Massively Overthinking: How should MMOs make money in a world without lockboxes?

Earlier this week, MOP’s Justin expressed frustration over lockboxes, feeling especially provoked. “As both a player and a journalist, I find it insulting when an MMO studio wants me to get excited about its lockboxes,” he tweeted. “They are poison.”

MOP reader and gamer Iain (@ossianos) wants to hear more about poison! “I’d be interested to read an article on your thoughts, and those of the MassivelyOP staff, on how MMOs could otherwise make money,” he tweeted back.

Challenge accepted! And perfectly timed for this week’s Massively Overthinking topic. Imagine (or just remember) a world without lockboxes. How would MMOs and other online games survive without lockboxes here in 2017? What should they be doing instead, and what might they have to do when the inevitable gachapon regulation comes westward?

Everything comes around again.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I think you can make lockboxes work, but it’s hard. I think Blizzard’s starting to figure it out. Skins, instanced housing, non-combat pets, and story-based DLC seem like fair game. It’s not an MMO, but look at Overwatch. It adds new characters, maps, gameplay options, and there’s no subscription.

But let’s say we scrap boxes entirely. Skins, instanced housing, and DLC are still pretty good. Guild advertising space in game might be interesting, as the high-end raiding guilds could still make a name for themselves through established communities and progression, but people wanting to start something new could boost themselves with a little cash instead of elbow grease. I’m not saying guild perks or something social should involve a paywall, just have the game selling space to advertise. The same could go for PvP ladder teams, raid groups, or alliances.

These may not make the same kind of cash as lockboxes, but they’d bring more goodwill. Again noting Overwatch, one of the things it really has going for it is personality. If developers actually make a good game before monetizing, it makes it easier for people to appreciate the game, and that makes moving merchandise easier. What’s great about merch is that it also works as advertising, which helps give you more customers.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I am of a mind that if the only way a studio can imagine to convince people to give it money is by tricking the dumbest, laziest, or richest among us with lockboxes designed to exploit their desires and math-incompetence by granting mere chances at digital loot in a video game, then it doesn’t deserve to exist anyway, both because its purveyors are awful and because it must not be that great a game to start with.

I get that the market has squeezed every penny it can out of subscriptions and free-to-play and microtransactions and early access and moved on to triple- and quadruple-dipping and now actual literal gambling, and it will keep doing these things until it’s forced to stop, either by your refusing to participate or your government’s intervention. Maybe I’d forgive lockboxes as a necessary evil if they were keeping great games online or creating great new MMORPGs for all of us. But they aren’t. They’re just padding the pockets of mega-corporations, from Blizzard and Bethsoft to Tencent and NCsoft. You want to feel sorry for indies? I do too, but indies aren’t at all the worst offenders. Supporting this model is just helping the rich get richer at your expense and the expense of the health and reputation of the genre.

So how do you make money without being unethical grossness? Make games that don’t suck and sell those games. Sell access, sell content, work your DLC and expansion magic — all the things games already do, without the lockboxes. Raise the sub to what it should be in 2017. Sell the cosmetics in the lockboxes directly without gamblebox shenanigans — in limited batches, or by auction, if need be.

A lot of games will never be made if they can’t exploit lockboxes. And dammit, that might actually be for the best if we really want a revolution in how these games are made and how we pay for them. If not, then we deserve exactly the garbage we get.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Part of me wants to be a little snippy at having to solve a studio’s problem for them. I mean, it’s not my problem. It’s not my business. I just call them out on their bad business practices and urge them to figure out a better way.

But I’ll take this topic head-on and give it some serious thought. First of all, I fully acknowledge that lockboxes are a proven revenue stream, a massive money maker, and a relatively easy way to generate repeat sales. And while there is some strong sentiment against them, there’s also a lot of acquiescence about their presence with phrases like “necessary evil” and “they finance the game for the other free players.” So studios don’t have a lot of incentive to stop making money when they’re not getting unified pushback from the community.

I stand by my words, though. They are poison, they are insulting, and they are gambling. I wasted enough money as a kid buying packs of trading cards hoping I’d get the ones I wanted before I realized that it was a losing proposition and that it was preying on people who didn’t know better. I think that’s why I get the most upset out of lockboxes, because they exploit weaknesses in human psychology and prey upon the most vulnerable. For profit.

So what should they be doing instead? Anything. Pretty much anything. They already have been. Lockboxes might be the most profitable revenue stream in an MMO, but they’re usually just one of many, and most of the rest of those streams are not as gross. Subscriptions, real money transfers, dungeon keys, cosmetics, rentals, housing, unlocks, classes, races, boosters, mounts, dyes, exclusive areas, pets, purchasable content, and so on. Free-to-play is most vulnerable to the lockbox invasion, while subscription-only is the most resilient. An “easy” solution to lockboxes would be to create a premium MMO that is popular, contains a lot of value and entertainment, and rests upon a subscription model.

In F2P games, I think that the key to eliminating lockboxes is to come up with something to sell that is repeatable and doesn’t cost the studio too much in time and resources to develop. Something small enough to tempt players into indulging without too much guilt and something they’ll want to purchase more often than not. And that thing is… I honestly don’t know. But just because I don’t have a perfect solution that has never been thought up before doesn’t mean lockboxes are OK as a fallback.

Perhaps a game needs to be created around a business model instead of having one foisted on it for a solution to present itself. Maybe studios need to come up with faster and more efficient ways to get new sellable items out to players. I thought Daybreak’s idea of letting players design in-game skins for PlanetSide 2 and profit sharing an interesting way for both parties to make money and Daybreak to harness player creativity to make assets on its behalf. Trove does something a little similar to that too, and I know that virtual worlds such as Second Life have thrived for years with this concept. I could really see this sort of model taking off in other games if the studios gave players the tools to mod and submit their own cosmetics, mounts, pets, and housing decor.

Another great and more recent example is what ROBLOX is doing by roping in players and turning them into “indie devs” who can create content on a faster scale and then make money for themselves and for the game at the same time. I’d rather be a creator than a sucker any day of the week.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): The usual fallback I hear here is “subscriptions,” neglecting the fact that as a revenue stream, it turns out subscriptions are not actually one of the most productive ways of getting money. They work, but not for every game, and we need to just accept that as a reality. A free-to-play or partially free-to-play game is going to need something else. And Justin has the right of it; random item packs are about as much fun as ripping open a new pack of Magic cards only to find yourself rewarded with utter garbage, most of which you can’t even do anything with; in games like Star Wars: The Old Republic you can resell it, except you really can’t because the markets are flooded with garbage no one wants.

Of course, the reason lockboxes serve as a big revenue stream is because they essentially combine the frustration of boss loot with a price tag. It’s like watching the boss drop without dropping your dang sword, except instead of having to run the dungeon again, you need to spend five bucks. But it’s pretty dang predatory, however good your odds might be to get the things you want. It’s why I like the various currency-conversion systems available in some games, as I can’t help but see many of them as occupying the same design “slot,” so to speak. They’re stuff for you to spend money on repeatedly because you’ll need them again.

However, I think that’s also part of the problem. Lockboxes are designed in such a way that you need to buy them over and over. Currency tokens or exchanges, same thing. It’s these elements designed to make you spend money over and over instead of just getting what you want, and at its heart that’s why nothing matches the allure of the lockbox. However high you price an item (say, a monocle), it’s always going to be something you buy a fixed number of times. You could buy that same lockbox seven dozen times and still wind up without the thing you want.

Thus, there’s no incentive not to have them except to avoid that predatory label. The problem isn’t that other means of making money don’t exist; we see them. Plenty of games, including ones that sell lockboxes, sell things directly so you can just buy what you want. It’s just that there’s no good way to make you buy the same thing over and over outside of making it be a limited-time addition (which feels kind of crappy) or making it a lockbox (far crappier). And the obvious solution is to just have a fixed fee where you get certain stuff on a regular basis, but… that’s just describing a subscription again.

