Convenience and cosmetics. These are the foundational pillars of Guild Wars 2’s
microtransactions, and back at GDC earlier this year, Game Director Crystin Cox opened up about how ArenaNet monetized its game
using these pillars along with the free market and lootboxes.
“Expressing yourself, relating to other people, showing off, making a visual representation of who you are, is hugely important to a lot of MMO players, so that was always very high on our list,” she said. As for convenience items, Cox emphasized how the studio “respected people’s time” and wanted to make items that could trade time and money if so desired.
As for the dual currency system, Cox said that it has turned out quite well for the MMO: “I think we’ve done incredibly well with the free market because it accurately represents the value of the things that people are purchasing.”
Back in 2017, at the height of mainstream outrage over lockbox shenanigans, Belgium became one of the very first countries to take the problem seriously (instead of just passing the buck). The Belgian committee assigned to investigate concluded in November that “the mixing of money and addiction is gambling” and pledged to ban them. At the end of April of this year, the country effectively did just that. Its Gaming Commission spent several months investigating multiple games, ultimately finding that Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive are operating in violation of its laws specifically because of their lockbox mechanics.
At the time, we had only a few scattered quotes from a translated press release, but this week the Commission has released its entire report (and there’s even a version in English). Its goal is clear: to examine “whether the use of loot boxes in video games constitutes a gambling operation in the sense of the Belgian Gaming and Betting Act. ”
Look, we know, none of the people reading this right now like lockboxes. And, you know, for good reason. But despite that dislike, lockboxes do manage to make a stupid amount of money. Odds are good that some of the people reading this have bought some, whether or not you liked the experience, and odds are equally high that many of you probably know what would convince you to purchase one even if otherwise disinclined.
So what would convince you to buy an MMO lockbox? Or if you already have, what did convince you to? I know friends who have bought some on the promise of one particularly much-wanted item, or those who already got a monthly stipend of currency and figured that it had to go somewhere. And some people have just started buying them because, well, the game is non-predatory with them, so why not support. Everyone has their reasons. So what were yours, or what could conceivably be one?
EA’s quarterly financial report and investor call turned out to be a doozy this year with quite a bit of useful news. To wit:
BioWare’s Anthem is set to ship “in the last quarter of the year, and in the last month of that quarter,” so if we’re counting by fiscal quarters, that’s March 2019, and no wiggling out of this latest delay, EA. According to PCGN, multiple execs inflated the hype, arguing it’s a “stunning and ambitious” game with a “fundamentally social experience.”
Also, in spite of industry interviews to the contrary, it appears that EA learned basically nothing from the Star Wars Battlefront II fiasco that drove the ancient lockboxes-are-gambling argument out of weary corners of the online gaming market and into mainstream politics. The plan going forward appears to be fighting the perception – now codified in Belgium – that lockboxes are gambling in the first place. “We don’t believe that FIFA Ultimate Team or loot boxes are gambling firstly because players always receive a specified number of items in each pack, and secondly we don’t provide or authorize any way to cash out or sell items or virtual currency for real money,” CEO Andrew Wilson said during the call.
Ever since Standing Stone Games started ramping up the prominence of Lord of the Rings Online’s
lockboxes following last year’s Mordor
expansion, the microtransactions have proved to be extremely controversial and divisive in the community.
And while LOTRO isn’t going to be ditching lockboxes any time soon, SSG is working on being more transparent about the system. On April 25th’s livestream, CM Jerry Snook answered a player concern about the topic.
“I have been working on a page in recent days that’s going to provide more transparency on both Hobbit presents and the seal-bound Gorgoroth lootboxes,” he said. “It’s going to talk about what you can get from these things, what’s considered rare, what’s considered common, what’s super-rare.”
Snook said that the page will come out in the next couple of weeks after it has been localized.
Back in 2017, at the height of mainstream outrage over lockbox shenanigans, Belgium became one of the very first countries to take the problem seriously (instead of just passing the buck). The Belgian committee assigned to investigate concluded in November that “the mixing of money and addiction is gambling” and pledged to ban them.
Now, the country has effectively done just that. Its Gaming Commission spent several months investigating multiple games, ultimately finding that Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive are operating in violation of its laws specifically because of their lockbox mechanics.
So here’s an interesting case that could impact online game development in the US. Apparently, a few weeks ago the Ninth Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals determined that a casual game, Big Fish Games’ Big Fish Casino, includes illegal gambling. You might be thinking, duh, it’s got casino in the name, of course it’s gambling, but that had nothing to do with the appeals decision, which returns the case to the lower district to reconsider. The ruling instead hinged on the fact that users have to keep buying chips (if they fail to come out ahead in their winnings of said chips, which they probably do because that’s how casinos work) to keep playing.
“Without virtual chips, a user is unable to play Big Fish Casino’s various games. […] Thus, if a user runs out of virtual chips and wants to continue playing Big Fish Casino, she must buy more chips to have ‘the privilege of playing the game.’ Likewise, if a user wins chips, the user wins the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino without charge. In sum, these virtual chips extend the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino.”
