these developers lose consumer confidence.

Again, I can live with loot boxes. I’m typically of the opinion that even if I did drop a ton of cash to acquire a bunch of gear, I still wouldn’t be #1 in the world, so I don’t tend to feel a great deal of pressure to buy boxes I don’t want to. If they’re going to be a part of our games, though, then greater attention needs to be paid to walking the fine line between optional bonus or ongoing tax. And if you can’t achieve that balance, err on the side of benign.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter in the comments below.

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Enclave
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Enclave

I just refuse to support full priced games that have loot boxes at all. I cannot abide the practice being normalised. We’ve seen time and again that when you give this industry an inch they take a mile.

If this means that one day I’ll simply not be able to play the newest releases? So be it.

I’ll just relegate myself to buying games once they’re in the bargain bin for $10 or less. This is coming from somebody who typically pre-orders games and spends hundreds and sometimes over a thousand in a year on games.

MightyThor34
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MightyThor34

I get where you are coming from here, but there is a fundamental issue, if game development costs are increasing and the revenue is required, the choices are: not make certain types of games, increase the base cost of games, or different models. I understand where Tim is coming from here that I get the reason why these boxes are there and I am not against them “as a rule” only in how you use them. No matter what if the cost is going to go up for these products there are going to be losses in supply/demand. Some people… Read more »

R0n1n
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R0n1n

But they’ve already essentially increased the base cost of games. A number of AAA come with season passes being sold prior to release. As with MvC and what many suspect of the first version of Destiny all this does is unlock what’s already in the base game but was held for later.
So games are essentially $80-90 now unless you want to be stuck with an incomplete story or lack access to whatever shiny skin they’re adding to the PVP and calling new content.
Loot boxes are just their next micro-transaction step.

Eldest Gruff
Member
Eldest Gruff

This is just me personally, but I don’t want developers to spend so much on making a game for me that it costs 80-90 dollars. Game development is jumping up almost exponentially with each generation. What once took under $1M to make in PS1 gen then took 5-8 mil in PS2 gen, then $30 mil in PS3. I don’t need any of that. I’d much rather play a game with GameCube-level graphics than be nickel-and-dimed to death, or live with having the best content of a game blocked behind a second paywall. I know they haven’t been perfect on this,… Read more »

Sigfried
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Sigfried

I dunno. It feels that Nintendo is taking the wrong lessons lately.
Fire Emblem Fates was a incomplete narrative that forced the player to pay more to get a full story.
And now Pokemon Ultra Sun and Utra Moon makes the game they sold last year was incomplete.
Altough, those seem to be outliers, exceptions, for now, and let’s hope that’s what they are.

But I agree, I also don’t need super realistic beautifull graphics on precedural open worlds to have fun. I just want fun times with fun games.

nolootboxesplease
Guest
nolootboxesplease

Personally I think Nintendo’s been pretty awful this year for paid DLC. Breath of the Wild’s season pass has a lot of garbage in it. First off, they’re charging you extra for a harder difficulty mode, which is something that never sits well with me, especially since harder modes were included for free with several previous Zelda games. Second, the hero’s path thing that shows you where you’ve been and where you died was tracking you since launch day in March, which means it was in the game the whole time and this is on-disc DLC. I still hate on-disc… Read more »

Eldest Gruff
Member
Eldest Gruff

OK, wow. Lotta hate here. I just want to say, Breath of the Wild was probably the best game that I’ve played in the last ten years, with the possible exception of Oblivion and Skyrim. With the amount of content in each of these games, they’re the one exception in which I’d say that I would -gladly- pay 80 dollars for what comes in the package. And heck, at launch, a lot of people paid $360 for Breath of the Wild. Second – your argument about $20 for the hard mode is invalid. It’s $20 for the extra difficulty mode,… Read more »

Hamstermer
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Hamstermer

Amiiboo isn’t an attempt at making a Skylanders moneygrab, it is a neat little bosst for those who get the figures. The consumerism instilled by the capitalist society known as the world is what causes the impression that it is like DLC. Really, the Smash Bros is just a better training partner (Can YOU beat the Lucario with EVERY bonus power?), and most of the others are boosts but not game breaking. If they make pokemon exclusive ones where you can’t TRULY 100% the game without it…then heads may roll.

Samus
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Samus

The game development industries value has more than tripled (if I remember correctly) since the introduction of lootboxes. It doesn’t sound like they’re hurting to me.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with loot boxes as an in-game reward as long as it’s cosmetic with no performance benefit.

Developers who do freemium game and/or put micro-transactions in a paid title need to die a lingering, painful death in the most gruesome way possible.

Luthuana
Guest
Luthuana

That’s what I love about Path of Exile. Any purchasable perk is strictly cosmetic. Nothing you buy, no matter how much you spend, will OP your character. You could argue that the added stash slots give an advantage, but the starting number has been more than sufficient for me over the last couple years of playing.

