Former SWTOR dev talks about designing ethical lockboxes

An extensive Twitter thread from former Star Wars: The Old Republic lead systems designer Damion Schubert grappled with the timely and touchy topic of lockboxes and microtransactions from the perspective of one who designed them.

Schubert said that designers can make lockboxes that aren’t pure evil: “I’ve been working in free-to-play games for four years, and lootboxes are pretty crucial to that business model working. But it is possible to do them ethically, and they are super easy to f**k up.”

“Good [microtransactions] design is an art,” he continued. “It requires designers to be equal partners with product managers to come up with something that is perceived as fair and is celebrated […] MTX will fail if it doesn’t feel good to spend. It will fail if it creates a poisonous environment around the game instead of excitement.”

He went on to point out that 90% or more of a free-to-play game’s audience isn’t there to spend anything but are essential for getting the word out, providing a massive social environment, and making sure that queues pop. It’s why Schubert is happy with targeting big spenders: “I’m pretty fine with those guys paying a lot of money so that a whole bunch of kids without money or credit cards can play my games for free. I’ve compared it to the old patron system in Renaissance times, where kings and rich dudes would subsidize art so everyone could enjoy it. ”

Trion Worlds CEO Scott Hartsman highlighted the thread in agreement, adding, “The exact thinking that led to us naming our optional subs ‘Patron’ programs — server-based games are vastly more expensive to operate than single player/small group/async games. Someone needs to kick in for the bills. Enter, patrons.”

Source: Twitter
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42 Comments on "Former SWTOR dev talks about designing ethical lockboxes"

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Alex Malone

Schubert said that designers can make lockboxes that aren’t pure evil: “I’ve been working in free-to-play games for four years, and lootboxes are pretty crucial to that business model working.”

Lootboxes were crucial to the business model of SW:TOR because you made a shit game! Without being able to rip off your playerbase you would have made a massive loss. How about next time you just make a good game that we’re willing to pay for?

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Ukrutor

Thing is that targeting only big spenders robs you of money from small spenders.

Say, ESO. I want to support that game, I like it, but I simply can’t justify buying anything at those prices. An outfit for 2000 crowns? A mount for 3000 crowns? Come on. I could have an entire game for that kind of money. So, as a result, I buy nothing. Not because I couldn’t afford it, but because the price is far higher than the value for me (even though they are doing their best to conceal the fact by hiding real prices behind some imaginary “crowns”).

“Micro” is fifty cents, a dollar, three dollars, even five dollars. There’s nothing “micro” about godsdamn twenty bucks.

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rafael12104

Ok. Been busy today, so I missed this one.

*shakes head*

So, Schubert says some good things here. Things that I can agree with. There is nothing wrong with the quote cited. I believe he is right. Microtransactions can be done well if marketing, the product team, the community team and the devs work together to create a point of sale mechanism that is good for the game and makes players feel good about their purchases.

Where it falls apart is, first, in the equivalence he assumes with regard to microtransactions and loot boxes. That is, namely, to imply that if you have microtransactions you then have loot boxes. Not so. No. You can make a significant profits without loot boxes at all. People will buy and return to buy more if they are happy with there purchases. You don’t need rng to force them to come back. Good gravy! I thought this was obvious.

Mark Jacobs, down below, sees this correctly. Why can’t others in the industry understand this. Profit in microtransactions do not have too include loot boxes.

The other thing, about the Patrons? LOL. Sorry that is a load of shit. Justification for fleecing whales. And the thing about that is, that it doesn’t stop with the whales. Hey, if you have big bucks to spend on a game, more power to you. But that doesn’t mean you should be exploited for it. And if it works on a whale? It will work on a guppy. But then, that doesn’t seem to matter.

Give us, a shop where we can buy the cool stuff that makes our toons unique. Cosmetics and convenience items are fair. Mounts, pets, and premium stuff, yes please. Take the rng out of it and be transparent. It’s not hard. Really, it’s not. Think of it as a store front.

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Bruno Brito

> “An extensive Twitter thread from former Star Wars: The Old Republic lead systems designer Damion Schubert ”

> “Trion Worlds CEO Scott Hartsman highlighted the thread in agreement, adding”

It’s like there’s a rule in this world that crap should converge.

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Arktouros

So when people tell me I’m part of the problem in GW2 because I bought all 30 mounts I should just tell them they should be thanking me for paying for them and they’re welcome for my patronage?

I’m sure that’ll go over swell.

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Serrenity

I kinda feel like if F2P relies on gambling and exploiting a loophole in gambling laws to be successful, that maybe they should be re-evaluating the F2P practice, instead of just saying ‘ethical’ gambling boxes are the ones that inspire more people to gamble.

Call me old fashioned, but I feel like developers should focus on creating a game / experience that people want to pay for rather than making a game no one cares enough to pay for except for the whales

And as if somehow the successful lawyer who’s a whale is any more ethical than a minimum wage worker who’s a whale.

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Utakata

Sorry…but what a load of flowery drivel. /sigh

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Bruno Brito

Or in more brazilian terms: “That’s a bunch of crap.”

InfractionRQ
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InfractionRQ

Amazing how disconnected from things people are today from the statements they make.

I’m kind of over supporting games that spend more of their development resources on how to make me part with more money in their cash shop rather than making a fun game that I contribute to monthly.

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Kickstarter Donor
zeko_rena

“I’m pretty fine with those guys paying a lot of money so that a whole bunch of kids without money or credit cards can play my games for free. I’ve compared it to the old patron system in Renaissance times, where kings and rich dudes would subsidize art so everyone could enjoy it.”

Dumbest thing I have read in a very very long time, and I read a lot of stupid shit on the internet.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Its true to an extent, but what is also true is the gross elitism and inaccuracy about how much access people got.

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Loyal Patron
Armsbend

You never read a history lessons of lines and lines of peasants crawling through art galleries and listening to Beethoven’s latest piece live?

lol.

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drgreenhoe

Ethical lockbox = oxymoron.

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Utakata

…kinda up there with “reasonable racist” or “law abiding mobster”, isn’t it? o.O