So there are plenty of ways to make money without lockboxes, there are plenty of ways to make lockboxes less skeevy, and there are plenty of ways to make sure you’re spending money on a game on a regular basis. Is there a better way to make a specific item just sell to someone over and over ad infinitum? Not really.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Because I like the anticipation and surprise of “What did I get?!” when collecting shinies in EverQuest II, I also like opening lockboxes. But there’s a catch: I like opening these little gifts when getting them and the means to open them are both obtained in the game! Basically, it’s just opening a loot chest to me that took a little more work to get open. When it becomes a matter of having to buy keys with money, I am no longer interested in opening them. I appreciate how Secret World Legends gives a cache lockbox key to subscribers every day (if they claim it), so I have the chance to open one a day. Unfortunately, I can collect more than 10 a day, so these items sit in my inventory and bank, beckoning me to open them. Willpower is definitely needed! The desire to open them all (or at least enough to get the item I want) is pretty strong at times, especially since I have yet to get the top item, even with the so-called increased chances.

Lockboxes that can be acquired or opened for cash, however, are problematic to me. Yes, I want companies to make money, but this system really encourages gambling addictions! That hope to get lucky while sacrificing what you may or may not be able to afford can lead to serious troubles. Sadly, that problem of “just one more” crops up in SWL as well; I feel it and have to resist! I don’t know that I have the answer because I definitely want games to succeed and lockboxes do generate funds, but there are too many negatives to me — negatives that are truly damaging to people. I still prefer subscription models that give everything for one known monthly fee. Leave lockboxes as a special loot that isn’t tied to real money.

Your turn!

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154 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: How should MMOs make money in a world without lockboxes?"

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Tia Nadiezja

I am less interested in elminating lockboxes (they work, and they basically fund the whole free to play economy which is itself, I think, a good thing for MMOs – subs distort the design process as well, after all, in fairly pernicious ways that we don’t notice as much because they were the original norm) than in making them better. Less exploitive, more fun.

I think the first key to that is to drastically reduce how often people look at the outcome of opening a box and think to themselves, “I lost.” Make the non-top-tier prizes fun and interesting and unique and have enough of them that a player has to open a lot of boxes before they start regularly repeating them. After that, maybe eliminate recurrant numerical awards (STO’s XP and mark boosters, SWL’s weapon distillates) from the boxes themselves entirely and instead add a merchant somewhere (or, better still, a UI function so the player doesn’t have to go to that merchant) that will let the player exchange lockbox prizes they don’t want for those numerical boosts.

I enjoy lockboxes, but to enjoy them – to have them be worth my money when I open them even if I don’t pull the grand prize – there has to be somethng at least potentiall exciting in each lockbox I open. Too many games fail at that, and THAT, not the presence of lockboxes in the first place, is the real problem. It ain’t gambling if I always win.

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Keir

Why can’t we just buy games or subscriptions any more. It used to be if you wanted a game you bought it, and then you had access to the game. Nothing was missing, you got what you paid for. If there was extra content made after release maybe you bought that too.

For f2p games obviously some business structure in the game is needed, we all understand that. But just why did we allow games companies to infest the rest of their paid products with this stuff? Why don’t players simply resist it? I don’t get it.

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Blazing Coconut

I think that buy to play is likely the best method for both gamers and players.

The problem with a lot of subscription games is that studios forget that they are supposed to be delivering content for that subscription. Gamers get disillusioned when they are paying for a service and getting low value in return. I was a fan of a lot of sub based games, but if they don’t have a regular release schedule, then the game gets stale and people leave if there isn’t enough new things to do.

Let me buy the game for the devs to recoup their development costs and give them some operating cash. For that fee, I should be able to play the main storyline and have access to all of the at launch features. I have no problem buying a game and perhaps they could even have the old concept of a starter area to give people a feel of the game to see if they want to play.

Then, release content and charge for what you release.

I can think of a number of ways for that to work. For cosmetics and vanity items, the cash shop is fair and a good way to make money without people claiming PTW. The same works with classes and other content which is easily gated from some of your population (zones would be another good way to do this).

The main point is that developers are incentivised to make real content that people want to buy. Players are motivated to buy if they like the game and want to progress through it.

If they want to have a small monthly fee to give some bonuses, I’m neutral about that. Something small to cover the costs of keeping the lights on even if the devs aren’t actively working on the game and a respectively small bonus for either leveling or in game currency or whatever.

That’s how I think I would want to see the next game I really play charge for its services.

miol
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miol

If only mining for a cryptocurrency in exchange for playing a game would work better together…

But one can hope, that it will be only a matter of time, when all has been settled, even by law. And the exchange rate is high enough too! One day… maybe… ;P

Edit: Or forget cryptocurrencies! Maybe another type of service exchange! Spitballing here: lending server space, processing power for scientific calculations, A.I. improvement processes,… There must be other services, that are more expensive than the kWh you’re spending for!

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PlayCator .

Well when ESO added lockboxes, I quit the game because I just got sad that I couldn’t have the things I wanted without gambling. I’ve given ESO a lot of money before they added in those lockboxes. Way more than I’ve ever given a free MMO and I’ve subbed to ESO numerous times! All that stopped when they added lockboxes.

I am okay with the way Wildstar handled Madame Fay since it was tradable stuff. If you didn’t get what you wanted, you could sell it, you weren’t just out the money with nothing to show for it. Granted, it might take you a while to get any decent plat for it, but still.

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Kevin McCaughey

By having smaller subs. Stop this $15 shit. $5 would sell more and people would be far more likely to pull the trigger on it.

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Tom R

I agree, I might sub to multiple mmos if they were 5 a month and your game doesn’t feel stupid because all the cool stuff you actually need to work.

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Malcolm Swoboda

THIS! This is a world of a cheaper sub for Netflix, etc. $15? For ONE video game? Maybe for a host of them, but even then, you’d have to have people interested in most of those games.

cambruin
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cambruin

I disagree strongly. MMOs are mainstream now, they don’t offer robust sustems anymore, elaborate character customization, restrictive mechanics, … They need to cater to as many different people as possible and as such lose character. Creativity has made room for… well, thís.

WoW managed to make billions and it didn’t have 5€ subs, it didn’t have a cash shop. Yet somehow it lead to this.
I’d be willing to pay 50€ per month for an exclusive game where character creation takes time, community is small but loyal, integrity is key. A game able to bring back the glorious moments some of us experienced in the age pre-WoW clones, pre-cash shop F2P stupidity.

The subscription price is not the issue, it’s the greed of a developer combined with the kind of players MMO communities are now comprised of.

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Jeffery Witman

I think this is largely a problem of greed. There’s lots of revenue streams in MMOs that don’t involve gambling. I’ve always preferred subscription games, but the catch there is you have to make a game worth playing for months on end in order to keep getting sub money. Why is that so hard to do for most developers and game studios? I think there’s a few reasons:

1) They’re trying to appeal to people who are used to single-player console titles with multiplayer co-op or PvP as options. This is diametrically opposed to the core principles of an MMO persistent world.

2) All the focus is on telling a story TO the players rather than telling a story WITH the players. This is a core principle in tabletop gaming, which is probably the closest analog analogue to an MMO. Theme parks are easier to code and maintain with a tiny maintenance team, obviously, but a complex, interactive, player-directed story that’s part of a larger world (of which they’re only one part) is going to keep people playing longer than a simple follow-the-waypoints that takes you from newb to epic in about 50 hours of gameplay and then dumps you in the grind/pvp endgame most titles have.

3) Related to 2; if you don’t have a larger world outside of the main story line, what is there to come back for until the next new content update releases? Gear grinding only gets you so many players. PvP is niche at best in MMOs (and, honestly, at this point it’s being done better by MOBA titles). If there’s no larger, persistent world outside the main story, why am I playing an MMO instead of Mass Effect or the newest Halo? You need a place that facilitates actual play and socializing outside of combat. SWG did this beautifully when it was around. Player built cities; events hosted by players with all kinds of props, effects, and real mob spawns; actual faction battles over control of open-world locations; player designed missions and bounties with rewards; lots of places to hang out with other people; classes that were built to be entertainers and exist in social areas (okay, they gave buffs, too, but still); a fully functional resource and crafting system that allowed players to, again, exist outside of combat and still contribute to the game; both ground and space combat (could be naval combat, or air combat, or armed cars racing through wastelands, whatever) that have you a completely different experience separate from the usual holy Trinity of MMO combat. That’s just one example.

