Lootboxes are killing gaming for everybody (Rant)
Free-to-play games are starting to become scary
Remember the days when you would purchase a video game, be it single-player or multiplayer and you would get the whole game? I do too, but they seem like days long gone and never to return in the future.
I as a naive gamer who was just entering into adult life believed that I’d buy every game that would ever come out simply wasn’t the case. The games were a bit too expensive for me coming from a non-USD-using country, which meant that I would choose my next game very carefully.
Go back about 7 years ago and I discover this thing called free games, which immediately triggered my naive mind that “yay, free fun!”. I was soon to find out that was indeed not the case as well. You see, when a video game is free, it requires some kind of additional income that would support all of the developers, designers and other people working on upgrading it and making it available for everybody.
There are many games that manage to do so exactly, and others not so much. I’ll try to bring in a couple of examples so that we can get a better scope of the whole problem.
The good case: League of Legends
League of Legends was probably the game that introduced most of the modern generation gamers to free games. It was either League of Legends or Dota, but nevertheless, the MOBA genre was usually the culprit.
The game itself seemed amazing. It was mostly skill-based and didn’t require anything from the players as a payment to get that boost.
The only advantage a player would receive from paying real money to the company was maybe getting a boost in experience gain. This would allow them to level up faster and thus take part in professional games quicker.
Even still, this was not considered as an advantage of tipping the game overall. The real money was being spent on things like character skins, which would only change the appearance of the characters rather give them some unfair advantages.
Riot Games managed to become a multi-million dollar company thanks to just these skins and nothing else.
It was and still is in some sense one of the best examples of micro-transactions and loot boxes. Even though it weren’t loot boxes in the past, but direct purchases, the current system switching to loot boxes is completely fine as well, as long as it’s refrained from underage people.
The bad case: Counters Strike Global Offensive
Counter-Strike always used to be the go-to eSports in the past, and nobody ever considered it to become a part of so much controversy in the world. You see, Valve was seeing that the game was starting to gain some traction all over the world, now that competitive matches started to play out in the world.
They knew that millions of new players would be added to the platform, and therefore decided to implement a feature which would guarantee some serious income for the company. Don’t get me wrong, the idea behind the implementation was good, Valve wanted to introduce something similar to League of Legends and succeeded at that, but the real issue was when these weapon skins were directly paired with the Steam market.
You see, players would have the ability to open loot boxes with keys they’d buy from Valve, and depending on what skin they got, use it or sell it. Basically, it was people sitting in front of a screen, spending hundreds of dollars on keys and loot boxes, and then watching as the reel would spin.
Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Yes! It was and still is just like a casino. Millions of underage kids were exposed to pretty much a casino. Instead of aiming for getting skins as a fun way to spice up their gameplay, people were looking for skins to profit off of. Unfortunately, though, it gets worse.
People were mostly ignoring the fact that people could sell the skins on the marketplace. In fact, it was considered as something quite natural for those who were doing it, and only a few people highlighted that it was pretty much like gambling.
The authorities didn’t start paying attention to the whole skin-selling industry until websites started popping offering skin lotteries. The process was extremely simple. A person would register on the website with their Steam account, after which the website would tap into Valve’s Steam API and display all of the available skins to bid.
The room would be filled with around 12 people, all of whom would have to bid a skin worth a specific price indicated before entering. The wheel would then spin, and whoever’s skin it was where it would stop, would win the whole thing.
There is footage of streamers sometimes losing thousands of dollars on these spinning wheels, while the websites themselves made millions in the process.
Thankfully though, it was short-lived as the UK Gambling Commission tried to classify it as actual gambling, thus refraining underage people from the platforms. But now, things are still getting out of hand with companies like EA.
Trying to justify loot boxes
One major event that happened quite recently was when representatives from Electronic Arts were required to testify in front of congress about the blatant use of loot boxes in their games. Almost everybody in attendance was positive that loot boxes represent a terribly hidden gambling habit beneath, but EA had the audacity to try and change the name to “surprise mechanics”.
This was an obvious diversion from the name loot boxes as it was starting to become a buzz word. By classifying their own loot boxes as surprise mechanics, there was an actual chance of decreasing public backlash.
Thankfully though, most gamers are smart people and saw through EA’s scheme. To this day, the company is considered as the most hated among the gaming community.
Solving loot boxes
Many experts have said that the only salvation that loot boxes could have is to be removed completely. However, there were others who talked about introducing an independent in-game economy to support the players who still enjoyed the feature and didn’t abuse it.
Some say that the blockchain technology could help here, as it could allow game developers to give players the opportunity to generate income from playing the game. These coins would receive some artificial value so that players can use them for the boxes. Naturally, it would require confirmation of legal age as well.
Although this seems like a compromise for both the large corporations as well as the players themselves, the majority of gamers still support the complete removal of loot boxes out of the system. I can’t help but agree as well.