The days of buying a video game from a store are mostly long gone. Also gone are the days of spending $80 on it and that being the only time you have to pay for the game. Over the last few years pre-orders, season passes and DLC have all slowly added to the price of a game. But now there is an even more controversial way for publishers to increase the cost of games without changing the initial price tag. And that new way is – loot boxes. They aren’t a new concept, but the way they have evolved in the last few months that could be the end of traditional video games as we know it.
Loot boxes are a very simple concept. For a small fee, you pay for a random collection of three of four minor in-game items. Some boxes will indicate the types of items in the box, but you never know what they will contain until you open them. It’s kind of like buying a package of trading cards or stickers. Do kids still do that? Loot boxes have caused relatively little concern until last year’s Overwatch being praised for its implementation of the idea.
Loot boxes in Overwatch only ever contain cosmetic extras such as new character skins or animations. Lots of people still pay for them, even though they give no in-game advantage. Blizzard was able to fund free DLC for everyone in the form of a steady stream of new maps and characters. The whole idea of this does sound beneficial to everyone. But the problem is that you don’t know what is in each box, and that is basically gambling. Once you’ve paid your money, you have absolutely no guarantee of what you’re going to get. And that can be a problem for those who are easily addicted.
If all loot boxes worked the same way as Overwatch, they would be far less controversial. But that’s, not the case. Nor is that the worst part of this. The idea of loot boxes gives people who can pay an advantage over those who can’t. It then becomes advantageous for companies to design their games so that they’re harder. Or at least more frustrating unless you shell out some cash. I doubt anyone is going to admit to this. And this threatens to destroy the whole concept of balanced gameplay, where it’s not being designed for maximum entertainment buy for maximum monetization.
The people in charge of these companies aren’t gamers, they’re business executives who are only concerned about making profits. And they don’t necessarily care how these profits are made. Because people have been buying loot boxes, they are still a thing. In fact, they are the foundation of many smartphone games (can you say in-app purchase?). A recent report revealed that since “games of service” have become popular, the value of these games has tripled. Tripled! Gamers are more resistant than ever to pay full price for a game, but on average they end up spending more on each game thanks to these types of transactions within the game. And the only people who win are the companies who own the games. But you can stop this, by not purchasing loot boxes.