4) Related to 3; actually make them social and multiplayer, not just single player games. Second Life exists almost solely as a socialization medium and does very okay. And yet most modern MMOs seem to throw in a few multiplayer dungeons and raids as the only truly multiplayer option. I know lots of people didn’t like it, but I always found DDO’s system of dungeon quests and the absolute need to group up for most things to be really good because they made an LFG interface that let the players choose how they wanted to play. No auto-grouping without some half-assed AI the devs threw in. You posted what dungeon and difficulty you were doing and what classes you needed. People signed up to join, the group/raid leader could talk to them, inspect them, or just let them in after seeing that they meet the requirements. It made PUGs enjoyable most of the time, even for big raids because it forced everyone to rely on each other.

Now, if you can do some of this stuff more often, maybe people would be willing to spend 150% of their Netflix bill on your game each month, or even, gasp, pay full retail price for an MMO once again!

Oh, and a quick addendum:

5) If the players think you’ll go Free 2 Play at the first sign of trouble, they absolutely won’t be giving you any money up front because they know it will be a waste. Commit to your business model and stop treating your players/customers like leftover meat scraps that you’re trying to grind down for a little extra low quality revenue. Just because you can get money by doing something doesn’t mean it’s good for business overall.

Reader
adri

An MMO can make money out of different sources:

– Buy to Play; you have to buy the original game and every expansion
– Sub based games. Yeah it’s not cool in these days but having a game with a lower sub but delivering content, fun, good devs and a community may counterbalance it. Don’t charge 15$ but maybe 6$. A coffee at some stores cost more than that. Additionally server costs are no longer a big issue in comparison to 15 years ago. We have cloud technology and server farms are more efficient than in former times.
– Item Shop with no game enhancing features. You can sell skins, pets, additional character slots, costumes, dyes and even lockboxes with items that have no impact on gameplay.
– Home made real money trade. Guild Wars 2 does it. You can buy ingame cash shop currency with RL money which you can exchange in game super official into ingame gold. I have no idea what I need tons of money in GW2 but .. anyway.
– (and the worst of all) Free to play but pay for fun. Either with a Freemium model (suuuuure you don’t have to pay but look at all the features you miss *wink* .. as example the EU version of AION) or with a real hard cash shop. Either you buy stuff or you can’t even reach max level. Maybe you can reach max level but it will be a PITA and you’d rather kick your PC than logging into the game. Do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior grinding?

My personal favorites are Sub based games or item shop w/o any game changing features.

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Sray

Stop trying to make the damn things last forever. Launch a game, actively support it for a couple years, then replace it with a successor product.

Seriously, it makes more sense from a financial perspective to get the infusuon of box sales plus a couple DLC expansions every three or four years over attempting to keep up with the insatiable demand for content. The overall cost developing and maintaining a game drops while profitability rises.

Imagine if WoW was a literal series of games in which each era was a separate title where you could transfer characters forward like a Mass Effect save. It would allow for much greater freedom on the part of the dev teams to innovate, and move away from the endless vertical progression. At that same time, no additional corporate hands in your wallet extracting $15 a month for a sibscription of dubious value, and/or double/triple dipping with microtransactions.

Buy the game. Buy additional expansions (if you want). Then buy the sequels (if you want). Literally, dozens -actually hundreds- of video games manage to make a lot of money on that model: I think MMORPGs can too.

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Jeffery Witman

This might be the most sensible option, but I would think you’d have to make concessions for new players. Let’s say you played WoW 1 and 2, then at WoW 3 launch your wife or friend or dad, whoever, wants to start playing with you. Do you want to send them back to WoW 1 and 2, pay for both full games, and wait for them to play through all of that before getting to WoW 3? No way. If you give new players a decent starting position that lets them play the newest title without feeling like they’re starting off with nothing compared to vets, then you could have a winning setup.

Having played SWL Beta and being a Patron since early launch, I have to say that rehashing the old content is the worst part of it. Yeah, the story is awesome, but it’s also very familiar and that lessens the enjoyment. If they had just released Season 2 and had the same kind of vanity items, cash shop, and other benefits for owners of the previous game I think it would be going way, way better for Funcom right now.

You still have the issue of content consumption, but at least with new titles coming out on a regular basis you would get cash for each new one, justifying the initial investment. This is a really good way to think about it going forward. MOBAs have worked this way in the past, and TSW worked that way for a long while, and it works.

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Sray

For my proposal to work, you’d probably have to have set up like Elder Scrolls Online’s “One Tamriel” where character level is largely meaningless as all characters can do any content, allowing new players to jump in at any point; although levels still play a role in the variety of skills available and quality of gear, which in turn does make a difference to the difficulty. Combine that idea with the Mass Effect style of “having level X and stuff Y in the previous game gives you level Z plus bonus cash in the current one” so as to make a veteran’s game to game progress still have meaning.

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SmugglerSteel

Make subs flexible that caters to the now more transit nature of players of this era. Allow players to puta hold on their subs so if they don’t loose money or time. Aka if buy month access allow me to play 2 weeks of in July, and 2 weeks of it Aug. (With life crunching time and more game options this alone would make subs more appealing) Offer a sub lower then 15 bucks, a month would encourage more subs as well I think. Not all games offer 15 dollars worth of entertainment in month so that’s why people aren’t willing to pay for it.

Make subs be a true value. Here is one my more radical ideas, have free to play with the usual cosmetics cash shop, BUT also offer a sub. If you sub you have access to all the cash shop cosmetics for the duration of your sub. Basically if you sub there is no restriction on the game for you. Play as much as you like use what you will. If you unsub though you loose access to those cash shop cosmetics, mounts, ext (unless of coarse you out right bought them). This works two fold it allows players to have a unfettered experience, and also allows people to basically try before they buy for extended time. (Lessen buyers remorse, and increase happiness in purchases always good. )

If subs offered more flexibility, and had true value they would work just fine. That’s the problem with current subs they lock you in and make you feel like you have to play or you are wasting your spending dollars. People don’t like to feel like they are being cheated, and don’t like to feel like they spent their money foolishly in retrospect. Treat customers like a valued resource, and not a cow to milked, and it would do wonders I think.

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Jeffery Witman

That’s how DDO worked for a long while. You sub and have access to all the modules released, all the extra classes and races, etc. Once your sub ends, unless you bought them outright, you lose access to anything that’s restricted. I played as a subscriber like that for years. It was great until they started pushing for players to buy things instead of subscribing and all the benefits became less worth it. Turbine messed up on that one, I think. I haven’t been back to that game since the expansion launched.

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Daniel Miller

FFXI is a sub game, no cash shop. and it has more conent and is longer running than most mmos, including wow.

I have no problem paying for a sub, no cash shop, no lock boxes, just fun.

PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

Why do MMOs NEED to make money in the first place?

What makes it so different from regular games that you can’t just shell out $60 and be done with it?

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mcsleaz

Servers and updates cost money, smh.

Reader
A Dad Supreme

“How would MMOs and other online games survive without lockboxes here in 2017? “
=======
Easy. Two steps:

1) Make a GREAT game.

2) Charge a sub.

Done.

Stop making mediocre MMOs and then selling lockboxes with the ‘good stuff’ inside them rather than the game to keep people hooked because your content or combat is weak.

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Paragon Lost

You and I are out of step with that mentality. Seems the overall mindset for a majority of players is that they want it for free or for almost nothing. Anytime you have players throwing a major hissy fit and not seeing the value of paying what amounts to the cost of a Subway meal for a months access to a mmorpg, you’ve got a problem.