Gale
Guest
Gale

I think even cosmetic stuff can be bad, quite often when playing a game I want my character to express something and/or just look cool. Especially in games you play the same character a lot like overwatch cosmetic lootboxes can be addictive and bad enough.

Diamond655
Guest
Diamond655

I think the idea there is, cosmetics don’t affect actual gameplay. Like, at all. Maybe you like the cosmetics and want to get them, if so, go ahead, but don’t act like you *have* to get them.

Skull the Troll
Guest
Skull the Troll

They do affect gameplay when you can sell the items on steam. Look at PUBG. There are people cheating in that game because they want the points that lets them get the box that has the Camo Hotpants that sell on steam for $130 bucks. Though to be fair it could be said in PUBG the problem is less the loot bax and more the fact that you can sell items on the steam marketplace.

MacLeod
Guest
MacLeod

The entire problem with Loot boxes in Overwatch is I can’t JUST go and buy the stupidly priced item I want because there is no good way to get gold in it. So if you WANT that item, you eitehr need to pray to the gods you get a box that has it, or throw money at it till the gods of RNG decide the skins you want are yours.

I’d have no problem with it if the game just let you out right buy skins for money. 3 bucks for a skin or something.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Overwatch’s lootbox system is pretty good.

Skins that give no benefit apart from looks and an in-game currency from playing that gives you the ability to buy the ones you want,

If you really want to spend money on the lootboxes, there’s the option to do so, but there’s no one forcing you to.

I hate micro-transactions with a passion since they’re not so “micro” and that the things you can buy with them are so damned over priced at $5-$20 each.

Android micro-transactions range from about $5 to $150, and spending $150 on an android game is just plain fucked up

SWM
Guest
SWM

If you ask me, the best way to have loot boxes is not to have loot boxes. They’re just turning the game into a tedious grind. Probably because the developers have to design parts of their game to make sure that the loot boxes are noticed and that they’re always in a nagging part of the player’s brain.

nolootboxesplease
Guest
nolootboxesplease

??

Hamstermer
Guest
Hamstermer

How about a loot box which gives you no lootboxes?

PALADiN
Guest
PALADiN

The other problem that people have pointed out is that loot boxes are using the exact same trickt to get you to part with your money as gambling machines which can be problematic for people with addictive tendencies.

The ESRB don’t consider loot boxes to be gambling but that was to be expected since they’re funded by the very same publishers that use these loot box systems.

Hamstermer
Guest
Hamstermer

Ah, hats.
A calling card of a simpler time

mandoschMUh
Guest
mandoschMUh

I agree up to 100% with you, Tim 🙂

Man of the West
Guest
Man of the West

EA is at it again. I’ll still get this game. How could I not enjoy the most realistic star wars experience yet?
But, oh man is it a turn off!

Andrex
Guest
Andrex

I don’t think the argument that games can’t raise their price above $60 really holds any water since that’s exactly what’s been done with all of the different tiers you can buy of practically every big-name game. If you want what’s considered the full experience of the game, you usually have to shell out $80 or so to get the whole package.

And I agree with SWM about loot boxes making games a grind. You’re basically paying to not have to play the game as much as you would without them.

Sean H
Guest
Sean H

Other than the obvious aversion to pay to win, my only real complaint is the lack of transparency. If that Dr. Junkenstein skin is only a 1% drop well maybe I don’t buy those 10 loot boxes. I want to know the probability’s of the drops so I can judge for myself if I want to invest or simply try to earn any loot boxes I can. This would make it more transparent and for the whales who drop tons of money on boxes give them a thrill knowing they got that item with a 0.05% drop rate.

MightyThor34
Guest
MightyThor34

This is my fundamental issue with this model too. I don’t buy random items, same thing in “F2P” games. I have no problem with the overall model, but I want clear and concise rules to what is being purchased.

Jay
Guest
Jay

I don’t think loot boxes are inherently bad, but playing the Battlefront 2 beta, I definitely felt that the system could make for some insane inbalance between people who drop a lot of money or play for a long time and those that have nothing. It seems like it’d be very difficult for people to just jump in if every enemy they face is powered up as much as the star cards in Battlefront 2 allow. There is also something of a huge stigma that people will just stop dead in their tracks to perpetuate. If the word “Loot box”… Read more »

MightyThor34
Guest
MightyThor34

I don’t disagree with your sentiment, except that it is 100% okay for there to still be a bevy of bad reviews focused solely around loot boxes. If instead of doing loot boxes SoW said hey our base game is going to cost $95 instead of $60 and our collectors addition with “10 free orcs” cost $120. There would be bad reviews about the cost vs. reward and good reviews saying it was “still worth the cost”. That’s fine. It is 100% fine to dislike a game because of loot boxes “good or bad” and 100% fine to be okay… Read more »

Eldest Gruff
Member
Eldest Gruff

Completely agree. If loot boxes break a game, or make it less enjoyable to play a game, it should therefore be downgraded. I agree that it is possible to play a game with premium currency or randomized boxes and still enjoy it a great deal. It’s just that I haven’t personally, and generally feel cheated if I spent full price on a game and only get half the content.

