I guess you could call me a "hardliner" but to me it's less about kids. That is a fear, particularly since even avid gamer parents don't often know anything about what their kids get up to, but there's ways to guardrail that. I guess my main concern is that these mechanics can hack the brain of someone who has problems with addiction. As someone who has had to deal personally with gambling addiction in my family and specifically avoid gambling myself for this reason, I don't think it's unreasonable, infantilizing, or moral panicky to recognize that one can actually get addicted to these real-money random-chance mechanics. That's the main reason why every industrialized government regulates it, not because they simply want to play nanny to adults, but because the purveyors of gambling often exploit people with a serious addiction.
One of the arguments we often see in these cases is talking about "whales" who everyone assumes are rich dopes who don't mind throwing a ton of money at the screen for a virtual leopard-skin gun holster. In fact, I fear that many of these people aren't rich and can't actually afford to be so frivolous with their money. If you stop for a moment and consider that these people are addicts, then the conversation changes drastically. Of course the industry is terrified of studying it to find out if this is actually the case.
I'd like to say that, ideally, you could allow loot boxes under certain circumstances, but really I don't think you can even if the industry weren't the way it was. If you're offering digital goods, allow people to buy them directly. Loot boxes only have one logical goal: to get people to spend way more than they actually want to in order to acquire something they want in a game they like. And "we want to make marginally more money" is not a good enough excuse to mess with people's minds like that and straddle the line between allowing people to buy new content and exploiting addicts for profit.
Loot Boxes Are Bad for Publishers, Too
Judging by comments and social media interactions, everyone agrees that loot boxes are bad for gamers, but according to Shamus, they're even bad for the publishers pushing them.
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Hmmm you seem to be cought up in 'think about the kids sudo-argument' which at this point is more of the straw man or deflection tactics by publishers (player choice, diversity and representation being cried while all they intent to do is get more money...) than actual voice coming from community. Gamers are either children that obviously think that they don't need any damn protection or adults that understand to what a child can be exposed consuming the media or in general being on-line much more in depth than any other adult that isn't a gamer. So that part of your opinion is rather stale.
However the thesis is correct. Publishers are busy harming their own business right now.
The roots of it are numerous though. Starting with outdated law and lack of representation of gamers (gamers, not gaming industry workers) in politics (law makers) and mass media.
That led to few major issues with catastrophic consequences:
(1) Legislation never cought up with marketing schemes developed for virtual goods and services.
(2) Gamers got vilified by xenophobes who never understood nor cared why suddenly large portion of population would rather sit in front of computer and later on TV and console rather than do 'normal things'. Gamers were losers, geeks and basement dwellers (cool kids/bro's/normies take), than they were satanists, devil worshipers and mass murderers/shooters (religious figurehead and right-wing politicians take), than troglodytes sexists, racists, toxic haters and breeding ground for nazis (authoritarians and left-wing politicians take). All of it bollocks but it helped immensely politicians to care what happens to these customers and what sort of borderline criminal practices are used on them as much as they care about clients of drug dealers. All bad people. At least publishers pay taxes, right? (answer is 'wrong' but that's a whole different story).
(3) Initial industry run by enthusiast for enthusiast turned into wild west were no monetization practice, no marketing scheme is out of question. Where money flows in for 'nothing'. Where you can say that thin air costs $15 and there are actually customers to buy it. That attracted the worst sludge of financial and marketing CEOs. They took over. Kind of people that right now display their contempt to their own customers. Patronize them and take them for fools or outright lash back teeming with barely concealed hatred.
It took a politician from Hawaii, someone in power and absolutely out of reach and control of industry to make industry representant look like Timmy-forgot-to-wear-pants-to-school in 4-5 questions.
In short, gamers need better representation among people in power. Entertainment virtual goods and services need droves of regulations, leveling up playing field between providers and customers.
To start with:
(1) Ban on all skinner box mechanics in games and services without finite price tag on entry (ie. if there is shop, possibility to introduce direct of indirect payment for in game goods or services, use of such mechanics is illicit), extreme examples: FIFA fails to meet requirement, XC2 meets requirement despite having a GIANT skinner box/slot machine built into the game.
(2) Ban and severe punishment of ANY behavioral data collection and processing of clients beyond data needed for secure access and collection of fee.
(3) Classifying any game failing to meet (1) as gambling scheme and having it being regulated by respective gambling laws.
These would let publishers finance games via expansions and dlc sales ('cosmetics' included) but restrict gambling and especially marketing schemes that aim to 'monte-carlo' price tag of good or service in order to hide from customers actual price they have to pay up in the end.
