Should Loot Boxes Be Banned In Games?.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is out and turns out to be a damn good game. However, it is also at the heart of the latest microtransactions discussion, namely that of Loot Boxes. You can buy these boxes in-game and you will then get random orcs and weapons added to your arsenal. The fuss is mainly due to the last hours of the game, which require a lot of grinding to complete. At least, you need strong orcs and weapons to overcome the last obstacles and you will find them fastest in Loot Boxes. It is no longer surprising to anyone that you can also buy the in-game currency for real money.
Have Warner Bros. and Monolith Productions deliberately made the infamous ‘ACT IV’ less fun so we’d pull the purse? It is a discussion that has put many gamers but also other developers such as DICE on edge. Critics are already calling for agencies such as the ESRB (the US games rating agency) to issue a separate warning for Loot Box games for promoting gambling. Uh, okay, you lost me there …
Last year I already wrote a blog about microtransactions in Triple A games. I am not a fan of the system but understand that it is implemented in free-to-play games. If a game is fun, I like to give the makers my money and no good game should be free. However, where it gets bullshit is in a Triple A game, or a game for which you pay an average of 60 euros. Not only does it make your base game less complete, it usually feels artificial. Publishers’ marketing departments are going all out in press releases and videos to explain to us that the microtransactions don’t affect gameplay and only give you visual finery. But Shadow of War doesn’t and actually gives you an advantage while playing the game. And that’s my biggest problem with microtransactions: game developers are tempted to make their game less fun, so we’re tempted to pull the wallet. Loot Boxes like in Shadow of War, but also other good games like Overwatch, will always tarnish the experience. We have decades of games proving that there are much more fun ways to hand out rewards in a game!
In its response, the ESRB explains excellently why Loot Boxes do not fall under gambling. First, there is no fear of losing money because you always get a prize. It is a pity that it is not always the price you want, but that is also clear from the start. Loot Boxes are less comparable to slot machines and more to packs of trading cards or a toy machine at the supermarket. For that reason, regulation from the EU has little chance. I recommend everyone to read this Twitter thread from Vlambeers Rami Ismail for more interesting details on that.
Is there really nothing we can do about it? Yes, but you are not going to like it: don’t buy Loot Boxes! Vote with your wallet; play Shadow of War completely without microtransactions. Or don’t buy the game at all and show that you don’t like it. It means you’ll miss a lot of games this fall, but it’s the best signal you can give the industry. Let me end this blog like I did a year earlier: I’d rather pay 10-20 euros more for a game if that means that developers stop with this kind of nonsense.