lockbox

Star Wars Galaxies fans are working on an emulator for the game’s TCG

I haven’t been making any secret of how much fun I’m having in the Star Wars Galaxies Legends emulator (and thanks so much to the readers who urged me to try it!). What I haven’t tried just yet is TCGEmu, which is trying to revive the Star Wars Trading Card Game that existed chiefly inside SWG itself.

Late-game SWG players will recall that the TCG was ahead of its time on so many fronts: It was actually one of the first fully online card games out there, but back then it had no chance of reaching the heights of mainstream adoption that we’re used to seeing now with games like Hearthstone, especially since few people outside of SWG knew it existed. It was gorgeous as heck, too, with stunning artwork that exists nowhere else.

Of course, the TCG also has the dubious honor of being one of the first openly and egregiously lockbox-esque pay-to-win systems in a major MMORPG, as players spent gobs of money angling for loot cards, which they could then use (or sell) inside Star Wars Galaxies itself. While I personally bought and traded my (free monthly) loot cards and loved some of the clothing and homes added to the game, I was also among those who argued that all of those items should have been added to the sandbox through crafters rather than through gamblers and junkies spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on what were basically lockboxes in the form of card packs.

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Dota 2 apes Path of Exile with transparent lockboxes for Dutch players

Remember when the Dutch gaming authorities effectively threatened to prosecute prosecute companies like Valve for vending and trading lockboxes the government agencies considered a clear violation of Dutch law? The result of that, as we wrote earlier this month, was that Valve turned off all trading for Dutch players, and then turned it back on again with the caveat that Dutch CSGO players can’t physically open any of the boxes.

Dota 2 is another story: It seems Dota 2 has caught up to GGG’s Path of Exile in effectively offering players in the restricted region transparent lockboxes. As RPS reports, Valve didn’t mention this in the game’s patch notes, but here’s how it appears to work:

“When Dutchlanders now look at Dota 2’s loot boxes, which contain cosmetic items, the wizard ’em up simply tells them which item they would receive if they bought it. No hoping, no dreaming, no fancy animations or pounding drums as it shows you the fabulous prizes you could have won, just: chuck us a couple euro and you’ll get this hat for this wizard – wannit?”

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Three quarters of European gamers don’t even understand what the heck lootboxes are

A new report on GIbiz suggests that most gamers are pretty darn clueless about lootboxes, which probably won’t surprise anyone reading here. Researchers for the publication surveyed gamers in Western Europe and found that barely more than a quarter of gamers even know what they are. More than half (we assume) of those who seem to have no opinion on whether lootboxes are a plus for the gaming experience (a quarter think they suck). But the reaction differs depending on the way the question is phrased.

“We also asked gamers if they thought loot boxes made them think more positively about game companies, 54% had no opinion, 10% agreed with the statement, whereas 37% disagreed. In fact 20% ‘strongly disagreed’ that loot boxes made them feel positively about the companies that used them, which suggests that loot boxes create some negative feeling among some consumers.”

That said, almost half of those familiar with lockboxes suggested that lootboxes make them less likely to buy games with them, so there’s that.

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France’s gambling authority condemns but does not ban lockboxes

The international community is becoming aware of the problems of lootboxes, and that means that laws are being formed in response to the business model. But there is another approach to dealing with them: you can kick the can down the road by condemning them and doing nothing else, which is the route the French gambling authority Autorité de regulation des jeux en ligne (ARJEL) took. Upon review, the organization condemned lootboxes and noted that they were bad, but stopped well short of actually putting any laws in place to prevent lootboxes.

This is significant, as classifying lootboxes as gambling would change the laws under which they are controlled… but the authority stops shy of doing that, even as it mentioned that lootboxes are definitely like gambling and certainly promote gambling behaviors. But they’re not considered technically gambling and thus remain in a legally nebulous zone, with the official recommendation to vote on more conclusive statements later. So the resolution is to resolve things later. Proactive!

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Valve turns off lootboxes in the Netherlands for DOTA 2 and CounterStrike: Global Offensive

If you were in any way hoping that the Dutch Gaming Authority’s ruling about lockboxes would lead to a worldwide shift, it seems that’s not quite what’s happening. Valve was one of the companies told to change their lockboxes or face prosecution in the Netherlands for failing to comply with the country’s policies, and Valve has responded… by disabling the Steam Marketplace selling or direct trading of lootboxes for CounterStrike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2 in the Netherlands.