As to F2P model? If it has on-line component and skinner box component it should be adults only product. Simply don't construct honey pots to lure in children and coerce them to get money somehow to 'look cool'/'do better' etc. Just sell product/service slap on a price tag and if it is good enough, parent will buy it for the child. If not your business will go down in flames with poor quality product you created.
Oh and your conclusion is spot on to. Although I would rephrase it to loot boxes not being a 'problem' but just being the most glaring symptom of problems that industry swelled up with. Removing them with hastily prepared legislation will not improve situation long term.
I enjoyed your write up! Probably hard to tell with amount of hectic things I had to add so I wanted to put it separately in final line. :)
Lootboxes are bad for developers because they have become addicted to use them. AAA games require lootbox funding to be made, as even if games sales are higher than ever, they no longer break even by sales revenue alone. Even worse, lootboxes haven't solved the problem of the ever growing black hole of AAA game budget; they just delayed the event horizon of AAA becoming inescapably unprofitable (and thus it's eventual collapse).
It'll be interesting to see the time ahead of us on this topic. Countries finally starting to make laws on the subject.
Though frankly, I personally consider in-app purchases on mobile and pad-games to be far worse, because they appear far more to children and non-gamers who aren't wise to these scams.
I fear that the current generation of kids who grow up on ipad games grow up to learn that if you run out of lives in a game you just throw a bit of mom's money at it and then you can keep playing. That's far worse
Your article reminds me of an old Jimquisition where Jim argues that a big problem in the gaming industry is that all of the executives are not gamers but instead usually come from other manufacturing industries and packaged goods.
What ends up happening is that in those industries customers tend to show a lot of brand loyalty and as a result everyone is kind of happy to just copy each other and compete in the same market spaces ie: Ford knows that they have a large base of consumers who will only buy their products so they need to have as many products in as many categories as possible so they need compacts, SUVs, pick-ups, sedans, vans, etc for those people even if there is nothing special or interesting about them. Jim's argument was that these CEOs come to the games industry and see huge successes such as Call of Duty, GTA, God of War, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, WoW, etc and decide that they need to have competitors in those markets without understanding that games are not cars.
The same logic can be applied here I feel. They see that one of their or a competitor's games are making a ton of money from micro-transactions and decide that micro-transactions can be forced into any game regardless of genre because to these people there is no difference between a game and a car. If diesels are suddenly popular in the car industry then you make a bunch of diesel models for all of your top sellers and you carry on with whatever CEOs do during the day. That doesn't work in the games industry because a game is not a car but the people in charge just don't understand that. The industry needs to look at employing actual actual gamers to run them instead of suits.
Sometimes, the "think of the children" argument is cover for wanting to make decisions for adults. We generally feel okay with taking "dangerous" things out of the hands of children, often with very little consideration, under the premise that we need to protect them because they "don't know better". Taking things out of the hands of adults- who may be able to legally drive, smoke, drink, vote, buy weapons, and do all manner of dangerous and foolhardy things with their alleged adult responsibility and accountability- gets much dicier. We want to believe that adults are capable of making responsible decisions; our systems of leadership depend on it. And we have a real and often entirely warranted distrust of other adults who would decide to make broad decisions that apply to all of us, especially when we've previously enjoyed the freedom of making those decisions for ourselves.
Fortunately, in the case of "loot boxes", it's largely the people that lootboxes are being "offered" to who want them to go away. There may be a few people out there who are genuinely in love with the mechanic, but the vast majority of opinions I've seen seem to detest their presence, the way they mutate the design of games that include them, and the fact that they often lock behind paywalls and grinding things that used to be offered up for free- in the form of "cheat codes", new game + modes, and so on. Certain companies that shall remain nameless love to wax rhapsodic about "player choice" and "giving people options as to how they play their games", but the arguments ring shallow and false.
It doesn't help the companies' case that they're so clearly exploitative. People thought it was ridiculous to pay real money for horse armor in Oblivion, sure... But even that had the "virtue" that the player knew how much they were spending and what they were getting for it. Loot boxes often serve up a fury of fireworks and sound effects just to announce that the player has again won the right to a class they never use, three pieces of armor they already have, and a graffiti tag... When they're just hoping to get, for the fourth or fifth time, the final piece of an outfit they've been trying with diminishing hope to earn for weeks.
(And if someone hasn't already rigged their loot box algorithm to string players along when they're clearly trying to obtain the final piece of a set or player of a team or what-have-you, I will be frankly astonished.)