This industry is in such a complete mess because game developers have had to jump through hoops in order to come up with ways to cover costs of developing, running and making new content for an mmorpg, let alone make a profit. That’s before we even get into the unethical game developers. lol.

To be quite blunt, most players disgust me anymore. The mindset of thinking that game developers have the overhead of someone developing an Android App. The players are fucking irrationally deluded that think that this stuff happens in a magical vacuum and that they don’t have to pay anything for it. That it will just always be around.

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Sally Bowls

I certainly don’t disagree with your disdain for gamers. But,

Seems the overall mindset for a majority of players is that they want it for free or for almost nothing.

But is that really specific to gamers? Most of us assume that a growing amount of stuff is, incrementally, “free or for almost nothing” A small and shrinking number of people are paying for newspaper and magazines, instead of “free” information. I get a full featured office suite of productivity apps from Google for free. New versions of my Apple and Microsoft O/S, OC & mobile, are “free” in spite of costing billions to develop. Almost all of the twitter, snapchat, FM apps are “free.”

Estranged
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Estranged

Sally – it is a bubble ready to burst.

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Major Glitch

1) In an article titled, “HOW SHOULD MMOS MAKE MONEY IN A WORLD WITHOUT LOCKBOXES?” no suitable alternatives to lockboxes are offered.
2) Lockboxes aren’t mandatory. If people want to buy them, it’s their choice. If someone wants to spend their hard-earned money on gambling, that’s their prerogative. I fail to see how Person A buying lockboxes negatively impacts Person B.
3) Please stop trying to blame an individual’s addictive habits on companies. Do you blame Anheuser-Busch for an alcoholic’s dependency on alcohol? Corporations are not responsible for a person’s habits. The people are. Personal responsibility – what a wonderful concept.

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Flying Buddha

Have we actually come full circle to gamers who have never experienced a non-F2P MMO? Will they now demand unlimited all you can eat content for one low monthly fee? Cosmetics by Crafters? Closed systems where in-game status is defined by in-game deeds? Oh lordy, say it ain’t so!!

Next time on Cyclical Universe Today: “Internet by the minute, is it the future?” , “Will they remember they can just turn subscriptions on and off?” and “$8 for One Thing vs $15 for Everything, Which is Better?”

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Space Captain Zor

I would gladly pay more per subscription if it actually meant getting that value from it. Hell, my DirecTV Now costs more per month and I definitely use more bandwidth on gaming and not tv watching. If Bioware/EA wanted to charge $20 to $25/mo for SWTOR and put some real quality and value in that sub, I’d pay it. They squander too much on too little these days, though. Their constant garbage train on the Cartel Market overshadows any work they actually may put in to the core game. It makes it look like all their real efforts are spent on the CM.

I’m perfectly fine with them having direct sale CM stuff but all the sub needs to provide in-game avenues for amazing cosmetic fluff as well.

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Tobasco da Gama

That’s a good bit of perspective. Netflix’s standard plan costs $10/mo, and for that I get a literally inexhaustible amount of content that I can play on up to two screens simultaneously, with more content added on a monthly basis. No MMO can offer anything close to that value proposition, not even FFXIV.

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Schmidt.Capela

Besides, playing a single MMO is bound to get tiresome.

Now, if there was some kind of MMO Netflix, where you paid a single subscription and could play for that price any of a large number of MMOs (though only log into one at a time), that might be a good value proposition. And yeah, I know about the Daybreak All Access (I have it as a lifetime purchase, or at least until DCUO sunsets), but it has too few games for me to feel like it’s truly worth the value.

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Jeffery Witman

You could just make an MMO that had variety inside it like some old MUD games did. I’m thinking, especially, of 3 Kingdoms. You have a bit of a mishmash Central area and start out kinda normal human. Then you can join a guild and start gaining their powers (Mech suits, Elementals, Witches, Knights, Wizards, Cyborgs, etc). And then you have multiple areas to play in that are full of pop culture (or reasonable satire of pop culture). 3K did it with one realm of fantasy stuff, one of SciFi, and one of Chaos that was just a mishmash of modern life and pop culture (a shopping mall, interstate, Simpsons characters, etc).

It could easily expand with the times and give lots of variety to players so they don’t feel locked in. That is, if you could find a way to do it without getting sued.

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Tobasco da Gama

Yeah, Daybreak are the only publisher that has tried this. Nexon and Trion maybe have enough to make the attempt worthwhile? Funcom has fewer games than than even Daybreak, so they’re out.

Other than those examples, most MMOs are effectively self-published, and hammering out the deals to make MMO sub bundles work across publishers would be a nightmare.

Still, if somebody could do it, that’d be a pretty interesting offer.

kjempff
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kjempff

Just say no!
We actually have the power to make the “poison” become unprofitable and therefore go away. And by we I mean all of us, gamers just ignore those games, journalists don’t cover (which is the same as promoting) those games.. Make a ethical ruleset and follow through; silent treatment does work.

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mistressbrazen

Not going to happen. Too many players who will convince themselves they can actually beat the odds on the gamble. And some of them will, that’s how RNG works. If some of them beat the odds, it will convince others to try and on and on we go. Gamers are weak.

kjempff
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kjempff

Well maybe yes but.. Gamers are also somewhat segmented, and games has to cater/please their target audience. So imagine if just 25% of their targets change habits, that could be enough to make them switch strategy. I am aware it will not happen over nigh, but rather over years.

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qweazdak

I know its not a MMO but the way that GGG handles Path of Exile is best. Developers (or publishers) have to encourage players that want to support the game, not pay to play the game. Mostly everything in the shop is cosmetic. But guess what, they have lock boxes too, all cosmetic. You get at least what you pay for out of it. Most of the content of the lock box goes to the shop afterwards. Unfortunately, they still prey on human psychology which is why they do allow duplicates with lock boxes at a cheap price.

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David Goodman

I don’t mind F2P or even lockboxes, as long as they do not offer something that’s not available in-game in some manner.

But that’s not the point of the article, so let’s go at this head on:

Prices gotta go up. Developers have been trying to increase the base costs of games for years now – we’ve been at $59.99 for AGES, regardless of inflation. Costs have been going up – voice acting alone is becoming a major cost, and players EXPECT voice acting. Plus, VA’s also do a lot of motion-capture work, which is it’s own expense.

Of course, they want to make more money – no hiding that – but expenses increase too. Wages increase. Hell i’m seeing voice acting in mobile games – English VA at that.

This is why I don’t mind micros if they don’t sell things exclusive or that provide an in-game bonus. (of course, I don’t consider dress-up and non-combat pets content). If someone with more money than time or sense wants to help fund a game i’m playing and get a fancy-looking hat, have at ’em.

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Tobasco da Gama

The elephant in the room here is that wage growth outside of a few industries has totally stagnated. Games should have higher box prices, based on what they cost to make these days, but most of the audience for these games can barely afford to buy a couple of $60 titles per year. Bump that price to $80, where it probably should be, and your number of units sold falls right off a cliff.

This sort of explains why we get so many preorder deals and super fancy pants deluxe packages. The folks who buy those are basically subsidising the majority of gamers who can only afford the $60 basic editions.

THAT SAID… The whole business of tacking lockbox microtransactions on top of $60 games is on a different tier of bullshit. I feel comfortable saying that those are motivated purely by greed.

wandris
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wandris

They could start with making money off the stuff in the lockboxes instead of selling the joy of pulling that lever for a chance to not get what you want.

Casinos perfected addictive gaming with slot machines. The sounds, the pretty lights, the effects. It is pretty damn low they copy/paste a practice which is so destructive it needs to be highly regulated in the real world and hide exclusive and highly desirable game assets behind it. They know what they are doing and most people see it for what it is. What is the line for turning someone into a compulsive gambler? Will a person who becomes used to gambling on MMO lockboxes in turn one day find themselves unable to help spending their time trying to earn monetary rewards instead?