The official statement from Valve indicates that it does not agree with the DGA’s ruling and that appeals are ongoing but that the current action is the only possible solution to the problem. There’s no word of any sort of long-term plans if the DGA does not change its ruling, especially as Valve is currently framing the disabling of lockboxes as a wholly temporary measure. Our condolences to players negatively affected by the decision.

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E3 2018: Nintendo thinks lockboxes are unfairly maligned, help ‘drive engagement’

You know how sometimes, when nosy press asks you a question with no good answer, you’re better off shutting up? And when they don’t ask you about a tricky subject, you probably shouldn’t go out of your way to run into it head-on?

Nintendo didn’t get that memo at E3, apparently, as during an interview with Bloomberg, it broke ranks with more diplomatic game studios to basically defend lockboxes and lootboxes.

“Loot boxes, broadly speaking, have gotten a bit of a bad rap,” Nintendo exec Reggie Fils-Aime told the publication (via GIbiz), in answer to a broad softball question about digital revenue.

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EA eschews lootboxes and premium passes with Battlefield V

If you haven’t heard the word, EA may be hopping off the lootbox train — at least for the time being.

The mega-publisher took a huge publicity and community relations hit last year when it seriously botched its business model with Star Wars Battlefront II. You may remember it as the spark that lit an industry-wide discussion over lockboxes, strong backlash against the company, and government intervention.

One thing is for certain: 2018 is not 2017, at least in this regard. With its upcoming Battlefield V, EA confirmed that it will not be inserting lockboxes or premium passes into the business model. “All players have access to the same maps and modes in Battlefield V,” developer DICE tweeted. “Keep your squad together, no matter the front.”

So what does this mean for EA, the studios under its umbrella, and the future of monetization in video games? EA may just be biding its time until this whole furor blows over or it could be investigating new methods of raking in additional cash from players. What do you think?

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ESA president argues ‘video games never take money from a player and leave them with nothing’

GamesIndustry.biz has a fantastic piece illuminating the Entertainment Software Association’s apparent game plan on lockboxes going forward. The publication recaps a lengthy talk ESA president Mike Gallagher gave at the Nordic Game Conference seemingly designed to both incite concern over lockbox regulation and extol the virtues of the free market.

Gallagher primed the audience by comparing the lootbox controversy to the WHO’s so-called “gaming disorder” crusade and the US government’s unfounded attempts to link gaming and gun violence, then moved on to arguing that the gaming industry’s “right” to self-regulation and the “instantaneous feedback” of consumerism are what we should be trusting to keep lootboxes properly in check, not governments like Belgium’s and the Netherlands’, which have already curbed gambleboxes in their countries.

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Massively Overthinking: The case for rarity and randomness in MMO monetization

Last week, Guild Wars 2’s Crystin Cox gave a monetization interview to Gamasutra during which she made one specific argument I wanted to pull out and re-examine. She was trying to explain why lockboxes can provide a “value” to players that they can’t get any other way.

“When we talk about cosmetics, there’s a demand for every individual cosmetic. Like maybe I love cowboy hats, I just want to buy cowboy hats. But there’s also a demand, and a lot of players feel this way, for just cosmetic options. I like cowboy hats sure, but I also like bandanas, and I like clown hair, I like everything. I don’t really have a super strong preference. I just want more things to put in my dress-up box. That demand can be satisfied a lot better sometimes with just giving you a random thing because that can be done a lot cheaper. If you don’t care about which one you get and you just want one, you can get it for a lot cheaper. When you’re talking about games that have rarity, and rarity’s a big part of that game, then lootboxes can be done to distribute something on a small scale, so that not everybody has access to it but some do, as sort of a jackpot item. And then that gets into a little more complexity around the economy and your game, and whether not this is an enjoyable part of your game for people to play, play with the economy of some such. But if it is, then you can use lootboxes to be a pretty good distribution for something that’s very rare.”

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Guild Wars 2 game director talks about the free market and lootboxes

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.”

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Belgian Gaming Commission releases full report barring gambleboxes in video games

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 OverwatchFIFA 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. ”

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The Daily Grind: What would (or already did) convince you to buy an MMO lockbox?

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?

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EA quarterly financials: Anthem due March 2019, record profits, and lockbox-gambling denialism

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.

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