Let’s review. Paladins, as it stands now, has a system wherein characters get cards that can be used to power up playable characters. You craft them or get them from loot chests. The game’s latest patch removes that restriction entirely, giving every player access to every card in the game. So far, so good. Except those cards also need to be ranked up from rank I to rank V, with rank V being the most powerful, and every card players already own will automatically be ranked at III.
How do you rank cards up? Why, by getting duplicates of the same card. Except the crafting currency is also going away, so the only way to get a rank up is by pulling the same card from (all together now) lockboxes. Needless to say, players have already cried foul on this system, claiming that it unfairly forces people into paying without actually improving the game experience. There’s a whole video down below on just how bad the math works out for players; it’s worth a watch.
Among the controversy of EA’s pay-to-win lockboxes in Star Wars Battlefront II emerges a rather reasonable question: Why didn’t the studio create and use cosmetic rewards in these lockboxes rather than selling progression through them?
An EA spokesperson claimed that the company was concerned about “violating the canon of Star Wars” with pink-skinned Darth Vaders and the like, but it turns out that such cosmetic customization was in the works all along. Fans have found a hidden customization menu for characters tucked away in the game’s coding that wasn’t activated for release, hinting that the team had originally envisioned allowing players to adopt and use all sorts of cosmetic skins.
Meanwhile, another one of EA’s upcoming titles is falling under increased scrutiny with its microtransactions model. UFC 3 recently went into beta testing, during which players discovered that “the more a player invests into their account the better their performance will be in game.” Yes, it’s loot crates all over again becoming the gatekeeper to progression, holding access to “every single technique, fighter, and stat roll.”
Not everyone in the video game industry is shying away from lockboxes or denouncing them outright. Take-Two Interactive President Karl Slatoff took the side of the ESA by saying that he doesn’t consider lockboxes gambling and that the Red Dead Redemption 2 studio will continue using microtransactions going forward.
“The whole gambling regulator thing, we don’t view that sort of thing as gambling. Our view of it is the same as the ESA statement for the most part,” Slatoff said during a recent confererence. “That’s going to play its course, but in terms of the consumer and the noise you hear in the market right now, it’s all about content […] You can’t force the consumer to do anything. You try to do your best to create the best experience you possibly can to drive engagement. And driving engagement creates value in entertainment. That’s just how it’s always been and always will be.”
As the conversation over lockboxes continues to ramp up, a story of one teen who got caught up in online gambling and spent over $10,000 on video game microtransactions is drawing the attention of many — as is this scathing piece at Polygon taking EA’s poor apologies over Star Wars Battlefront 2 to task.
It looks as though the rebels may have defeated the empire — or at least struck a mighty blow to give the latter pause.
CNBC is reporting that the fallout from EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II and its lockboxes has done serious damage to the company’s bottom line. EA’s stock price dove 8.5% following the uproar over Battlefront’s egregious lockboxes, the resulting decision to (temporarily) remove them from the business model, and weaker than expected sales. This means that $3.1 billion of shareholder value has now vanished. That’s no small potatoes.
Wall Street Analyst Doug Creutz said that this may be the catalyst that sets some serious changes in motion for the video game industry: “We think the time has come for the industry to collectively establish a set of standards for MTX implementation, both to repair damaged player perceptions and avoid the threat of regulation.”
While you were eating turkey and buying loot this past weekend, the lockbox saga was trundling onward.
The UK Gambling Commission has formally stated that it does not believe lootboxes and lockboxes should be classified as gambling – yet. “A key factor in deciding if that line has been crossed is whether in-game items acquired ‘via a game of chance’ can be considered money or money’s worth,” says the commission. “In practical terms this means that where in-game items obtained via loot boxes are confined for use within the game and cannot be cashed out it is unlikely to be caught as a licensable gambling activity. In those cases our legal powers would not allow us to step in.”
That said, the commission further notes that even if certain “activities” like lockboxes fail to meet the legal definition of gambling, it has a responsibility to parents and children.
“We are concerned with the growth in examples where the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred. Where it does meet the definition of gambling it is our job to ensure that children are protected and we have lots of rules in place, like age verification requirements, to do that.”
You might have missed the riots in the streets over lockboxes these past few months, but we assure you, the controversy is very real. One game where this won’t be a problem? City of Titans.
The team opened up about its business model this week, explaining how it will make money as an indie superhero MMORPG. Despite needing revenue as badly as any other small game, City of Titans promised not to include lockboxes as part of its business plan. For the record, the game is adopting a buy-to-play model with a cash shop and optional subscription.
“We’ve put a great deal of thought into how to finance profitably but ethically,” the team said.
The latest batch of lockboxes in RIFT
isn’t making friends among the playerbase.
The current Autumn Harvest lockboxes seem to contain more exclusive items than in years past, which has upset some players who wanted to have the option of purchasing these cosmetics through the in-game store. Of particular note is the Green Budgie mask and Raven wings, both of which are lockbox exclusives.
“The ONE item I was most looking forward to in this event were the wings. I am severely disappointed they are only available in a gambling box, as that means I will not get them,” a player wrote.
