Loot Boxes & Microtransactions | Op-Ed
by guardianfalco

Loot Boxes & Microtransactions | Op-Ed

When it comes to gaming controversies, one of the ones that come to mind most often is one of the loot boxes and microtransactions. Ever since Dead Space 3, it has left a bad taste in people’s mouths. In this current age of gaming, it’s almost in every game on the shelf or paid for online. With all this money being spent on games after you bought them, it can be and is dangerous to gaming as a hobby. What do I mean it’s dangerous to the hobby? Well, let’s go through the common concerns of why that could be. In pre-ordering, pay to win aspects, cosmetic skins in loot boxes, and bad microtransactions.

Pre Ordering

When I want to buy a game it irks me when I see it has loot boxes or microtransactions. Why? Because companies want you to spend more money after you have already forked up money up front. It seems like a predatory act and even more so when you buy collectors editions of games which can be up to one hundred dollars or more. A business that adds these things want you to cave in and pay more after the fact. For example, Middle-Earth Shadow of War which came out in October 2017 had more editions other than the standard one. It had a tier of editions and each one came with more stuff that the others did not. They tell you with these editions that, you want more right? Well, get the edge by buying the Gold edition. Not that boring standard edition. Some games have so many editions they need charts so you know you’re getting what you pay for. The recent Anthem had this problem with a confusing buying system. 

However, companies and some people call this “having choices” before buying a game. To a certain point, it does give a choice of what edition you can buy. To me this has little ground since this is not made for the customers in mind they do it to make more money before they buy or even after. The assists these other editions give you are often for multi-player. Like the infamous EA Star Wars Battlefront 1 & 2 gave extra items before even playing the game giving that buyer an edge.

Another reason people may buy a different edition than the standard one is that they don’t have enough time. With people being busy, having an edge beforehand means you don’t have to waste time getting some things in the game. One of the problems with this is that the game makers make that grind longer then it should. This is done to push you to spend money to reduce that grind. So next time you want to buy a game and you see that another edition for ten dollars more will give you more stuff, they’ll buy it or tempted to buy it.

Good Pre Ordering

There are games that have preorder bonuses and are simple to see if the game is worth pre-ordering. A good example was the 2018 God of War game, for seventy dollars instead of the sixty. In the game, you gain three shield skins and an Experience Point boost. From personal experience, the Experience Point or XP boost is not that much to ruin game progression. When you look at the preorder of God of War it’s very simple. There are only three versions of the game the standard, the first bundle version, and the collector’s version. Be careful with buying collectors version since some don’t come with the game. It’s a good idea to know your options and to see what you can live without in your game.

In-Game Microtransactions

This section will cover some of the things from the pre-order section because even if you don’t buy the other edition you can buy those things in the game. The in-game microtransactions are spending real money on in-game currency or on extra loot box drops. A loot box drop is just another term for getting a loot box in the game, but you can pay real money to get another one. Let’s get back to talking about the in-game currency. Call of Duty has one of the most commonly known in-game currencies and they’re known as Cod points or Call of Duty coins. You can earn these points or coins just by playing the multiplayer part of Call of Duty however you need about 30 coins to get a good loot box. The problem is you must be good enough to earn a better amount of coins per match. An average player can earn up to two or one coins per match and better players get three coins per match. The better players buy more coins to gain advantages which can be huge or small depending on the game including the Call of Duty series. Extra guns are put in loot boxes in Call of Duty, besides skins and emotes. One of the worst examples of microtransactions in Call of Duty history is Modern Warfare remastered. A remaster where you couldn’t get unless you pre-ordered another Call of Duty game Infinite Warfare but then released it later anyway. The remaster had loot boxes and did not include the DLC which you have to pay for again even if you had the game back then.

Of course Call of Duty is not the only game series with in-game currency but they may do things a little differently. For example, in the game Destiny 2, you can pay for rare items and those rare items help you gain equipment. To gain the rare items in-game takes too long because that’s how the game was made, to be grand. The problem most people have with this practice is that they paid thirty to sixty dollars for a game and it has forced microtransactions.

Another type of in-game microtransaction is DLC purchases and DLC stands for Downloadable Content. Buying DLC can add content to a game you may have finished making a game replayable in many ways. However, some companies have used this to lock out content that should have been in the base game. The base game refers to a game without any extras or DLC added to it. An example of this was Destiny that had a very little story in the base game but added more story in DLC. According to a Gamespot article, a conversation with someone at Bungie said they had to cut content from Destiny. This may have forced them to put more in DLC, but this is just a theory. However, with “Games As A Service” this is becoming the norm and less of an exception. Anthem was seen by many people a disappointment because of a lack of story from the company Bioware. Since it was a service game, much of it will be added in three to four months in, instead of having a complete game with worthwhile DLC. Fighting games have some of the worst DLC content. Fighting games lock characters behind preorders and if those characters are popular enough you may have to pay for just that one character, even if they were in the last game in that series for free. According to Gamerevolution certain characters that were in Dead Or Alive 5 base game were not in the base game in Dead Or Alive 6, unless you pay for it. In fact Dead Or Alive 6 has over one hundred dollars in DLC, it’s a little absurd.