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Danny Smith

FFXIV has a system where the longer you sub the more rewards you get. Starts with a free race change potion then some pets then mounts and then outfits and so on. Last for about 5 years sub time i think and after that they started doing a ‘sub for 90 days in this 120 period for this airship mount’ stuff with Stormblood. I’ll take that over lockboxes anyday. I dont think i’ve touched anything with a lockbox mechanic other than overwatch for years because like the guy says i see lockbox and ‘videogame poison’ really is the first thing that comes to mind.

But then i’m not a whale so its probably why i also dont enjoy gacha mobage either.

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Melissa McDonald

Buy to play, or subscriptions should make them money. Limit cash shop items to cosmetics, and crank them out – people love them, and they make money.

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Rick Mills

If we leave out gambling, money (that you’ve hopefully earned) should be used to purchase a good or service – that’s basic economy. They make a service or product you would like to use or have and you buy it. Typically this is tied to an improvement if you already have the basic item (you bought a house, now you want a deck).
This is acceptable to everyone, so just be a good entrepreneur and figure out what we want! Apple has this down to a science…

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MesaSage

I’m not sure there are more ways to monetize MMO’s. There are people with a lot more time to devote to thinking about this, and they get paid to do it. That’s why we have as many as we do.

So we’re at a bit of a disadvantage.

I’ve mentioned this before, and I’m with Justin on this, that a way to generate revenue is to help your players make some scratch on their own. Having a player studio is a win/win for both players and studios. I don’t know how much they make from lockboxes, but I can imagine that player created content could easily surpass that and create a much better relationship to the community. It would certainly help with player hours and game longevity.

Estranged
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Estranged

Once again, I’m going to play devil’s advocate.

I find it interesting that PC players are notorious for buying up $3 games on a Steam sale (possible apex game of the studio) and have rejected subs, but worry about lockboxes.

Consumers have the power. We obviously like cheap and quick. Hoard cheap games, trinkets and other junk. Buy quality for a fair price, reject junk. Problem solved.

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Armsbend

You don’t have to play advocate. Gamers are the most fickle, spineless consumer group there is. Only addicts are less predictable.

Estranged
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Estranged

Armsbend – video game addiction is real and gaming gives us euphoria, similar to drug abuse. Level dings. The repetition of grinding. Loot RNG. It is very easy to have an unhealthy relationship with our PCs, consoles and mobile devices. Constant stimulation.

Our own personal Vegas.

Opening up all those veteran crates when HotS 2.0 launched was definitely stimulating.

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Schmidt.Capela

Actually, addicts are highly predictable. And profitable. Which is why publishers don’t even batter an eye before implementing something that can create psychological addiction, like lockboxes.6

BTW, regarding cheap games on Steam: there are certainly a lot of crappy games, but there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of great experiences available for cheap. Many of my favorite games come from the $10 to $15 price range, a few of which I have played for hundreds of hours.

Estranged
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Estranged

Schmidt – oh definitely, I’ve played some bargain gems over the years. However, I was being introspective and thinking about how my bargain hunting ways might hurt hard working devs.

“Subs are too high!”

“Oh, look, shiny on the Steam sale”

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Armsbend

I wrote that backwards. I meant ‘more predictable’. my bad.

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Kala Mona

Selling premium currency that is also sellable and purchaseable ingame. Like EVE plex and Albion gold and these.

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Giannis Papadopoulos

I am glad that things are like this now… when i was participating in discussions about sub vs f2p people swearing for the f2p model and how it was better than sub…

There were also a mass boycot against new sub MMOs and people laughing at new games cursing them for their subscription model and wait for them to fail so they can join once they are f2p..

And now here we are… a dozens of scrap f2p gamble games and no big things for the future… we deserved this.

possum440 .
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possum440 .

I said from the beginning, free to play was the worst thing to happen to MMO’s. I said it on this sites original website the day nearly all devs and game sites lauded how wonderful the “Free to play” model was and how it would change gaming forever….well it did, and gaming is pretty much shit right now for MMO’s.

I remember well the day this idiot dev brought over the asian free to play model and like berni madoff, stroked all the dev lemmings and cheap ass gamer’s and had them swallowing everything he put in their pie holes.

What has free to play devolved into? How did you think these criminals would make money?

What do we have today? Cheap ass devs using GAMBLING STUDIES from universities and think tanks and hundreds of lawyers to implement gambling among young people legally, because why? Because young people are mostly stupid and have no self control and only think in the “I want it now”, the moment, and these devs and their studies build on these weak minded masses to make big money.

The gaming industry has a ton of lobbiests to promote and pander to lawmakers to prevent the very real gambling laws from impacting what they call innocent online gaming fun and a chance to win wonderful prizes.

Well the big clue for all the less than clueless gamer’s that promote free to play and gambling boxes is that you own nothing, like the EULA states, you own diddly, and NEVER will. You muddled masses are the reason we have gambling boxes/crates/bags. Because you supported free to play and let it be brought it over here and like a disease it spread.

Hopefully, one day, you weak minded gamer’s can pull your collective heads out of your pie holes instead of sitting on it and stop pandering to these clown devs and their marketing.

Instead I will wait until the government steps in to finally put an end to gambling boxes and free to play and the situations it creates. What? Not realistic? It is more realistic than thinking a bunch of gamer’s could get together and make the devs finally do what they should, not what the devs want, by simply not buying their product.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Here’s two points I disagree with you on. First, when you paid a sub, you didn’t own anything either. You stop paying your sub, you stop having access to the game. So saying “you own nothing” is misleading. You never owned anything before F2P.

Second, it wasn’t a developer, it was a game’s producer, Fernando Paiz of DDO (owned by Turbine then, now owned by SSG) that brought F2P to these shores. And while his personal reasons for doing it don’t matter, it was rightfully perceived as the one and only thing capable of saving a floundering game. A Hail Mary pass. It worked, amazing everyone. When LOTRO went on the rocks, Turbine converted it, the first Western AAA game to go F2P, to save it as well, if you don’t count DDO as a AAA game.

I know you know all this, but it’s important not to get sloppy about the history of F2P. Players did not embrace it. Players fought against it tooth and nail. The coming of F2P was seen as doom and the end to mature gaming. And it was. MMOs have become juvenile and puerile.

What players did welcome was the chance to play to games they couldn’t afford before F2P. Like a smorgasbord, tasting this and that. There is no way to inoculate against getting something for free.

In the time since F2P hopped from region to region, gaming has become an international industry. Even if Turbine had not brought F2P to Western gamers, it would have come when Asian games began coming into the Western market. It was inevitable.

The market is now so huge that it isn’t possible for boycotts by regional gamers to have any impact, particularly when these practices are so widely accepted in other parts of the world.

And as for the lure of lockboxes, well, con men have been taking suckers and chumps since the days of knucklebones and continue to do so, as recent events so vividly demonstrate. Getting something you haven’t paid the true value for is as old as market haggling. It’s human nature and that’s not going to change.

Reader

I think the problem is one that was touched on by a few people there, there is no recurring payment that keeps a player coming back. To them people like me are a waste of time and not worth the money. Why? I will only buy things directly, and not pay a single dime for a ‘lockbox key’. I play Star Trek Online pretty regularly, and I’ve never even touched a lockbox, but I have purchased quite a few ships (and given they’re $30 a pop at the upper levels, that’s not a small sum). But the lockboxes are recurring enticements, with ships that you cannot get any other way, and it affects not only those who might have a bit of a gambling problem, but also those with a compulsion (or even just desire) to ‘collect the whole set’ (IE: Collectors or completionists).

As an aside, I will buy lockbox keys for certain games. Specifically TF2 and Rocket League. Why them? Because there is no ‘lose’ state on those boxes, you know what you’re getting from a small pool, and a majority of what is inside are things I actually want. Couple that with very affordable key prices (especially Rocket League, with it’s $1 keys), and I’m willing to spend about $10 a month on keys if I’m playing at any regular basis. While not the best solution, it seems to be a decent balance to me. Maybe add some sort of reimbersment for duplicate items (a’la Overwatch), there would likely be a lot less heartache about it as well. I will admit, this isn’t a ‘solution’, but it would steer the lockbox thing away from the skeeviest of tendencies.

