Tea Talk: “Lootboxes are OK because they’re only cosmetic!”

I brewed some tea

The recent Star Wars Battlefront II fiasco that was being reported and discussed both within and without the gaming community increases people’s scrutiny towards lootboxes. And during this time, a particular group of players started coming out and claiming they have a game which implements lootboxes the right way.

The Overwatch community have been vocal about how well OW’s lootboxes are implemented as compared to SWBF2. The common sentiment among those cheering for OW’s lootboxes is that OW does it right since it’s cosmetics only, so you can’t gain a gameplay advantage from the loot. Some among them also think that the microtransactions are vital for the future development of the game. And those people, I feel, are out of their minds. I mean, you’re happy that OW’s lootbox system is better than SWBF2. Must you set the bar that low for you to feel good about OW’s microtransaction system?

As much as I got enraged by the microtransaction system of Paladins at times, and was absolutely disgusted by the most recent cosmetics rental system that was reverted before the update went live, I have to admit that the microtransaction system is necessary for Paladins, since that is their only source of income for the game. Their implementation may be questionable at times and downright disgusting on occasion, but I have to say that microtransactions are necessary for Paladins’ survival, since it is a F2P game.

Dota 2, Team Fortress 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive also have lootboxes that are not gameplay-affecting. Strictly speaking, although you can get weapons with different stats from the TF2 crates, yo can get the less fancy versions of those with the exact same stats from achievementsitem drops, crafting, renting or trading. Aside from that, the biggest saving grace for their lootboxes is the Steam Community Market. With it, users can directly buy the skins they want from others as well as selling those that they don’t want. This allows users to bypass the RNG aspect of lootboxes to directly get what they want, as well as letting the unlucky ones recoup some of their losses. It also allows Valve to get even more money by charging a transaction fee, those devilishly cunning coders. I’m rather iffy about CS:GO having lootboxes since it is a paid-for game, but considering how much cheaper it is compared to other AAA multiplayer-only games and how often it goes on sale, as well as the presence of SCM, I’m really not too annoyed by it.

Overwatch, however, really doesn’t have these excuses. At $40, it’s already far more expensive than every game listed above combined. I get that this is a completely unfair statement since out of all four of the games previously mentioned, three of them are free-to-play, but that is my point. Being free-to-play means that they rely on microtransactions to sustain themselves. CS:GO also charges a fee up front, so both of them pushing lootboxes after already coming with a price tag leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Lootboxes, by the way they operate, encourages spending more than was necessary. It generally doesn’t cost much, and the chance of getting something you really wanted encourages the “just one more” mentality some people will have, leading to them paying way more than they intended. It psychologically breeds desire, causing people to lose control of themselves. It is vile and greedy even if it’s only cosmetic, simply because of how it operates. Especially if for some reason, the lootboxes and their loot can only be earned within a particular time frame, and if you really want that particular skin you better start grinding your fingertips down to stubs, fork out cash, or get lucky. Every single game listed here is guilty for having psychologically-enhanced money siphons implemented. Being able to directly buy what you want is a much better microtransaction system than having lootboxes.

That is why I am more forgiving towards the Valve games, since the SCM is such a system. Although truth be told, seeing those really fancy and expensive items might actually tempt you to open more lootboxes, on the off chance that you’ll get lucky and make a massive return of investment. Not to mention, the system still relies on having people to open up lootboxes to get sellable items in the first place. Still, it is an ultimately more consumer-friendly move than forcing everyone to play a game of Russian Roulette with Lady Luck, which both Overwatch and Paladins did.

Paladins have the Radiant Chests, which can drop Cards, items which allows you to customize how your character plays. However, they are available for purchase through in-game currency which doesn’t require purchase with real-life cash. Not to mention, you can actually craft cards with Essence, a currency that you can get from duplicates. Besides, every time you level up, or when you reach Champion Mastery Levels 1, 4 and 6, you’ll get one lootbox for free. Gameplay-affecting items can be earned through playing, and the game rewards you enough for you to hold your own without spending a dime. Cosmetic items still have to go through lootboxes, which is a massive pain. There are cosmetic options available that aren’t locked behind lootboxes, but those are only available through a separate currency system called VIP Points, a semi-premium currency that can be either earned or purchased. Am I happy with this system? No. But they require the money for the game to be sustainable, and the grind isn’t harsh. I can tolerate it for now, as long as Hi-Rez doesn’t make another stupid mistake. I really don’t like getting cosmetics through lootboxes, but at least this game is free. I can still earn them without paying a cent, and if I already got the game without paying, I do not mind paying to accessorize myself. Although truth be told, after recent events I’m really not eager to spend money on Paladins so far, on top of other personal reasons. Which is a shame, since I do like the game, and I really want that Drybear Announcer pack.

Overwatch, however, really has nothing to stand on. If they really need the income from microtransactions, as some of the defenders of this practice have claimed, can’t they implement a less predatory system? Especially after the $40 price tag, and the $60 Origins edition. After charging a fairly large sum upfront, is it too much to ask for Activision Blizzard to have a more consumer-friendly microtransaction system? Besides, if Overwatch is that successful, does it really need two separate sources of income from each copy of the game? Considering the success of their F2P title Hearthstone, will Overwatch really be a financial burden if it’s a F2P game? Even Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s other F2P title, is still getting along just fine with regular updates.

The lootboxes in Overwatch are earned once when the player levels up in-game. And since leveling up until level 22 requires more and more XP, it means that players will initially get flooded with lootboxes before it gets throttled down. Promoting to level 1 requires 2,000 XP, while level 22 requires 20,000 XP. Assuming that your performance is consistent, it will require ten times more games to go up one level. And considering that a performance-based matchmaking system is in place even for Quick Play, that should be the case barring outside factors. Thus, players will get the initial high when they first started seeing lootboxes flowing in, and the rate they came in will feel slower further on. This, the progress bar below each hero profile showing how many cosmetics options you’ve unlocked for each hero, the players you played with using the new fancy skins, the seasonal events with their limited-edition skins, and the giant LOOT BOX button on the startup screen, they are all there to slowly grind the player’s patience down for them to start buying crates after you’ve already paid $40 for the game.

Overwatch’s lootbox system could possibly be tolerable, if not for the fact that the game restricts you to it for you to earn loot rather than allowing direct purchase, and the fact that the game already costs $40. Whether the contents of the lootboxes affect gameplay matters little, since it is still content denied to the player and held dangling before them just out of their reach to tempt them. It is greedy, anti-consumer, and it being implemented better than in other games doesn’t excuse how bad it is. As for those saying that “Oh, but you don’t need to buy them, they’re just cosmetic”, I will remind you all that the same goes for most of the other games mentioned above and none of them costs even half as much as Overwatch. Besides, the system is still objectively bad. All the games mentioned here are pretty much guilty of employing such an exploitative microtransaction system, but Overwatch is arguably one of the worst offenders of them all.

I finished my tea

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