“Personally my problem isn’t even in the boxes, or the RNG itself,” another noted. “It’s in the fact that not only you have to basically gamble for everything, paid or not, but your chances are also so terrible that you end up losing to the system most of the times. So instead of being a system of surprise rewards, what we have now is a system of surprise frustration that doesn’t even surprise anyone at this point.”
It’s hard to imagine that anyone is going to be upset about the idea of no lockboxes in World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. Sure, Blizzard makes use of them in several other games, but at this point there are no plans to bring them into Azeroth, according to a new interview. (Whether or not that will change in the future remains to be seen.) Of course, the same interview that confirms that also confirms that we will not be getting our own personal boats, so it’s sort of good news, bad news.
Other interviews have indicated that the team wants to bring forward Mission Table-style content, so that doesn’t mean we won’t have anything similar; it just means it won’t be a boat.
Last but not least, there’s another “no” on the list that will either make you happy or sad depending on how you feel about the Legion mechanics for classes. While every class and spec will be adjusted and altered moving into the next expansion, there will be no major overhauls on par with the Legion shift, certainly nothing like the large-scale rework of Survival Hunters. Exactly how things will be balanced remains to be seen, but this is good news if you like your current spec’s playstyle. If you don’t… well, it’ll be adjusted, not wildly changed.
Hey, you folks who say complaining about lockboxes never changes anything? You’re demonstrably wrong.
It turns out that EA, which increased its revenues last quarter chiefly thanks to sports games, has now announced plans to rework the lootbox/lockbox system in Star Wars Battlefront II – the game whose controversy pushed the lockbox conversation into the mainstream and even to the ears of national politics. While the company won’t eschew lockboxes entirely, it will essentially make the system less pay-to-win by removing high-end preorder cards and making them craftable instead.
EA isn’t the only company walking back its lockbox/lootbox policy in order to stay on the community’s good side: Phoenix Labs, which is currently building Dauntless, is dumping the model entirely, citing feedback from players and a desire not to be “a company that is known for being able to extract capital, or some other bullshit, out of [players].”
Many of you will immediately turn to the free-to-play model of Star Wars: The Old Republic
and reject my even thinking
about the cash shop working the way it should, so let me allay your fears: I am not going to talk about the hybrid, F2P-trash model that SWTOR
employs, the one that earned SWTOR
our (and our readers’) worst business model of 2016
“award.” I am simply going to talk about the Cartel Market itself and the changes that BioWare
has made to make it more player-centric – and how, if this trend continues, we could see more positive changes to this particular storefront.
If you haven’t heard, in the recent Update 5.5, BioWare changed not only the look of the Cartel Market but also its functionality and the number of items in it. On the Bad Feeling Podcast, Community Manager Eric Musco said that with some of the new functions, like the ability to search for specific items versus scrolling through menus, has allowed BioWare to add more direct-sell items to the market and also bring back some items that people enjoy.
I’m not an advocate of everything that BioWare has added or is doing with the Cartel Market, but I believe that great strides have been made in the right direction. Let me explain what I mean.
MMO blogger Serrenity, whom many of you will recognize from his clever comments here on MOP too, has a compelling blog post on his personal site today diving deep into the lockbox debate. But far from merely offering another exhortation to stop buying lockboxes, he’s doing some complicated napkin math (and by napkin math, I mean python scripting) to try to understand why publishers are so fixated on selling them.
Since studios are generally not in the business of handing out detailed sales figures and drop rates, Serrenity is forced to calculate potential revenue based on publicly gathered data, which he admits upfront result in rough estimates. “This information is purely extrapolated and used for demonstrative purposes,” he warns.
Using Guild Wars 2’s wiki data on drop rates for the bank access token, he finds that the revenue from selling lockboxes vs. selling that item directly increases 14-fold – almost 1500% higher. And that’s just a minor, relatively undesirable item with a relatively high drop rate; admittedly, nobody’s going to go ham buying lockboxes just for that (we hope, anyway). Plugging rarer, desirable drops that would cost much more upfront (like weapon skins) into his formula sees the estimated revenue soar as high as 12500%. That is not a typo.
A formal UK petition requesting that video game gambling laws be adjusted to include language covering lockboxes passed 10,000 signatures earlier this week, ensuring that the petition would receive a response from the government, which it now has, although no one concerned about the issue will be impressed at the reply.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Tracey Crouch is a bit of a dodge, like PEGI’s statement earlier this week. As Eurogamer points out, Crouch’s reply – repeated verbatim for each question asked – refers to the UK Gambling commission’s paper on third-party gambling websites, which as you’ll recall since we covered it has nothing to do with in-game lockboxes.
The ESRB may not be interested in protecting gamers against predatory business model practices like lockboxes, but European regulators may be joining their Chinese counterparts in at least taking a look before casually dismissing concerns.
As Polygon reports, a member of the UK parliament, Daniel Zeichner, submitted formal questions to the UK’s secretary of state on topic, requesting information on her plan to “to protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games,” specifically on the Isle of Man, whose legal code refers by name to “in-game gambling and loot boxes.”
Meanwhile, the European PEGI – akin to the ESRB on this side of the pond – has said that it can’t rule on the issue for game studios because it “cannot define what constitutes gambling” because it’s not a national gambling commission – contrary to the ESRB’s statement.