God Damn it, Warner Brothers Games. How many times do we have to watch the triple A gaming industry try to shoot itself in the feet to try and bleed out more cash from its customers? How many bad business practices and anti-consumer moves do we have to see before enough is enough. Will it ever be enough? Increasingly I doubt it.
*sigh* So, the incident that has sparked this is the announcement that WB Games will be adding loot boxes to Shadow of War. Loot boxes are shady enough at the best of times, but for a single player game that is full retail price and has paid DLC, it is simply shameless.
In the announcement, they try to sell this as a good thing that will in no way effect the game if you chose not to spend real money, but let’s be honest, how often have we heard that in the past and found it to be nothing but lies. Microtransactions aren’t put into games to be ignored. They can be, but the games are usually designed to encourage players to spend. Up the grinding to get certain items or pay a little to get it instantly. Design reflects intention and the intention is to squeeze out as much money as possible.
The whole thing really pisses me off. I loved Shadow of Mordor and would probably rate it as my game of the year for 2014 despite it being more of an amalgamation of existing games rather than a unique creation. I had fully intended to buy its sequel at launch because everything I have seen of the game so far looks like it has improved from the first. But now we see a clear indication that the publisher has stepped on the developer in order to up their turnover.
Loot boxes are bad for the industry. If you disagree with this statement then, frankly, you are too shortsighted and need to pull your head out of your arses. Look at the core tenants of the concept and it is drawing upon the exact same principles and hooks as gambling. Where gambling is tightly regulated, unaccessable to children and has the potential to actually earn you a return on investment, loot boxes are a dangerous wilderness where money is king. If things continue as they are, we are going to see governments try to crack down on games and that is bad for everyone. We are already starting to see this in places where official bodies are seeing the connection between games and gambling. All it will take is one well publicised case and we’ll start to see regulations galore.
Stepping aside from the clear lack of morality involved in convincing children to gamble for in-game items, at least in some games the system can be defended. Free to play games use them to make money while paid games like Overwatch offer only cosmetic items and provide free maps, modes and characters on a regular basis for everyone to enjoy. Shadow of War has none of this. It has zero reason to need to lock off content other than greed.
The announcement stresses that both paying and non-paying players will still have equal footing in the game, but if that was the case, why would anyone ever pay? The whole thing is scummy, unnecessary and reflects poorly on an otherwise promising game.
And don’t try the “games cost more money to make now so need to make it back somehow” argument as it simply doesn’t fly. Good singleplayer games will sell well on their own merits. CD Projekt Red blew every industry argument against singleplayer games not making enough money out of the water. Let’s not forget our Fallouts and Elder Scrolls. Even Dark Souls has shown that well made games will defy outdated publisher expectations. We might not be talking Call of Duty money, but that series is the exception, not the rule.
The term “vote with your wallet” gets thrown around a lot these days but never really makes an impact. Boycotts don’t work because too few people care enough to inconvenience themselves. We live in an age of instant gratification where most people don’t want to wait for games. No amount of people complaining is going to change this. But hear me now: things will get worse if you support shitty practices. Look at what publishers are trying to pull and look what kind of games they are creating to achieve them. Look how much things have changed just in the past decade and imagine where they will be in another ten years. Imagine the damage when a publisher steps too far and a government steps in.
Sustained public backlash does work. We’ve seen developers and publishers back-peddle because of it. Don’t let this become the norm.