Good In-Game Microtransactions

When it comes to good in-game microtransactions in comes to what your dollar is going to. The smart shopper looks for the best deal with the most they can get with their money. For example, there is added content in Titan Fall 2 where you see what you can buy instead of random loot boxes or DLC fighters in Super Smash Brothers come with the character you bought, music, and sometimes another stage. The recent Resident Evil 2 remake comes with in-game microtransactions where you can buy the original soundtrack from the original Resident Evil 2 in 1998. This may cost you about five US dollars depending on what the tax is which can seem expensive. However, the game doesn’t point to it or force you toward the store. Also, the soundtrack doesn’t affect the game and it adds the old sound effects from the old game. Like I said before a good shopper looks at their options and buys things that will give them a more bang for their buck.

Pay to Win Aspects

One of the most predatory things about microtransactions is the pay to win aspects. Pay to win is a term meaning you use microtransactions or loot boxes to gain an advantage in a video game on the multiplayer side of that game. This is seen by most as one the most awful things in gaming history since you don’t earn your wins, you paid for it. There are different types of pay to win aspects like some are worse than others. For example, EA Star Wars Battlefront 2 had cards bought from loot boxes which gave you huge advantages based on the cards rank. The higher the rank the better the effect is on that card. Even people with similar skill, the person with the higher rank card on their class will win more often than not.

This is one of the most extreme examples of pay to win aspects, however lately this trend is lessened. This may be due to EA Starwars Battlefront 2 and how it was perceived before the game came out. Gamers saw it had loot boxes but didn’t know the full extent of how much it would be integrated into the game. It would still in the game today if not the involvement from Disney. Since Disney owned the Starwars license they didn’t want their brand to be known to have kids gamble on pay to win. The game was rated T for teens and those pay to win aspects pushed young people to pay real money for in-game advantages in random dropped loot boxes. After Disney stepped in and stopped the loot box progression system EA was put on record saying “This change is not expected to have a material impact on EA’s fiscal year 2018 financial guidance,” the company said. This proves EA didn’t need to put loot boxes or microtransactions in the game. This pay to win aspect is in other games but like I said this was the most extreme example I could think of. Like in Call Of Duty Black Ops 3 where you must buy DLC to get better or different guns in random loot boxes.

Single Player Progression

Multiplayer games aren’t the only experiences ruined by microtransactions or loot boxes, single player games also have them. This can ruin the games natural progression of the game or just to spend money on mundane things. Using real money to gain an advantage on other players online is one thing but this only gives you an advantage in the game. Since you can earn these things in the game like in multiplayer they do mostly the same thing, to make the grind long so you cave in to buy advantages. This kind of thing is mostly in mobile games since it’s for free so they push you toward spending ninety-nine cents for some quick progression. Single player games at the retail price have very little excuse for this. Want to beat half of the game from the start, pay for it and don’t bother to worry anymore or why play the game at all. A good example of ruining player progression in a single player game was Dues Ex Mankind Divided. 

You would pay real money to buy skills and once you started a new game you would have to buy those all over again. It doesn’t let you save those payments for those skills next time you play a new game. Getting skills ahead of time could ruin your playing experience by gaining skills too early. This has been the case for the previous mentioned Lord Of The Rings Shadow Of War. As said by the higher-ups at WB that it ruined the single player progression with loot boxes and microtransactions. They removed these types of payment features after a few months after the release of the game.

Cosmetic Microtransactions

When you play video games long enough you kind of get tired of how a character can look. Gamers will go off the beaten path of the base game to make their characters look different than the standard form you started from. A lot of players love this notion of looking different and from a glance, other players will know what it took to get that armor set or skin. Like in any Dark Souls game and obtaining armor sets of bosses or seen on NPC’s, this is known as fashion souls.

This idea goes for multiplayer as well, in fact even more so then a single player game. People can see you almost all the time you play online and companies took advantage of this in different ways. One of the multiplayer games that you earned armor sets was Halo Reach. You earned points for matches and you use those points to buy armor pieces for your character. This even lets you use them in the single-player campaign so you could play the game with different armor pieces. Unfortunately, game companies have taken advantage of people wanting their characters to look different. One of the most common cosmetic microtransaction games is Overwatch. All cosmetic skins are gained through loot boxes and yes you can pay with real money to obtain more. You do not gain pay to win items in Overwatch loot boxes which is a good thing and yes it is true you can gain earn loot boxes by playing the game. However, gaining points for loot boxes can vary.

There is no real average of gaining points since it’s based on skill level and hours played, but it can take one hour to gain two loot boxes. This kind of limited time can temp you to pay money for these skins at random. With just the base game there is no real reason to buy loot boxes in Overwatch until it comes to the limited loot boxes. When a holiday comes around every year Overwatch has seasonal cosmetic skins like dressing in Halloween or Christmas skins. There is a silver lining on this since you can still earn the same skins next year but if you don’t want to wait you can get it now.

