MMO Week in Review: The war on lockboxes is just beginning (November 26, 2017)

Were you too busy gaming this week to pay attention to MMO news? Get caught up every Sunday evening with Massively Overpowered’s Week in Review!

If you’re sick of lockboxes… well, I’m sorry because the gripes MMO players have had for half a decade have finally reached the mainstream thanks to EA’s overreach, leading multiple countries’ gambling commissions and politicians to take up the cause and analysts to lament that they would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for the press.

Meanwhile, in spite of a letter from Gazillion’s CEO to laid-off employees stating that the plug would be pulled on Marvel Heroes Friday, the game appears to still be up. Wouldn’t count on that lasting long, though…

Read on for the very best of this week’s MMO news and opinions.

Massively OP’s guide to MMO Thanksgiving 2017 - Stately resting between the gaudy purple and orange of Halloween and merry red and green of Christmas is the earth tone-saturated Thanksgiving. While no one's favorite color scheme, Thanksgiving does…
Australia turns up the heat on lockboxes - The controversy over lockboxes and their legal status continues to draw more attention from governments, with Australia now weighing in on the issue. Not the whole country, mind you, but…

The thorny problem of Classic WoW and class balance

Sorry, your Bronze-Tinted sunglasses are only transmoggable for a limited time

Know Your Lore: Jaina Proudmoore’s battle

Every week, get caught up on the MMO genre’s latest news and Massively OP’s best content in our MMO Week in Review! Want more roundups of content? Try Friday’s Betawatch for MMO testing highlights, Saturday’s Make My MMO for MMO crowdfunding updates, and Sunday’s The MOP Up, which mops up all the little bits of news we didn’t cover anywhere else.

newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Toy Clown

I’m so happy to see this issue getting “real world” attention. The entire MMO business has started to feel “oily”. Like others said below, I don’t mind paying for what I want. I just don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars gambling to get a thing I want.


“Why so serious!”

Kichwas Selassie

You know it’s not that gamers dislike micro-transactions. Many of us love them. It’s that we object to random micro-transactions.

I buy outfits, mounts, character slots, mini-pets, and etc all the time. But I don’t buy lootboxes (except in Overwatch…)… and I agree that lootboxes just feed into people with gambling addictions.

Look at how people reacted to the new lootboxed mounts in GW2. We begged to be able to buy them directly… We’re mostly perfectly willing to fund these games, if they actually give us something we want for our money.

I just started Blade and Soul maybe 3 days ago – and right out of the gate I spent $40 to buy specific outfits I wanted and added character slots for ‘messing around with alts’.

Willing to pay, if you’re willing to give me something for that money. Do not understand why this is so hard for companies to get.


It has been suggested that lockboxes gaming companies higher revenues for their game as opposed single or bulk items sold on the respective cash shops. Further more, if the most expensive desired item on cash shop has a chance to drop on a lockbox, you can see why players would opt for lockboxes as something more inexpensive to acquire that item on a chance. And finally, since the lockbox industry is entirely unregulated, it’s skies the limit of what can be put in there. As well as making more exclusive lockboxes with a higher chance to drop sort after items. This all likely adds up to a much bigger revenue windfall; ethics be damned. /sigh


Edit/Erratum: It has been suggested that lockboxes *gain companies higher revenues…proper.


Basically companies want more money for their developers time.

Big thing people don’t understand is the concept of return of investment. Yes you could pay a developer’s salary to support a project and pay to keep the servers running and it could even be profitable. However you could also pay that same salary and server fees and make even more profit off a different title or project. This is most likely why City of Heroes got shut down.

So when a company is paying developers to design and implement art assets into a game (IE: Cosmetic cash shoppery things) they’re looking to get a return on that investment into that developer’s time. Companies already collect a wide variety of customer purchasing data in their games so they can reasonably forecast the kind of money they’ll make short term and long term (IE: People who wait for sales).

Now the big problem with selling items directly for higher values is many customers online will experience “sticker shock.” You start to see comments like, “Oh my god this Cosmetic Outfit costs me almost as much as I paid for the game!” and other similar comments. That also has an impact on sales numbers.

RNG systems on the other hand are insidious in that they remove sticker shock and sell you a chance at an item for vastly cheaper. The math looks very attractive for sales because the same people who would have paid $30 for the item are now willing to go $40 or $80 etc until they get the item they wanted from the box. This in turn leads to even more revenue from the same people than had they sold it directly creating an even higher return.

Now we can bemoan this system till the cows come home but understand that at the end of the day these places are businesses. If they can get a greater return on their developer time by investing in MOBAs, Battle Royales, or whatever the new hotness is then expect them to start investing into those games. This is a huge reason why we stopped seeing MMOs being developed by major companies, they simply have horrendous ROI because we’re a horrendous market to design for. We’re unhappy with any business model presented.


Well, it does give me sticker shock in two different ways.

