A reader tackles the controversy over loot boxes and insists it’s time for gamers to decide whether they’re for or against them.
Microtransactions and loot boxes are a godawful blight that have spread through gaming like a predatory Martian weed, and they may well be the thing that turns the gaming landscape into a joyless wasteland.
I don’t even know if that’s a controversial statement. Some people will defend microtransactions as the cost we pay for stagnant game prices, others will say they can play games without ever using them, and others like me hate them. And each will defend their viewpoint. In theory, the principle is quite a good one.
A company releases more content using assets and engines they may have worked years to create, which extends the life of a game and lowers the amount of people willing to trade them in. However, it seems as if opening the door a crack has allowed a torrent of capitalistic filthy lucre, shyster-ism and naked gouging, which have drowned out the good like a soprano in a bagpipe recital.
I hate them with a passion, hopefully I can explain to the fence-sitters that they are microtransaction appeasers and the defenders that they have backed the wrong horse.
First things first, if you’ve paid full price for a game I don’t think it should have microtransactions full stop, and that includes its ugly cousin the lootbox. If you‘ve paid for the game and the developer doesn’t have the guts to charge a price commensurate with the experience then they probably shouldn’t have made the game in the first place, if they so little faith in their product. Games seem to be twisted and bent into shape to accommodate the ongoing monetisation and no game has managed to make these systems feel natural. To me they always feel insidious and predatory.
Look at the Destiny experience, to decode an engram you must take it to the same portal as the online store, wow my primitive brain can’t work out the connection Activision is trying to make for me. So, you have to go to the online store and you’re also forced to window shop their copious wares. I hate that, I hate wading through adverts for loot boxes and microtransactions in games I’ve already paid for. like treacle up to my waist. and it’s the little quality of life downgrades that microtransactions and loot boxes swirl into a game like an unwanted draft from an open door.
Things like pointless extra confusing menus added, adverts on the front screen obscuring the artwork, the fact you have to grind that little longer than needed to create that microtransaction need, the weapon balances that get thrown out to frustrate and tease, there’s a solution if only you’d break and pony up, overpowered opponents wielding weapons and powers you can’t legitimately obtain without spending.
Cardinal among all of these irritants is the multitude of new currencies shoved in, you have to gather this useless sparkle up, accrue them at different rates and have to have this all explained to you in the time you could be learning about the lore or gameplay mechanics of the actual bloody game. I find this more frustrating than a 25-sided Rubik’s cube.
Were all of the irritants I’ve described above part of the developers’ original vision? Most likely not, especially considering the artless way they are crowbarred into most games and that shines through. You can almost see the seams of Frankenstein’s monster as the microtransaction and loot boxes have been stitched into them.
By this point if you don’t agree with me you probably fall into one of two camps either:
- A person who can avoid microtransactions and loot boxes and never use them, or
- You may think that microtransactions or loot boxes are usually only cosmetic, and if they don’t affect gameplay then they’re fine.
You need to understand one thing. You are in the minority now and you will become a rarer orchid the further and harder the game industry pushes this mania, so it’s time to pick a damn side. Loot boxes in particular are pushing pseudo-gambling into gaming, preying on addictive completionist behaviour but this time for real world cash. Only unlike gambling some games can be played by 12-year-olds and younger. grooming and honing dangerous addictive behaviour with little or no oversight at present.
I think that games like Overwatch have to take a portion of the blame for the proliferation of loot boxes as ‘normal’. This media darling popularised and normalised them, so other less scrupulous developers could point to Blizzard and say, ‘Look, it’s okay. Friendly Blizzard did it, so it’s okay for us’. Cosmetic items locked behind paywalls or loot boxes became the smiling shock troops and loot boxes these days cannot be crammed into games quick enough, regardless of whether they fit the gameplay or not.
And for those people who think my claims of consumer hostile tactics turning console games into a wasteland are hysterical hyperbole, I have three words for you: mobile phone gaming. Mobile gaming excluding the Switch and 3DS caught the microtransaction bug absurdly early on and now I’m afraid the situation is nearly terminal in that market. This is the wasteland where ironically King are king and the sheer amount of ‘me too’ games which are psychologically designed to pry open your wallet is almost pathological.
Most tellingly, when Nintendo waded into this cesspool it was clear they were too late to avoid having to roll in the muck with the rest and released their games free to play with Fire Emblem, and when Nintendo conform you know you’re in trouble. This is the industry where the bean counter is king and no underhand grasping tactic is off the table. I don’t play mobile phone games any more, I don’t need to be psychologically tortured when I’m trying to enjoy a game, I’d rather pay and play.
To sum up, can you think of an example of a game-improving loot box or microtransaction? One that measurably heightens the joy of playing a game?
I can’t, I can’t think of a single microtransaction or loot box that improves the experience of a game, they don’t ‘sell’ a game. Oh yes, they use them in advertising, but really think about it. No one ever talks about the great microtransaction that ‘saved’ a game do they? No, they don’t, just as no one ever talks in glowing terms of the way they bypassed a part of their game by paying to do so, or hark at the gamer who marvels at their skill by beating an underpowered opponent because they paid for abilities or skills they couldn’t be bothered earning.
I’m sure this screed gives me the pallor of a green-faced, greedy, ‘entitled’ gamer grasping to have everything for free but honestly that’s not what I see as ideal. I’m realistic to know that games cost money to make, I’d just like the payment model to be more transparent, less insidious, and made to accommodate gameplay and the developers vision. And not the other way around.
By reader Dieflemmy (gamertag)
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email [email protected] and follow us on Twitter.Let's