Unlike real or tangible items digital game goods do not have intrinsic value and cannot be used in other spaces. That cosmetic item cannot be used in other games so paying real money just look different seems like a waste of money. They make games so you feel pressured to buy skins or certain armor pieces in loot boxes. Sometimes this practice is worse than pay to win since it’s sort of understandable people would pay to have an edge, but just having a different colored gun seems wasteful.

The ESRB and Loot Boxes

When it comes to knowing if a game has microtransactions or not you can look at the ESRB rating. ESRB stands for the Entertainment Software Rating Board and their job is to rate games like a movie would be rated. The rating goes to C to childhood to A adults only which at a glance lets the customer know what kind of game they could get.

With this information, anyone can see the ESRB does give out some information about what the game has. This new information is better than what they used to have on their game for microtranstransactions. The picture above tells more information which is a good step forward for showing what is included in video games and what people might spend money on. The ESRB still does not consider loot boxes as real gambling.

According to a Kotaku article which said via e-mail from ESRB “While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player, unfortunately, receives something they don’t want)”. What this statement basically means is the ESRB doesn’t think it’s gambling because you are guaranteed something, whereas a slot machine you can get nothing for your money. These days, however, most casinos reward gamblers who sit at the slot machines for a period of time. The ESRB also said opening a loot box is like opening a pack of a collectible card game. This does make some sense because the item you are getting in pack or loot box can only be used in that game. The problem with this is that card you get is a physical object that can be traded for real money or for another card. Also, the value of the cards can go up and down based on the cards rarity and the date it came out, cards can be reprinted as well. Even with these online gambling sites for digital items for multiplayer games, these items can only be used in one game and does not have any real value.

When it comes to the knowledge of loot boxes most parents of children today don’t know what a loot box is. An ESRB rating with T for Teen would it be M because of loot boxes? These are questions some people are asking and parents don’t know about. The rating on the ESRB also puts DLC as In-Game Purchases which also counts buying loot boxes. There needs to be a difference between this for the common customer who doesn’t read reviews or know what company does what. Companies don’t want people to about microtransactions because it makes them money, but the ESRB should be more clear about this so people aren’t misled.

The Legalisation of Loot Boxes

Some countries have made loot boxes illegal and gaming companies have changed the structure of their games just to have their games sold there. One country that has made loot boxes in video games illegal in Belgium. According to FIFAPLAY website “The Belgian government previously found that loot boxes constituted illegal gambling when EA introduced them into their hugely popular game Star Wars: Battlefront from 2017. After establishing that they were specifically targeting, or implicitly aimed at, young children and minors, they sought to remove them from games.” This sort of mindset caught the eyes of even some United States politicians. Currently this year or 2019 Missouri Senator Josh Hawley said he wants to ban video games from offering ‘loot boxes’ which he told CNN. He wants a bill which gets rid of loot boxes from video games. With some countries making it illegal and politicians pushing it to be illegal why aren’t they illegal? This could be because the gaming commissions comments on the loot box issue. The UK gambling commission website says “In early 2016 we identified loot boxes as a potential risk to children and young people as part of a wider review on our concerns around video games and gambling themes. Where a product does not meet that test to be classed as gambling but could potentially cause harm to children, parents will undoubtedly expect proper protections to be put in place by those that create, sell and regulate those products. However, many parents are not interested in whether an activity meets a legal definition of ‘gambling’. A key factor in deciding if that line has been crossed is whether in-game items acquired ‘via a game of chance’ can be considered money or money’s worth. In practical terms, this means that where in-game items obtained via loot boxes are confined for use within the game and cannot be cashed out it is unlikely to be caught as a licensable gambling activity. In those cases, our legal powers would not allow us to step in.”

 This paints a new light on the situation of the law of loot boxes in games. The UK gambling couldn’t get involved because of a lack of physical items being gambled. If the law changes in other places that could change other minds. When it comes to the United States gambling commission or Federal Trade Commission said on the Gambling News website “The very fact that loot boxes could be compared with gambling activities to such levels became a huge problem especially in jurisdictions where gambling activities are considered to be illegal. The problem is further alleviated due to a new trend where a number of sites have cropped up allowing gamers to take these loot boxes and sell them for cash or crypto. The first course of action for the Federal Trade Commission will be to establish whether these loot boxes are forms of gambling according to state and federal laws.”

 When it comes to loot boxes and microtransactions it is clear because of the greed of certain companies to pray on children and gambling addiction that politicians are getting involved. Since it’s not illegal to put in games companies make so much more after the final purchase. This has forced governments to get involved because it’s been unregulated for so long. This sends a message, a message loud and clear that this has gone too far for the gaming public at large. This has been repeated in the past and now it seems it’s happening again.

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Thanks for reading this and I hope you like the game,

GaurdianFalco

[Editors Note: GaurdianFalco is a member of the 181gaming community. If you would like to have an article published on 181Gaming.com, please click here. We are always looking for content contributors and community managers.]

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