First is if, as you described, an individual piece of content is too expensive. Sorry, I’m never going to purchase any mount or outfit costing more than $10, so if all of a game’s offers are in line with that it won’t make a red cent out of me.

The second way is a bit more complex. When I’m starting in a game with microtransactions I will look at its store, figure every single item that I consider a must-have, and add their prices to the game’s box price, if it has one; the resulting value is how much I will consider the game to cost, and if it’s higher than I’m willing to pay then I won’t bother with it even if technically I could start playing for a lower price.

One caveat, though: I’m very much the opposite of a gambling addict, to the point certain randomness-based promotional stunts such as free sweepstakes actually drive me away. So any and every other monetization strategy has a better chance of getting my money than lockboxes simply because I never, ever, spend real money on a mere chance of winning something, be it in a game or not.


Okay, that’s 100% fair and reasonable way to view things.

However your kind of customer is accounted for in every business model. It’s always expected there’s going to be a vast majority of people who don’t play or partake in cash shop mechanics. Whether it be violent moral opposition or pragmatic financial incapability a large chunk of the game population just isn’t going to spend money in the shop. From there you have various shades of grey of how much people will spend money in the shop for those that do.

However what’s infuriatingly frustrating is the customers who refuse to spend money except under very specific circumstances thinking that they’re the ones who should be catered to. It makes no sense what so ever that anyone would do that from a business perspective when they could listen to the people who actually do spend money on their game.


However what’s infuriatingly frustrating is the customers who refuse to spend money except under very specific circumstances thinking that they’re the ones who should be catered to.

If those customers are merely deciding that they will only spend money on games that cater to them, I find that perfectly reasonable, and to an extent I do exactly that. It’s why I will only ever spend money in a game after making sure it doesn’t have some of the “features” that drive me away, regardless of how much I like the rest of the offering.

(Offline games often get a free pass from me here, though, because I can use mods and cheats to tweak any features I dislike.)

If they are expecting games should drop everything to cater to them specifically, that is a kind of bratty behavior that shouldn’t have a place in online games.

Kichwas Selassie

Go take a look at the “MMO” Second Life. Particularly it’s market place…

First do that somewhere ‘private’ as it has a lot of ‘NSFW’ content… but just give it a general glance.

This is basically an “MMO” made in the late 90s that went “live” in 2003, that is still making more money than any other MMO out there… and the bulk of it is driven by ‘microtransactions’ for prices that range between 10-cents to $5… things above that, yes, get sticker shock.
– And that’s a “game” with outdated graphics, a horrible gaming engine, clunky animations, and weirdly distorted character models. People shop like crazy there because they CAN. And because it’s so cheap.

People will buy 11 things for $1 each before they will buy 1 thing for $10. I’d wager they will buy 30 things for $1 each before buying 1 for $10.

Second Life is likely why this is called ‘microtransaction’ – because they get their users by nickel-and-diming them all day long, every day, and for the past 15 years non-stop.

And the best part of it for them is that they do it with user-made content… all the devs do there is force you to use their ‘game currency’, take a small cut off of converting that to real money, and another small cut out of every sale made through their website (but direct “in-game” sales don’t suffer a cut).

Once again… a model that is 15 years old and boasts annual sales in the 100-million+ range… and somehow the other “MMOs” still can’t figure out how to appease their own customer bases.

If I looked at all the mini-pets and transmogs in say… WoW… I could put every single one of them that is earned in game, on the blizzard store, for say… $1 each for ‘greens’, $2 for ‘blues’, $3 for rarer…
– And people would be spending millions on that…

Not the gear… just the fashion. So “pay to style” rather than “pay to win”.
– And to keep some happy about ‘too easy to get that’… don’t sell anything from a current expansion’s raiding or PvP seasons.

A similar concept could work in any MMO… just flood your cash shop with a LOT of content, for a very low price… and collect the money…


You can’t point to another game and say, “Just use their business model, see it works!”

For one, every game’s circumstances are different. Second Life continues 15 years later successfully because of it’s….unique…and die hardcore community. Newer MMO games aren’t trying to compete as an online social club. So the model that works in that environment isn’t going to 1:1 work for a game in another environment.

For two, I’d argue that Second Life is absolutely pay2win. That game is mostly a social club atmosphere where fashion is the end game. You’re not farming gear or slaying dragons in Second Life. You’re prancing around in the latest outfits and other social activities all sold with real cash. And I’m willing to bet you see the same kind of jealous based reactions when someone does walk in with a sticker-shock outfit and you get the admirers and haters.

For three, again it comes back to return on investment. Every game engine is different. One of the common issues GW2’s developers have stated for example is they transitioned to Outfits from Armor because armor takes exceedingly long to design and make work on 5 difference races with different genders. There’s a time investment there and making a new pair of pants is actually designing 10 different pairs of pants and selling it for $3 and hoping for mass adoption is a risky scheme.


Begun, the loot box wars have.