Also, to reference Utakata’s comment, Rocket League also allows you to turn off lockbox notifications. You still get the boxes, but you don’t get the notice at the end of the game/match. I haven’t tested this, but it seemed close enough to her suggestion it warranted adding here.

Brett
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Brett

I think there are a lot of things that could be monetized, without gating a quality experience in the gameworld.

Ideas off the top of my head would be:
– Escalating subscription for multiboxing extra characters from your roster at the same time (maybe having them level with you as NPC sidekicks?). Single player access would be free.
– one-off, pay-per-room, non-instanced custom ‘housing’, that allows a player to purchase private or public space that fits a theme of their choosing. Add NPCs, shops, reactions, portals, etc for additional one-off costs.
– purchaseable events that can be initiated and managed by your character (run your own dungeon speed clearing competition with customisable buy-ins and rewards, or your own PvP arena matches where you customise the challenges and rankings)
– purchaseable game-master time for running in-game events that are approved case-by-case. Have your favourite NPC officiate your character’s wedding, set up an invasion scenario to test your guild’s defences against waves of monsters, etc.
– buy customised items/gear that are unique to you – a ring that is named after your character, a sword that emotes cusses at you when you swing it, a helmet that shoots painless lasers at any elf that gets too near to you.

Finally, I think games *should* offer virtual currency for sale, and potentially combat/utility enhancements up to a certain point. I’m fine with having to pay a bit extra to get the final 2% to absolute maximum damage, just like I’m fine with having to pay a bit to collect the most elaborate costume piece for cosmetic prestige. If the game hangs on everyone being perfectly equal in might to be fun to play, it is going to have bigger problems than ‘pay-to-win’.

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Koshelkin

Expansions and (voluntary) subs. Nothing else.

Everything else takes the focus away from the game. The players seem to be oblivious that most things ultimately damage their game experience and impact development negatively. Convenience items, cosmetic items; all this superfluous, superficial, shoehorned-into bullshit slowly destroyed your games.

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Giannis Papadopoulos

Oh if you are fine with this then lets tell them to do it that way and will see how many games will keep running…

There is no such thing as voluntary sub and expansion and nothing else… thats a utopia.

There is sub and some fluf stuff on shop (skins, pets, mounts) or f2p and chaos

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Kayweg

Perhaps that is what’s really at the core of the problem, too many games that keep running.

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Giannis Papadopoulos

Thats for sure :) the pie is not to big for so many games

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Ben Stone

Appearance items, mounts, toys, houses, housing items, races, classes, higher level areas. Nothing related to character power. I dont actually mind lockboxes as long as they dont have items you cant get otherwise.

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Sally Bowls

Appearance items, mounts, toys, houses, housing items, races, classes, higher level areas. Nothing related to character power.

A common but somewhat different debate, but I assume by character power, you mean combat power? I don’t care about PvP so would not care in the slightest if the best pvP gear were only available in the ca$h$hop but would dislike a single recipe being there. If the game is telling the players that the only thing that matters is combat power, why not play OverWatch or eSports where they don’t waste time on the non-combat stuff.

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Ben Stone

I do mean combat power, and that extends to crafting recipes which indirectly offer that. If it is appearance only and it is clear that is how the game is monetising (instead of character power or locking out content) then I am fine with that. Remember that this is a personal question and we are entitled to have different opinions. Saying I should move onto another genre is a strawman argument, in that light since you like crafting why dont you go play a survival game like Ark where it is the primary focus and they dont waste time on combat power progression? That was just me showing hiw flimsy the ‘go play another genre’ stance is.

Bottom line is they have to make money somehow. Im happy to pay for:
– A sub for everything
– Appearance and convenience items
– Gontent gates (adventure packs etc)

But not double or triple dipping. And definitely not purchased character power (where the games usually make acquiring without spending money really painful).

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Diskonekted

We have to stop thinking that this is about making the studio money. It is about making the shareholders money. Like any publicly held company their obligations lie with the shareholder, and not the consumer. So they will abuse the consumer to benefit the shareholder in any form possible. That is how all business is ran today thanks to rise of a banking centered economy.

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Utakata

Make games Lockbox optional?

If they are valuable stream of revenue, then there is certain segment of the population who are really into those. Those folks won’t go away if you allow players to tick on a box that says, “Do you want a chance lockboxes to drop?” every time the player logs on to so and so game. Sometimes it’s keeping the dirty stuff out of sight and mind that might do the trick. Maybe?

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imayb1

I could see this working like site advertising– don’t want to see lockboxes? Subscribe and you can have the option to turn them off!

Not that I’m in favor of this, but I could see it happening.

Reader

While I agree with you, I’ll note that those companies will tell us that’s what they’re doing already. After all, they aren’t FORCING us to buy keys for the lockboxes, and all we have to do is toss them out. There’s your ‘box tick’ right there, just throw it away if you don’t want it, or give it/trade it to someone who does.

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Utakata

The tick would prevent lockboxes from spamming up the inventory. In which many games that have lockboxes also have inventory space at a premium, literally as well as figuratively.

And once again, I’ll repeat what I posted that keeping it “…out of sight and mind that might do the trick.” Having to remove the offending item constantly simply would defeat that purpose.

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NeoWolf

Premium Memberships with associated benefits.
Cosmetics, Mounts, etc.. ALL via DIRECT sale
Services (transfers, names changes etc..), character slots
Constant rotating sales..you know like the rest of the retail world works

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Ailsa Nordstrom

As far as the Cache boxes in SWL, I open one a day (with my daily key) and sell the rest for Anima shards (needed for upgrading your gear). Not worth stockpiling unless you ARE going to buy more keys.

I think LOTRO has one of the best systems. You can earn store currency and keys in-game by doing meta-deeds (and they also occasionally drop as loot) so the keys to open lockboxes isn’t the main draw for revenue. There are lots of cosmetics and mounts as well as quality-of-life items that are for sale.

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Malcolm Swoboda

“Not worth stockpiling unless you ARE going to buy more keys.” – Not necessarily. Opening them later (with Patron keys) or selling them on AH later is valid. The caches rotate out and that means they (or at least their contents) may becomes more valuable for Marks as supply dries out. They’re supposedly to return in a rotation (PLEASE FUNCOM – making them disappear for years is horrid) though. Point is, there’s a fluctuating market. What is 10ks cosmetic now, is potentially 100ks+ later on.

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Ailsa Nordstrom

Ok that is a fair point about the type of caches (right now they are Infernal). But they drop so frequently that I haven’t felt the need to stockpile them. Besides, upgrading purples is expensive!

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Sally Bowls

Advertising. Product placement in game. Google/Twitch giving the dev a tiny taste of the revenue if the game with built in twitch streaming (even new Eve expansion has twitch ) to encourage streaming. esports viewing. Subs don’t work. F2P boxes are not popular and may be approaching slowdown/burnout. Advertising pays for most of the internet, why not your MMO. (/shudder of the 7.5B people on the planet, More Than One Billion People Use Facebook’s WhatsApp Service Every Day)

I believe in human ingenuity. I believe that the clever executives at Google, Amazon, and the gaming companies will eventually be able to devise monetization methods that will make the people here yearn for the good old days of lockboxes.

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mistressbrazen

Funcom, I know its not a good example, used to have or still has, I don’t know, advertising in AO. Organizations could advertise and I think private businesses also (I’m vague on the private business option). For the F2p folks it was really horrible. The ads were obnoxiously loud and the sound seem to follow you past the ad. And because it was, well…Funcom, it was an extremely difficult process to purchase an ad even as an organization within the game. Personally, I don’t want to see adds for Twitch or Facebook when I am playing, I already feel assaulted by them in RL. At any rate, in response to a suggestion many years ago from TSW players, Funcom stated the ads did not make any appreciable revenue for them.