If you had expected the Netherlands to be leading the fight against lootboxes, you may be more clairvoyant than the rest of the population. After investigating 10 games, the Dutch Gaming Authority has found that four of the games tested feature lootboxes that violate the Better Gaming Act. That may not sound too serious until you consider that the offending games have eight weeks to make changes to the lootboxes to comply with the law.
Failure to do so can result in fines or just straight-up forbidding the games from being sold in the Netherlands. That’s a pretty big deal.
While the DGA did not specifically name games, the Dutch paper reporting on the situation cites FIFA ’18, Dota 2, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Rocket League as the offending titles. The remaining six titles are not in violation of the law but were still sharply criticized for the lootbox implementation, which is said to target younger players and encourage gambling. It’s also worth noting that each of these violations specifically pertains to tradeable items for real money, which just squeaks in as a gambling option.
How big a deal with the lootbox controversy that finally hit the mainstream last year? Pretty big, SuperData argues. In a new blog post, the analytics firm argues that “the loot box controversy hampered Star Wars Battlefront II out of the gate” as shown by the game’s monthly active users compared to its predecessor’s, and that the resulting dumpster fire has caused publishers to rethink lootboxes and self-regulate or at least modulate their greed – an effect we’ve already seen in the MMO industry too.
“At the upcoming E3, we’re likely to see presenters announce ‘no loot boxes’ or that paid content is ‘cosmetic only’ in order to get on the good side of creators and hardcore gamers,” SuperData predicts. “Loot boxes won’t disappear anytime soon given their success in games like Overwatch (over $600M of loot boxes sold through February 2018). In the short term, though, ‘No loot boxes’ will be the game industry’s own ‘gluten free water’ — and we’re likely to even see this slogan used to market titles where loot boxes would not make sense such as adventure games.”
Dauntless is a game in which fleshy mortals willingly attack beasts twenty times their size, so this is not a title that deals in hesitant and half-hearted moves. In that spirit, the multiplayer behemoth battler has had enough of the protection of closed beta and will be dashing into its open beta phase next month on May 24th.
When the free-to-play open beta hits at the end of next month, it will include regular content updates and endgame activities. A cosmetic shop will be active to sell vanity items, and there will be no lootboxes in the game proper. The founder’s program will be ending on May 23rd, so if you want to secure one of those packages, you now have a deadline.
The closed beta phase started back in September 2017 and enjoyed a good measure of popularity, with over 100,000 players testing Dauntless to date. The studio said that an additional 700,000 gamers have lined up for the open beta experience.
Source: Press release
Nexon isn’t the only Korean studio that has been targeted by the government and fined for dishonest practices with its online games and lockboxes. The South Korean Fair Trade Commission has handed out $950,000 in fines to the country’s studios for deceiving players and failing to provide accurate odds for winning any particular prize.
The three studios punished for their transgressions are Nexon ($875,000), Netmarble ($55,000), and NextFloor ($4,600). The Korea Herald notes, “The [South Korean] FTC’s actions have signaled alarm across the Korean game sector, as it could hurt the sales of in-game items — particularly randomized items, which users tend to continuously buy until they get a desired result — that contribute immensely to profits.”
Is this enough of a penalty to make the eastern market be more responsible with its lockbox policies, or are these fines merely a slap on the wrist? We will see.
If you’ve ever been frustrated over online games refusing to disclose the odds of winning anything in lockboxes, then get ready to do a little fist pump for justice. South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission just fined MMO company Nexon for its failure to do just that in a pair of its games.
While companies don’t have to disclose odds for lootbox or “gacha” capsules in the west, in eastern countries it is much more regulated. Nexon was dinged for its failure to do this in 2016 for Sudden Attack and Counter-Strike Online 2 in a possible attempt to cheat players.
The two fines levied against Nexon by the FTC are $5,000 and $900,000, respectively. The company said that it will comply by revealing gacha odds going forward.
Not quite a year ago, we covered a brand-new MMO community called the MMO Book Club, whose goal was to bring MMO players together to try out new games together. It’s a bit like a huge open-membership guild, albeit one that doesn’t stay in a game forever and instead moves on in accordance with the community vote. Since then, we’ve covered the group as it grew to more than 1400 members and romped through a total of 11 games.
And now it’s getting lootboxes, and that’s not an April Fools’ Day joke. But it’s also not the kind of lockboxes you’re thinking. For starters, they don’t cost anybody anything, and the prizes are actually games and apparel donated by the community.
“Players can now earn free lootboxes with actual cash value prizes just by playing games with the community and picking up achievements set at the start of every month,” says the group. “A custom-made bot, designed specifically for the Bookclub community, unlocks the lootboxes players have earned. After that, it’s up to the RNG gods as to whether loot hunters will win a common, uncommon, rare or legendary prize.”