Middle-Aged Gamer: The True Casualty of Loot Boxes in Video Games

Loot boxes (along with things like “battle passes”) represent a clear and present danger to video gaming — but not in the way you may think. You think loot boxes don’t affect you because you don’t buy them? You’re wrong.

A recent article on Gamewatcher.com presented an interview with game publisher Ubisoft regarding loot boxes. The long and short of it:

“If players simply didn’t buy these crates, they would not be added into games in future”

They aren’t wrong. These loot boxes, crates, chests — whatever you want to call them — appear to sell quite well and as long as they continue to make publishers money? They will continue to appear.

The main argument — what does it hurt? Who does it hurt? These boxes are full of non-game altering cosmetics; skins, stickers, costumes and other such nonsense. If these “crates” don’t allow for unfair leveling of the game for those willing to pay for them then why should anyone care?

“They aren’t a bad thing if done right” — Ubisoft

These loot boxes hail from a bigger issue in gaming; free to play aka “freemium” aka F2P games. These are games that you can literally download and play for free and in some cases never ever make a purchase. Yet publishers are making money hand over fist with these freemium models (Blizzard made $4b in 2017 with in-game purchases). These “gambling crates” are just one thing that spawned from F2P models.

Alive and well inside a full-priced AAA game.

Loot boxes aren’t the only thing.

Next up on offer — the “battle pass” system. This is a two-tiered progression system usually awarded by “experience points” earned by playing the game. Unlike the random nature of loot boxes, this “pass” usually offers specific items once you reach that particular tier. Games that support this “battle pass” have a free path through the pass system as well as a paid path which is usually a “subscription” based payment frequently called “seasons”. Every x number of days, you must repurchase the battle pass season to stay active.

Of course you don’t have to pay — that’s how they pretend to keep things fair. The free path of battle pass gives you payout by magnitudes less; usually 5 or 6 to 1 reduction. That is, for every five tiers a paid battle pass person gets rewarded for — you (as a free pass person) get one. The free path also tends to get lesser items than the paid one.

As you can see in Paladins .. the top path is free and you’ll note the differences in quality of items too.

So we have two “freemium” models we’re really talking about: loot boxes and battle pass and they now exist is premium games.

Back to the original question. If you’re not forced to buy them and they only have cosmetics — how can they possibly be hurting anyone?

They are killing the single player game.

That’s right. These so called “not so bad” or “benign” innocent looking freemium components are going to kill the single player model. Call of Duty Black Ops 4 was a well-known casualty; having removed single player campaign in favor of the “battle royale” Blackout mode.

My dear gamers, you need to pay attention to what is going on.

According to most sources (Google it), the large amount of money made with freemium games come from a very low percentages of paid gamers. Like 1%. So, some game like Paladins is being FULLY FUNDED by 1% of the gamers that play it.

How is that possible? How can a game be funded by 1% of its players and why should you care? After all — YOU aren’t paying for loot boxes. YOU aren’t paying for battle pass — so the joke is on the developer; you’re not paying and getting a game for free.

Nope, you’re still part of the problem. Just by being there.

Let’s break this down. We’ll use small numbers to keep this easier to follow.

If 100 people buy a game for $50 — the game makes $5000. That’s it.

For 1% of the gamers (in this case, just 1 in 100) would have to spend $5000+ in order to make this model attractive. That sounds crazy, but bear with me here.

Now what if you can get 1000 people to play the game? 2000? 10,000?

For 10,000 people playing the game for free — 1% of those players (100 gamers) would only have to spend $50+ to make the same revenue work. That sounds not only possible — but quite possible to obtain. When you consider currency in these games tend to be about $9.99 to make a full purchase — and you tack on a 3–4 times a year “battle pass” subscription at $15 a head? Now $50 sounds VERY EASY to obtain in a very short period of time.

Is it any wonder that developers are wanting in on this action? The more people playing? The more revenue returned from that 1%. Why would ANY company release a premium game when this “1% Model” makes so damn much money?

You’re still puzzled why this is bad for gaming? After all, 99% of the population gets to play for free.

I’m hoping you’re starting to understand, but let’s move forward here.

We need to ask the obvious question: With no game-enhancements being pawned off by these loot boxes and battle pass …

Why are even 1% of gamers buying the damn things?

Vanity, my friends. Costumes, gestures, dances, stickers — all total nonsense that are collected for the sheer nature of vanity. They offer nothing more to the game than collector’s items at best — goofy cosmetic items at worst.

You don’t care about vanity nonsense, right? You don’t care about stickers or dance moves or gestures. That’s why you’re not part of the 1%.

Here is the epiphany you’ve been waiting for this whole article.

Vanity requires an audience.

Duh? Without an audience, vanity items mean absolutely nothing (other than maybe some ‘gotta catch’em all’ collector thing). If you don’t have anyone to watch your goofy dance or “oooh” and “ahhhh” about your sticker collection — then the whole concept collapses.

So in order to hork “cosmetic” crates and season passes you need an audience. For that you need large numbers of players — if EVERYONE isn’t playing it (cough, Fortnite) then you don’t have the chance of your friends and family seeing your box-gotten-gains. How do you get large numbers of players?

You could just give the game away for free.

Or worse yet — charge full price and do it anyway.

Call of Duty WWII makes it possible to let others watch you open loot boxes …

What gaming model does not support an audience?

Single player games do not support an audience.

This seems so simple after you break it all down. At the core of everything, this gaming model requires an audience which means only multiplayer games can support it and requires a large numbers of players; which is not conducive to a single player model.

Take a look at Fallout 76 for a brand new casualty in this gaming war.

The popularity of the loot crate model is slowly wrapping a noose around the single player game mode.

Whether or not you personally buy loot crates or fund freemium methodologies directly, your mere presence within these games is part of their success. You are providing the audience needed to display vanity items to — which in turn drives loot crates/battle pass; generating revenue for a gaming model that cannot be sustained by all types and styles of gaming.

… and as Ubisoft says, as long as people buy loot boxes, they will continue to come.

If you’ve watched mobile gaming disintegrate, you have already seen this nonsense happen. Premium games don’t work or sell on mobile. EVERYTHING has to be free.

Is this what it is going to be? Every genre degraded to some forced multiplayer experience filled with masks, costumes, dances and stickers doled out by crates and pass systems designed to punish the non-payers?

Nothing like honoring our fallen heroes with some loot crate remnants …

You can pin this all on Grumpy Old Man Shane if you want, but this isn’t what I want for the future of gaming.

What about you?

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I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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