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Tobasco da Gama

Considering that AO launched in-game ads over a decade ago and nobody outside the mobile gaming market has followed suit, I think it’s safe to say they aren’t actually all that lucrative anyway.

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

Oh hell no. I despise ads. Ads chased me away from TV and Youtube’s advertising has gotten aggressive enough that I’ve given up on it as well. If any of the apps I download on my phone have any sort of advertising the get deleted and the author is added to my personal blacklist.

Stick ads into my game time and I will take the chargeback nuclear option.

Aside: If MOP had any other method than Patreon… *shrugs*

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Armsbend

Adverts used to be so distasteful to gamers a decade ago. Now? I’d open my robe and embrace them into my nude body cavities without hesitation over the current state of nonsense.

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Sally Bowls

I think it could also help subs. IMO, YMMV, it is tough to sell subs themselves these days. But “give us some money and one of the benefits is you don’t have to see ads” is very common and said extortion rarely even gets someone to raise their eyebrow let alone break out the “slap in the face” vitriol.

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Robert Mann

Start with a box cost. Expansions similar. Add various wardrobe effects, and other things, that people can buy which are optional. IF (and this is a big if) the game isn’t just about combat, all those other areas of gameplay open up as potential unlock sets.

Want this amazing housing pack? Want this explorer’s swiftness potion? Etc.

Just be honest about it. I’d rather pay a sub or otherwise support a company than deal with lockboxes (LOTRO maybe being the exception, as keys actually DROP on occasion.) Treat me fairly, and make a great game, and I’ll support it. Don’t do either, and I’m gone… no more phoned in lazy game design, no more shady practices and whale hunting. I won’t stick around.

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Reht

it’s a problem for us, not a problem for them, they clearly work for them….

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camelotcrusade

The cynic in me says lockboxes will never go away so long as MMOs are businesses–especially publicly-traded companies. In those environments there is never enough money, and the pressure from management to “make the numbers” is enormous and ever-increasing.

For most people who work there, it’s not greed (they don’t get bonuses based on performance) it’s self preservation. You can end up in absurd scenarios where, say, your company brings in 85 million–instead of the 100 million forecasted–so it’s failure and doom, despite the fact you just made untold millions. The employees are the ones who get laid off or told to “tighten the belt” (no raises, garnishing, etc.)… often so top management and the shareholders can be protected from the “loss.”

That’s why I think the genie is out of the bottle. It’s basically free money at the expense of the customers. It’s right to worry about players addicted to gambling, but what about corporations and shareholders addicted to exploitative income streams–and who bake that income into forecasts that put everyone’s jobs on the line?

I think there’d have to be a social responsibility push with investors viewing those revenue streams as bad for business. Otherwise, they’ll take the opposite approach: If a competitor is making all this extra money and you’re leaving it on the table, investors will demand to know why you’re not maximizing shareholder value.

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zuldar

Step 1 — Make lockboxes openable for free

Step 2 — Raise cost of keys to a reasonable amount to make a profit while reducing the drop rate of the rarer items to make step 3 seem attractive.

Step 3 — Change keys to give you your pick of the contents in the lockbox.

It probably wouldn’t be quite as profitable as the current method; but it’s far more ethical and everyone likes free stuff.

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Schmidt.Capela

My preference would be for a rehash of the GW1 model: B2P, with paid for expansions that add horizontal progression rather than vertical, perhaps with some fully optional extras being sold in a cash store.

Particularly, I don’t purchase anything whose contents are random, with just one exception: if I’m guaranteed that even the worst possible result will still make me feel like my money was well spent. I’ve been like this since I was a child; the last time I made an exception was to try Magic, back in the Unlimited days, but the frustration at the random content of the booster packs quickly made me give up on the game.

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Peregrine Falcon

In a world without lockboxes MMOs could make money by being B2P instead of F2p, and then selling cosmetic items, mounts, companion NPCs (complete with their own story lines), non-combat pets, story DLC and even advanced classes.

There’s a lot of things that can generate a continuous income for MMOs, if the devs are no longer able to take the lazy path of lockboxes.

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Schlag Sweetleaf
lemmonade.png
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Brother Maynard

Mr Sweetleaf, you know perfectly well that in the harsh reality of modern-day MMOs the box of oranges on the left does not just unlock itself.

Also, 9 out of 10 glasses in the picture do not contain orange juice. You think they do, but they don’t. I prefer not to go into details…

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Schlag Sweetleaf

Duly noted . Pax tecum, Brother:)

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Mr_Planthead

I demand a Grey Poupon image now!! :D

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Schlag Sweetleaf

How about an avatar ?

mr. planthead.jpg
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Witches

The solution is raising the quality of the games, instead of doing a rehash of the biggest selling game, make your own game, for all the talk about SWG no one seems to have any interesting in making another one, MMOs are less entertainment than they are business, they don’t want to create new world and all that, they want WOW Miami, WOW NY etc, a formula that gives high rewards with little investment.

Also make microstransactions really micro, 10 items at 1€ each will satisfy the customer more than 10€ for “the chance” to get one great item, with a realistic higher chance of getting one of those 1€ items for 10€.

Don’t produce crap, and if you do, don’t sell it, the cheapest knockoff item in real life still has a production cost, if luxury items could be made at an affordable cost we would have nothing but luxury items, but MMOs produce substandard quality items, so they can sell quality items at an higher price.

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Mr_Planthead

They can make money any way they want as long as it’s not subscriptions. I like f2p games because I can play, drop it for awhile, and then go back without needing to re-sub and drop $15 just for something I may only get to play for a week before getting too busy and not getting back to. I don’t mind if games have a sub option for people, just as long as it’s not mandatory.

Also, ” dumbest, laziest, or richest” please don’t lump all your readers into one of those categories.

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yoh_sl

The writers are correct, loot boxes are often simply an excuse to abuse the most vulnerable among us, and essentially cheat people.

But, if this developer is indeed looking at how to do it right, then I can think of no better example of ethical F2P (including loot boxes) then Path of Exile from Grinding Gear Games.
It’s no understatement that they have the best F2P model in the industry, hands down, not even close. General principles include:

1st, Never sell power. EVER.

2nd, Don’t actively inconvenience your player in order to try and force their hand into paying, all you do is generate resentment, and this has a very negative long term effect.

3rd, Your general principle should be that buying from your cash shop should be entirely voluntarily, and instill a sense of value in your players. That they are getting more for their money then they’d expect. Players should feel good about spending money in your game.

For loot boxes specifically, GGG don’t always sell them, usually only with expansion or large patches/leagues. So this has the effect of making feel them special, or limited time only.
The loot inside the boxes is either cosmetics that are already in the game and can always buy, or new items that will be on the cash shop in a few months. (after the loot box goes away)

The players are told exactly what every time in the loot box is, and what their chances are on any given item, as even high value items are not made to be less likely to find then less value items. This gives a sense of fairness. (they also shy away from duplicates, esp for items that you only ever need 1 of)
But what pushes it over the top, is that the minimal value of the cheapest item, is the cost of the loot box. Meaning, you always get your moneys worth or more.

Thus between the limited nature of the boxes, the complete transparency and fair odds, and always getting your moneys worth, it instills a sense of value in the consumer.
That they got something valuable, that they are always on the winning side of the proposition and never feel like they were cheated or undeserved.
Thus it justifies the consumer on spending more money on loot boxes, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Getting your players to want to spend money on your game and feel good doing so is the goal here. Personally I’ve spent more money on POE then any game ever (like well over $500), and I am still happy to spend more.
And this is the only loot box that I’ve ever bothered using, because they are ethical in it’s design. (I have a fairly extreme aversion to gambling on principle)
If they can get a cheap bastard like me to spend money, then they can almost anybody.

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Marvin Marshall

I agree 100%. I don’t play ARP games often, but POE’s cash shop makes me want to spend money to support their model every time I come back to the game after new expansions.

