Loot Boxes, A Critique

One of the bigger controversial game features here in 2017 appears to be the ‘Loot Box’ available in a variety of AAA games, from Forza 7 to Middle-earth: Shadow of War; a way to spend real currency to basically skip ahead in the given game. Personally I have no problem with this because I don’t partake in the feature, but I’m aware that many cannot stand the idea while others find that it’s worth their money.

I’m not going to personally trash the idea of the paid for loot box, it’s really no worse than a ‘game guide’ or ‘cheat book’ or what have you. Considering that games are entertainment, I see no reason why that entertainment should be constricted in any imposed way. Who cares if the player ‘cheats’, who cares if the players ‘skips content’, who cares what the player does, as long as they are enjoying themselves, since that is after-all, the point. So then, if a given player would rather not ‘earn’ a given reward in a game and is happy to part with more of their money to essentially buy the reward, I really can’t blame the AAA studios for providing the option. There are some studios who want to finely control exactly what the player experiences and while I get that from an artistic sense, all too often it’s the wrong attitude in general, the player is going to do what the player is going to do, and the developer has no control over that and really shouldn’t worry about it.

While I’ll never (I think, though free time is running slim these days) partake in the loot box concept and skip parts of the experience I paid for, I can totally understand why others would. Time is our most precious commodity of which we all ultimately have a limited amount of, so we all should want to use it wisely. If we like a game and some piece of it seems tedious (or arbitrarily tedious), what’s the harm in paying a couple bucks to move along, to save ourselves the time; especially if we aren’t enjoying it anyway? Have you ever skipped ahead in a book? Have you ever fast-forwarded a movie? Have you ever looked up the solution to a problem on the internet?

On the other hand, I can understand the disdain for loot boxes from the perspective of a purist gamer or someone who actually enjoys earning rewards. If the game is designed in such a way that paying additional money makes the game palatable in the first place, then I think that’s pretty nefarious stuff. A strong free-to-play model is to make the game fun at first, then slowly turn into a grind and time-killer but offer the player the ability to speed up some task by paying money. It’s a pretty terrible design choice but it IS successful, many free-to-play games make a lot of money by just making the game fun enough to hook the player in and then begin wasting their time.

While considering the idea of loot boxes to achieve things to save the player time, I think this is a relatively valid feature. Considering across the internet, from reddit, comments on game articles and the various forums related to gaming, there is a ubiquitous problem where many gamer’s have backlogs of games, that to be blunt; they will never get to, because there will always be something shinier over the horizon. If one is really interested in playing a game but would require 80 hours to complete that game and that is their goal and 40 hours is a grind but they could pay to skip that content, I don’t personally see a problem with it, I’m not likely to play that game but I get others are interested in that journey minus the stuff they might find boring (grinding for loot, leveling, etc.).

The bottom line is if you don’t like loot boxes, then simply don’t buy them. The invisible hand will dictate whether this is ultimately a good idea or not; I suspect it will exist in some form or another in various media going forward. Fear not, the casino will always exist, but it will never be regarded as the best way to pass time.

For the record Eden will not contain loot boxes 🙂

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