The studio behind The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t mincing words when it comes to business practices that involve lockboxes and partially delivered games.
“If you buy a full priced game, you should get a big, polished piece of content, which gives you many, many hours of fun gameplay,” said Co-Founder Marcin Iwiński. “The moment [the community] feels you are reaching out for their wallet in any unfair way, they will be vocal about it. And — frankly speaking — I think it’s good for the industry. Things often look great from a spreadsheet perspective, but decision makers often aren’t asking themselves the question of ‘How would gamers feel, or is this offer a fair one?’ Gamers are striking back, and I really hope this will change our industry for the better.”
Iwiński said that the studio is focusing on its sci-fi game instead of another Witcher title: “In terms of big RPGs, it’s time for Cyberpunk 2077.” He admitted that the game is “a huge responsibility” but that the studio will step up to the challenge and deliver.
Fans should be able to hear about and see more of Cyberpunk 2077, as the title is widely rumored to be coming to this year’s E3 in June.
Up until now, the political grumblings about video game gambleboxes has been mostly limited to state governments, specifically Hawaii’s Chris Lee, who submitted four regulatory bills this week, and Washington state’s Kevin Ranker, whose January provisional bill would require an investigation of whether the mechanic constitutes gambling under state laws.
But they’re getting a higher-ranking ally today. As Rolling Stone reports, New Hampshire Senator – that’s the US senate, not the state senate – Maggie Hassan has apparently joined the fray. She sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and used a recent committee hearing to ask FTC nominees their opinion on gaming addiction and lockboxes. (All four apparently said the issue is something they will address.)
Hassan also penned a letter to the ESRB asking it to “review the completeness of the board’s ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes, and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children.”
It might be tempting to think that the industry is doomed and that no studio will ever be able to ignore the siren song of easy lootbox, but the parade of MMOs and online games that are bucking the trend just keeps coming. The parade now includes Dauntless, which just closed out a Series B investment round. And money helps – but that isn’t the whole story of why. As Phoenix Labs CEO Jesse Houston told GIbiz, who the heck enjoys running a company specializing in squeezing cash out of gamer wallets?
“I would rather run a business where we are 100% focused on delivering awesome player experiences and building a game for a community than trying to find the best way to optimize every dime out of them,” he says.
Moreover, lockboxes change the way players actually play.
Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee has made good on his plan to write and submit bills to the state legislature regulating the sale of video games with predatory lockboxes. The four bills are straightforward: Two seek to block the sale of video games with random-reward gambleboxes to people under the age of 21 (gambling age in Hawaii as well as many other US states), while the other pair requires proper labeling of the gambling mechanics on game boxes as well as disclosure of probability rates of items inside the boxes.
As GIbiz points out, up to now the only active bill on the topic in the US was a demand for more research by Washington representatives.
Loot boxes might not be as welcome in Sweden come next year. A Public Administration minister told a news station that in-game lockboxes could be classified as gambling by 2019 as the government moves to “regain control” of the gambling sector.
“I don’t want to rule out the possibility [of classifying loot boxes as gambling],” said Minister Ardalan Shekarabi. “It is obvious that there are many people suffering from gambling addiction, who also get stuck in this type of gambling and lose money because of it.”
Currently, loot boxes — as in many countries — are not covered by gambling laws and do not have governmental oversight. With the increase in exposure over the business model practices recently, some politicians in various countries have proposed legislation and regulation.
Germany has added its voice to the anti-lockbox chorus in the US, UK, and Netherlands. According to an article on the German-language Welt (picked up by GIbiz), The German Youth Protection Commission has said it’s examining the lootbox issue as a potential gambling concern and may ban “certain elements in video games” in the region.
The move is apparently based on an as-yet unpublished University of Hamburg study that analyzes video game sales and business models, ultimately determining what most online gamers already know: that such games actively target whales, who are responsible for the majority of their revenue. This, the researchers reportedly conclude, is “a typical feature of gambling markets.”
The Commission is due to file its determination this coming March.
. Thanks, Veldan and Fabio!
Hawaiian politicians are getting some company on the lockbox front from a compatriot in Washington state.
State Senator Kevin Ranker has introduced legislation there that forces the gaming industry and state gambling officials to determine whether lootboxes/lockboxes in video games constitute gambling under state law – and whether they target minors. According to the Tacoma-based News Tribune, Ranker is pushing specifically for regulation that results in the publication of odds for lockbox mechanics in video games.
“If (parents) realized how predatory these game are then they wouldn’t want them under their Christmas tree, they wouldn’t want them going to their kids,” he reportedly said.
Should the provisional bill pass, the determination must be made by December of this year.
“It’s as easy as one, two, insert your credit card number here!” So begins the parody at the beginning of the first of two recent Game Theory videos all about 2017’s favorite-and-least-favorite topic, lootboxes. Rather than overtly picking a side, the vloggers attempt to sort out how lockboxes work – whether they’re just annoying business model glitches or deliberately manipulative end-runs around gambling laws, all by examine the science.