There's no escape
Guest
There's no escape

You ARE aware that 100$ for a game with no microtransaction, WITH inflation, is drastically overpriced? I’m used to games where the cost is like 50 or even 60 when it comes out, then (if it is a nondigital game) I wait a little bit for the dust to settle and the price to go down a few bucks. But even if I was grabbing games off the shelf the minute they come out, 100$ is nearly ludicrous.

Trapsin
Guest
Trapsin

The devil is in the detail, it all comes down to implementation. You can have a healthy game with loot boxes, but they are few and far between.

Llama3013
Guest
Llama3013

I like the idea of cosmetic loot boxes because I don’t ever feel the need to buy them. With Steam marketplace I can usually sell cosmetic items when I play so most of the time gain some of my money that I spent on the game back.

Deimos
Guest
Deimos

Over $100 for the full game and then you have to pay to win? Yeah, fuck EA with a rusty driveshaft.

B-ran
Guest
B-ran

I think the best way to go about receiving gear and perks in loot boxes is to tie what rewards you can get depending on what your ranking is. The higher the rank the better rewards. You want to have an epic character with high powered perks? Earn them by ranking up.

Destiny’s bright engrams are in a great place.. Purely cosmetic and if you don’t like it, dismantle it for a bright dust to buy specific stuff you DO want.

Revlis
Guest
Revlis

that would be alrightish if the stuff being sold for the bright dust was:
A) not random each week
and
B) a sparrow breaks down into 100 dust but costs >1000 I think the last one was 2500 dust

Nick
Guest
Nick

I have no problem with the completely cosmetic loot boxes. Smite is the only game I play that has them, and I’ve never felt compelled to buy them. In Smite, some skins are loot box exclusives, while others are straight purchases. There are a few loot box exclusive skins that look great, but in most cases there are other skins available for that character that can be just as enjoyable.

Dan
Guest
Dan

In Canada, over the past 5 years we saw the price of new titles go from $60, to $70, and now we’re at $80 for a new title, before any kind of special editions and DLC packs, and whatnot. Now, that’s mostly just taking into account the conversion from USD to CAD, or at least so we were told

Revlis
Guest
Revlis

in the UK we sometimes get shafted with prices for DLC, $19.99 in the US and £19.99 in the UK meaning we have to pay $6.56 more for…. reasons?

Luthuana
Guest
Luthuana

They’re hoping no one realizes that it’s not an even exchange rate.

Vincent Price
Guest
Vincent Price

There’s always going to be down sides to games, and it’s not always going to be the same downside. I’m by no means telling people to make peace with it, because at the same time and for my own reasons, I both do and don’t have a dog in this fight. I think loot systems for MOSTLY cosmetic items would be a welcome thing, instead of for weapons with stupid tagged on modifiers like in Infinite Warfare. But I’m with Tim. I’ll play to improve my abilities, and know that even with the best possible gear, I don’t have the… Read more »

Mac
Guest
Mac

I’m of the mindset that cosmetic stuff is relatively harmless, and using that as a primary means for loot boxes or in-game purchasing is relatively fine. Star Wars: The Old Republic did it pretty well with gear sets in their Cartel boxes – none of it gave any kind of advantage to the player, it was strictly cosmetic, and gear of similar quality could be found easily enough (unless you were a free-to-play player, then you just kinda had to settle for what you got). I paid for some boxes for my Trooper when I still played to make him… Read more »

Kaian
Guest
Kaian

Honestly I think if they want to do a loot box system justice they should also have an in game player market as well. Someone may not want the cowboy hat for their character but could use more in game currency. Selling it lets someone else that wants that particular item but either does not have the funds or luck to get it acquire it themselves. Boxes still opened and prizes claimed. People willing to grind for money can still get stuff and more people win. Healthier dynamic.

Allen
Guest
Allen

Allowing people to buy what they want is always better than giving allowing people to buy a random chance at what they want. Loot boxes will always be a terrible experience, no matter what they contain.

