In Defense of Lootboxes
EA has fucked up royally. Ea has fucked up so bad that the US government is getting involved and threatening to legislate the entire industry. The gaming community is finding itself at a pivotal point in the history of video games where consumers, and by extension developers, are deciding what will be tolerated.
And for many, legislation is great news. Many believe that the games industry as a whole has had too much leeway in general—whether in the form of predatory micro-transactions, direct or indirect marketing and exploitation of children, or the generally horrendous work conditions for it’s employees. (To be clear, these issues need to be addressed if the medium we love is to grow up.)
What is the Core Problem?
Multiple developers and publishers have taken part in predatory behavior in order to overcharge their customers and to prey upon some of their respective audience’s worst impulses, e.g., gambling addiction.
And for what? Are these changes really making the games anymore fun? Do they make sense from a game design perspective? This behavior not only hurts those inside the industry, i.e., the people working on and playing the games, but also hurts the perspective of those looking in from the outside. If games are ever to be held at the same level as film or literature, this predatory behavior needs to end.
Industry leaders and pundits love to come out holding gaming up as the new art form. They cry and whine when they aren’t taken seriously. ‘How can they not see what we see?’ Then, these same people are the ones who develop, defend, or at the very least, turn their heads when a promising shooter like Battlefront turns into the cheapest casino in the United States.
It sends a very mixed message.
It’s no surprise that, as a whole, I am not a fan of EA’s relaunched Battlefront franchise. It’s also understood though that any change should always be tempered by moderation. Otherwise, the good can be thrown on the fire along with the bad.
What is the Ideal?
Now with that being said, micro-transactions, lootboxes and the like do have a place in the industry. There are companies working right now that understand this. They understand the right way to implement these strategies without hurting the experience. They understand not to hurt their players.
Or at least, they give a shit.
For years now, the MOBA scene has been a paragon on how you should incorporate micro-transactions. Games like League of Legends, Smite, and DOTA 2 have garnered praise for not only being a consistent game experience, but being monetarily accessible. Most these games offer a value pack that allows use of all characters. On top of that, all purchases are cosmetic.
Even Overwatch, which has been unfairly blamed for this whole mess, has a responsible method for lootboxes: cosmetics only. Gameplay and player equity are never at stake.
The game’s balance is never in question. Smite never puts players in a position where they feel disadvantaged because they don’t have the money to spend on “premium perks.” To do so would be immoral. Maybe even worse, that’s not fun.
In times like these, when the pitchforks and torches are out, fervor and outrage are not what is needed. Moderation is.
How Do We Solve This Going Forward?
EA’s behavior has been egregious for many years now and it’s important that it’s universally recognized. Battlefront 2 has not been their first, second, or third misstep. So first and foremost, the worst defenders, the worst predators, need to be held accountable. It’s no surprise that I am not a fan of EA’s relaunched Battlefront franchise.
Stop buying their games. It’s that simple. Andrew Wilson, CEO of EA, will only ever care about what his bosses think. His bosses, the board of directors for EA, will only care about the bottom line. Let them hear your voice. Speaking with your wallet is a powerfully valid method of communication with publishers. Lootboxes will be used appropriately. It’s understood that they are not beyond redemption and if EA releases a completed game, all hope is not lost.
Second, be vocal. It’s been amazing to see the very real outrage that has followed Battlefront 2‘s release. EA backed down. Their stock prices took a significant hit. Their plans for the lootboxes were suspended, albeit temporarily.
Talk to your friends. Post on social media. Tweet at EA directly. Never be afraid to let your voice be heard. That sounds cliché, but it’s also true. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Third, support the publishers and titles that treat their audiences with respect. As gamers, we need to recognize that there are great, innovative titles that wouldn’t exist under the traditional $60 business model. I for one do not want to see these titles get swept up with EA.
It’s a totally different ballgame.
So be discerning, know who you are giving your money to, and make yourself and educated consumer.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
After very public controversy, EA has backed down and still plans to bring their lootboxes back in the future. Still, that is a victory.
Not to sound melodramatic, but the ‘war’ is not over. Do not become complacent. Do not automatically lap up the next trailer that EA releases at E3. Don’t be pandered to.
If we, people who generally love video games, stay consistent with our message, EA will have to hear us. That, or they’ll go out of business.