Now, contrary to the first video’s claim, lots of people are indeed talking about the science of lockboxes, but it nevertheless contributes a funny and clear-headed angle on the psychology of lockboxes from skinner boxes and dopamine to loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, and the illusion of control. The chilling idea is that we actually get our dopamine blast from opening the box – not from getting what we wanted. Lockboxes, like casinos, exploit the crap out of that, adding deadlines and exclusive loot to ramp up the pressure.
Even with all of the discussion going on about lockboxes these days, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down the release of such packs in some MMOs. EverQuest, for example, is preparing a new Iksar Heritage Crate on the marketplace for January 17th.
This lockbox retails for 799 DBC and contains a chance at several different lizard-themed items, including Iksar armor, familiars, teleport items, a mount, and even a music box. Keep buying and buying and buying these lockboxes, because if you can get all of the teleport items or familiars, you’ll also net a (drum roll) NEW TITLE. Can you feel the goosebumps?
Daybreak is giving subscribers the option to grab a lockbox instead of their normal monthly stipend of 500 DBC. There’s an expiration period on this box, as it’ll disappear from the marketplace on April 17th.
We don’t often cover cash shop updates for MMOs, and lockboxes are not our favorite thing, but Guild Wars 2’s
cash shop and lockbox update today is worth noting all the same because of the lockbox changes and new mechanics
going live. For starters, ArenaNet has patched in a new buyable in the cash shop called the Black Lion Garden Plot Deed. For 1000 gems ($12.50), you can add a garden plot to your home instance and grow harvestable plants from nodes akin to those purchaseable separately. Each plot allows four plants, and it appears you can purchase two plots. It sounds as if seeds will drop from nodes in the world as well. Good news for people who like to garden or those really into decking out their home instances, but maybe a steep price for a couple of nodes in a not-housing-system.
Perhaps more importantly, ArenaNet has redesigned (again) some of the features of the lockbox system itself, perhaps in part due to ongoing criticism of that element of the business model throughout the industry (and surely in response to backlash faced by ANet in particular last autumn). The devs are adding a “guaranteed seasonal item,” which this round appears to be a glowy minipet, plus the random drops, plus what they’re calling a “black lion statuette” currency. Collect enough currency, and you can trade that for specific items.
You know the lockbox thing is reaching saturation when there are so many things to cover we have to resort to a roundup. Nevertheless, for those of you who want to stay on top of developments and arguments, here we go.
Polygon has an explainer piece up on Destiny 2’s Eververse fallout and why everyone is still rioting over the game’s monetization. Of note for this discussion is the publication’s note that if Destiny 2 is hell-bent on having lootboxes, it ought to adopt Overwatch’s lootboxes, as they’re relatively tame and haven’t produced a Reddit in full meltdown.
Gamasutra has a roundup of MMO developer quotes from studios that believe they’re doing lockboxes “elegantly,” including Trion (for Defiance), PWE (for Star Trek Online), Wargaming (for World of Warships). In this particularly case, that means either being easily accessible through in-game play (not just in the cash shop), making lockbox drops tradeable to other players, creating systems of accruing lockbox rewards, or offering a choice of lootbox type.
We here at Massively OP can’t get rid of lockboxes, but by gum, we’re not going to roll over and give up on fighting them. At the very least, we can help to educate the gaming public about the insidious nature of these gambleboxes.
In that spirit, we want to share this post on the psychology of lockboxes and gambling and how both casinos and video game studios use the same techniques to manipulate players into spending far more than they ever should. There are five tricks listed: the gambler’s falacy, the sunk costs effect, the availability heuristic, the illusion of control, and the near-miss illusion.
“Casinos long ago discovered that if they let a player make some kind of meaningless choice or tap a button to potentially ‘nudge’ a slot machine reel into a winning position, they would love it and gamble more,” author Jamie Madigan notes. “Even when the odds of winning are held constant. You could totally do this with loot boxes, too. Instead of clicking on a loot box to open it, let them choose between three boxes, all of which in reality have the same contents.”
just can’t seem to stop pissing off everyone. Its Dawning holiday event, detractors argue, is overtly designed as a moneygrab focused around the Eververse cash shop, which is apparently dispensing paid holiday lockboxes that include special holiday cosmetics as well as game-affecting buff items. Adding insult to injury, Bungie is locking almost all of the holiday rewards up that way, rather than doing what a lot of MMOs do and drop holiday loot during play.
MMO players might be wondering what the problem is since many MMOs do this, but then very few of us pay $60 for a box for other MMOs, either, and when we do (say, games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV), this isn’t the monetization situation we see.
The new outrage, on top of the existing ill-will in the community and the overall anti-lockbox/anti-exploitation atmosphere engendered by Star Wars Battlefront, has led to a virtual riot on the forums. As I type this, literally every single thread on the first page of the forums is a demand for Bungie to remove Eververse, with thousands of collective upvotes.