Zemerick
Guest
Zemerick

Things are even worse than you describe in the writeup, matching the comic even more. If you look through all of the possible cards so far, you will often find things that synergize well. One example I wrote down, was on the Bomber, you can get increased health AND defensive ability AND ability cooldown ( including the defensive ability. ) As mentioned, they are incredibly powerful too by the max rank. +40% health, +100% defensive ability. ( I didn’t write down the ability cooldown numbers, but it was quite a lot. I used it on my heavy, and it was… Read more »

Zemerick
Guest
Zemerick

I forgot another compounding issue, illustrated by the last panel: Because Richie Rich will have such an advantage, he will find it far easier to earn Battle Points. This means he will be able to bring out the big guns that much sooner…and they too will be that much more powerful. Darth Maul wrecked shop with 0 star cards…imagine what he would do fully decked out in tier 4s? You would need a full team of skilled people on voice chat to stop that juggernaut, but only after losing quite a few:(

Rick
Guest
Rick

I liked Tim’s line about finding a balance. Minor advantages that don’t drastically skew the playing field are fine, same with cosmetics. You can’t really tell any business not to try and make more money if it’s easy and voluntary for the consumer can you? Wouldn’t you add a loot box option to your own game if it meant increased revenue? I probably would. I would be careful it wasn’t a flat out cheat however. If having loot boxes results in revenue that is actually put back toward keeping game costs lower, then I don’t have a problem with them… Read more »

DannyboyO1
Guest
DannyboyO1

Got burned on mere season passes in the last couple years. And NMS… I waited for the damn thing to have reviews, to see people playing it before I pre-ordered. And it… well. So… not touching the current lineup until there’s a “game of the year later” edition. What do I care? I’ve got a thousand hours ahead of me on my steam backlog. By the time I might actually need to purchase anything new, it’ll be $5 in a humble bundle and I’ll be able to afford a computer twice as fast. And someone’ll have probably cracked the code… Read more »

Bsripe
Guest
Bsripe

EA posted an update on their website specifying that you can’t use certain powerups if you aren’t high enough level and you level up through gameplay, so people won’t be dumping $100 on day 1 and getting insanely OP – they have to play a significant amount to be able to use the most powerful stuff they achieve. Also, the most most powerful items will only be available through gameplay, not paying.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

One of my big peeves with loot box concepts ( and most micros-transaction based games ) is that it essentially creates a system where some players pay for more of the game than others. Unfortunately I suspect that many of these players who end up paying more are the ones who have less to spend to begin with ( general lottery ticket logic ).

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

It’s uncanny how alike you and I think, Tim. Pay to win or, more disturbingly (and common these days), play to be even remotely playable is just awful. It’s why the LotRO and SWTOR player bases are so small these days. With shooters it’s just plain unnecessary. It worked for TF2 because the item drops are absolutely absurd and very unobtrusive. EA has become so cartoonishly evil since the turn of the century that any attempt to call this anything but what it is is so painfully transparent. Unfortunately their player base is built in by this point that it’s… Read more »

nolootboxesplease
Guest
nolootboxesplease

Did you finish Shadow of War? Because the big wall of “grind or buy loot boxes” is supposedly at the end of the game. Chapter 4 I think. Remember, it was so bad that even big name review sites that usually kiss the publisher’s rear end wrote about how bad it was in their reviews. Everyone keeps giving these hot takes of how they’ve been playing and don’t feel any need to buy loot boxes, but they all either admit to not being far in the game or don’t say how far they got. That doesn’t help. The allegations are… Read more »

Kasaix
Guest
Kasaix

I hate pay to win in general. Loot boxes are fine, and should offer a choice between earning in-game cash or using real-world cash, and should contain only cosmetic or minor power-ups. I feel things like DLC has also become a bit too expensive. There’s years old games out there with $2 – $3 costumes. Costumes in general should be maybe $1, weapons maybe $1.50 or $2 if they confer some ability, and so forth.

Blackmist5874
Guest
Blackmist5874

Today is my B-Day!!!???

Goshii
Guest
Goshii

Are you Jason Voorhees?

Happy Birthday!

drex
Guest
drex

put the players who bought the loot boxes in a different matchmaking server and the ones who refuse to purchase anything but still play the game in another. then the cash mongers can fight each other and the regular gamers can level up against each other.

Liam Rogers
Guest
Liam Rogers

I have a question. I might have a tiny chance of getting a Xbox and I want to get an opinion on what games to get. My price budget for starting games is about $20 and here are my 3 candidates: Cuphead, Rocket leage or star wars battlefront (the first one). Those are the type of games I like to play. Tell me if there are any others in that area. And I plan on getting Xbox live.

Somewhere
Guest
Somewhere

Get a 3DS or Any of the Wii line and get Smash Bros

Ian
Guest
Ian

Updates on Battlefront’s loot system are mentioned in the post-beta news article on their site: https://www.ea.com/games/starwars/battlefront/battlefront-2/news/thank-you-beta.

Adam
Guest
Adam

2019, still sharing this one because it so beautifully captures this problem that’s still very relevant.