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Reht

Nothing against GGG or PoE, but GGG has 18 employees listed on their staff page. A full fledged MMO is going to require significantly more than 18 staff members to do anything beyond barebones maintenance. Their monetization plan works for them, it probably wouldn’t work for a studio that has 50+ full time employees.

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yoh_sl

That information must be old.
They have well over +50 employees now.
And the number of employees they have is a moot point to begin with, as it’s the total number of players who are spending money that dictates their revenue.

And from what I’ve seen, a rather large percentage of players do spend money.
Including whales. Short on money, GGG are not.
They’ve been steadily growing and expanding, doing more and more as time goes on.

You don’t have to be a greedy bastard to make the money to stay in business.

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Fervor Bliss

I have never bought a key or be bummed by a lockbox, just recycle the electrons and continue.
I have never seen a content paywall in a lockbox. Maybe there is but i cannot think of one.

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Toy Clown

Currently, I look to Black Desert Online as a model that doesn’t need to use lockboxes to keep their game going, and their game is only getting bigger internationally. Yeah, I hate that outfits cost 20-30$ each, and the cost of most cash shop stuff is more expensive than other MMOs, but most of it is stuff I don’t really need, or want. Once I realized that I kept my spending to a budget.

Whatever BDO is doing works for them, and for most of the playerbase. No surprises, no gambling, no lockboxes. I’d rather pay 20-30$ for an item I know I’m getting vs. gambling and resulting in nothing to show for that. Another thing is the devs at Pearl Abyss feed big money back into their game, which is evident with new content every week and major content updates every few months.

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Mr_Planthead

I haven’t felt the need to buy anything in BDO yet but I love the game. My only hurdle for playing it is the insane patch sizes, I still have like 6GB to go since the last one

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Sally Bowls

A lot of people like BDO. But its business practices are not universally loved. Some articles from this site:

BLACK DESERT’S CONTROVERSIAL CASH SHOP PATCH IS LIVE TODAY
KAKAO TO BLACK DESERT PLAYERS: CHARGEBACKS HAVE CONSEQUENCES
LEADERBOARD: IS BLACK DESERT’S NEW SUBSCRIPTION VALUE PACK PAY-TO-WIN?
KAKAO ARGUES THAT BLACK DESERT IS NOT PAY-TO-WIN
KAKAO DENIES MASS-BANNING ON BLACK DESERT FORUMS
BLACK DESERT: COMMUNITY UPROAR AND ANALYSTS ON KAKAO
BLACK DESERT PLAYERS EXPLODE OVER PLAN TO ALLOW CASH SHOP ITEMS ON THE IN-GAME MARKET
LEADERBOARD: IS BLACK DESERT DESTINED FOR FREE-TO-PLAY IN THE WEST?

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Schlag Sweetleaf

We’ve always been at war with Black Desert.

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Sally Bowls

And have always been allied with Eastasia?

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Schlag Sweetleaf

Yes ,Oceania is at war with Eastasia: Oceania will always be at war with Eastasia.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

.

big brother 1984sally.gif
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Chosenxeno .

I think BDO is similar to POE. POE charges insane costume prices but you don’t need them. I had no problem throwing like 80 bucks into POE. I got 500 hours of entertainment and I can get much more without ever spending a dime.

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kidwithknife

I’m curious about something. People often cite gambling addiction as part of the problem with lockboxes. Is there any actual science out there, by real mental health professionals with no ties to the gaming industry or game journalism, discussing lockboxes and similar moneymaking methods in games? Google has only turned up articles about online gambling games for money, like online poker and so forth, which I think is pretty clearly a different sort of thing. Is there any real academic work on this specific topic?

((Edited by mod. Manners.))

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Armsbend

To your questions I’ve recently started looking for information on developers hiring gambling experts to help them with their monetization. Does anyone have any info/proof of this anywhere?

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

FYI, I covered this before ( http://massivelyop.com/2017/01/17/__trashed-3/ ), and I don’t get paid by the hits when writing for MassivelyOP. I didn’t pay anyone for interviews either, and the Asian governments involved with making anti-gacha/lockbox laws could just as easily add a gambling tax to games if they weren’t concerned about its affects on its citizens. That alone should be enough to put lockboxes in the same category as gambling.

There’s more though. We don’t need science for this because certain game companies compare their own mechanics to games of chance, with reports that one company specific wanted a programer to “a gambling game disguised as a base-building resource-management strategy game aimed for kids.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/programmers-confess-unethical-illegal-tasks-asked-of-them-2016-11?r=DE&IR=T). I’m sure tons of people in this industry could say they’ve heard the same if we were speaking off the record or anonymous.

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kidwithknife

Yeeeaaahh… I’m more than a little troubled by the suggestion that we don’t need science with regards to something as serious as addiction. Laypeople get the facts about addiction wrong all the time, and even a lot of medical professionals are working with information that is years out of date. I’ll continue to keep an eye out for professional peer-reviewed science on the topic. I’ll give that Business Insider article a look tomorrow, though. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Brother Maynard

I’m more than a little troubled by the suggestion that we don’t need science with regards to something as serious as addiction.

That’s not exactly what Andrew wrote.

Also, there is a tonne of research done into how gambling addiction works. Lockboxes eploy the same tactics and target the same biological and psychological mechanisms. There is no reason to treat them any differently than traditional gambling. That means that research done on gambling addiction also applies here.

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

You saved me so many words.

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Sally Bowls

I was going to link to some good articles here, many by you, on this. But the comment system can get pissy about too many links. But anything is better than LiveFyre.

P.S.: I always suspected Bree was a tough taskmaster, but renaming your article to trashed-3 seems harsh even for her. I hate to think what she said about the trashed-1 and trashed-2 version of the article. :-)

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Sally Bowls

Harrumph. Some US states, including the largest, codify Poker as a game of skill, not a game of chance. And thus it is not gambling.

Estranged
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Estranged

Sally – poker is definitely more oriented towards skill, even video poker. Blackjack and Poker actually give the player some control.

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mistressbrazen

There is a huge legal debate about this, with most states ending on the side of: its gambling until they want more tax money! But right now, its gambling is still ahead.

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Sally Bowls

Online is still in turmoil, but California has allowed non-banked poker that was not stud-horse-poker since 1885. They are down to 89 card rooms, the largest of which has 270 tables. Confusingly, all the biggest card rooms have Casino in the name even though they are not what are usually called casinos.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Gardena!

In the 70s this was the only card-room in LA County. Everyone went there and everyone understood what you were doing if you were going to Gardena, which otherwise had not a thing going for it.

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mistressbrazen

I’ve worked with and represented people with addictions. If a person has an addictive personality, any activity that triggers that rush can become addictive. So yes, the rush of opening the box to see what is inside can trigger those feelings, causing the player to continue to purchase bags or boxes or keys or whatever the needed item is, anything to get the box open.

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Sally Bowls

But is this rush any different whether they spent RL$ or in game time on it? Are the hormones and emotions of anticipation any different when there is a 1% chance of the SwordOfUber randomly being a Boss loot drop versus a 1% chance of being in a lootbox? What you are spending may vary, but your payout – the pixels you receive if you win the gamble – is the same.

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Brother Maynard

It is different.

With boss fights (and their rewards), you have sufficient time and loads of other activities and effort between the initial investment and the potential reward. Whereas with gambling and lockboxes, this effect is immediate. It makes it significantly easier to form the positive feedback that can be so devastating for people with addiction disorder.

The boss fight example is closer to sport than to gambling.

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kidwithknife

Thanks, I’m familiar with the basic science on addiction though. What I’m interested in is published work on the topic. A study, a paper in an academic journal, the kind of thing that most people fall asleep reading. That’s what piques my curiosity.

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Sally Bowls

One of the MOP articles on this linked to

http://www.ign.com/articles/2017/04/24/the-troubling-psychology-of-pay-to-loot-systems

which has other links.

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kidwithknife

Thanks, I’ll check it out.

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