Part of the problem, in some sense, is the business end of things. But not just in the tired old "companies exist to make money"-argument sense. It isn't enough to do something well and keep doing it well; businesses, especially those that are publicly traded, must grow- even when it would clearly much more sensible and achievable to aim for sustainability rather than explosive growth. With this comes the idea that having engaged in Tactic X which brought in $umpteen million, you can't just give it up. Go backwards? On purpose?! That's not how the game is played! One has to know that somewhere in the company there's a sizable segment that has already planned out the company's future on the basis that Tactic X will of course provide $umpteen million or more the next year, and the next, possibly for all of perpetuity... And they may well have already told their boards of directors as much.
Talk of gambling addiction aside, big, publicly-traded companies give up sizable income streams about as easily as a crashing narcotic addict gives up their drug of choice, and with many of the same effects. "Yes, I know it's bad for me! Yes, I know it will blow up everything I've been working for! Yes, I know I should never have gotten started in the first place! Now will you get out of the way so I can get my fix?!"
The most recent issue of Edge magazine started talking about expectations for the next generation (?!), and I just had to laugh. Right. Of course. The new hotness, with the attendant new learning curves, faster hardware, shinier chrome... And the attendant bloated budgets and twenty-minute production credits, every name a person who expects to be paid. I would love for us to get back to "You pay a price, you buy a game, the product is what it is the day you bought it, and no one expects to make any more off of it"- but I suspect we're headed in the wrong direction.
If we succeed in cutting off loot boxes (and I would certainly like to see it), I wonder what the consecutive thrashing and bleeding will look like. I wonder what will come out to replace it.
I wonder if it will be worse.
Take 2 have asked it's customers to come to their defense. But I suspect that the only people who do, will be company employees, and gambling addicts.
I've got to admit, I've always been a little surprised by how well lootboxes seem to work. When a game gets slowed down, I have a tendency to just stop playing. There's some level of grinding I'll accept out of RPGs or RPG-like games (Pok?mon is often claimed to not be a "true RPG" or whatever, I couldn't care less), but at the point a game becomes a chore, I stop. At the point the game is like "if you pay us, we'll stop making the game a chore," all I can think is "get out of here."
Thing is, I'm not even so much against the gambling. I mean, it is gambling in my mind and should be regulated as such, but that's never been the thing for me. They've made games less fun so tnhey can coax a few people to empty their pockets for a massive windfall, and that just seems like a bad way to do business. But I always figured it was something that wouldn't hold: part of what makes these games work is a large install base, and I figured that people would stop playing at the ree level when the grind gets too bad. But again, I guess this is why I'm not in marketing.
I'm not sure I agree with some of the premises to this article, anyway. I mean, I agree that sports games are different, but I'm not sure that justifies loading them up with monetisation. I'm not sure it's different in other games. I can see the argument for it being worse in story-driven games, but it depends on how we hash things. If you're charging for power hoping to spark a fiscal arms race, I'd say that's worse.
Oh, hey, I'm logged on for the first time in well over a year. (And it's my first forum post since 2015.) Sweet.
I'll just copy-paste my Facebook comment, though:
Yeah, personally I love Magic: The Gathering. That's a collectible/trading card game, so it's in the very fabric of its genre that I have to acquire the cards I want to play with somehow, be it through preconstructed decks, cracking booster packs (possibly as a part of draft/limited play), or buying/trading singles. I'm completely fine with this.
Of course the variety of ways you can acquire a Magic card helps. If the only way to get a card was through buying a booster pack that couldn't be used for anything besides being opened and its contents sorted into your collection, Magic would be a pretty frustrating game too.
Still, being able to purchase "box loot" from the auction house in Star Wars: The Old Republic didn't particularly detract from the frustration that came with the loot boxes and various other types of content and features gated behind "micro"-transactions. Regardless of what other ways there are to grind yourself around the payment of real money, there's no getting around the fact that you'll be having less fun because the game needs to motivate/incentivize you to pay up.
The game needs to disrupt your enjoyment of it in some way so you'll think that it'll be better if you just cough up some dough. Even if you have the alternative to basically turn the game into a second job so you can trade your free time for in-game currency, the game utterly fails at delivering what you paid for to begin with unless you have the willingness and means to keep paying.
So, yeah, I've got issues with loot boxes in particular, but also with microtransactions in general. Very few games I've played have had microtransactions that didn't leave me feeling that I was either overpaying for something that should have just been available as part of the base price, or that they're just gating off the best parts of the experience unless I throw some cash at them every couple of minutes.
I could go on. But I shouldn't. So...