Let’s be honest, loot boxes are a hot-button issue (and a hot mess as well) that isn’t going away anytime soon. In March, Star Wars Battlefront 2 came under scrutiny when EA essentially created a “Pay to Win” system with their loot boxes. Prior to launch, Battlefront 2 had a way to accelerate the checkpoints and random drops, by paying to unlock the content independently of game play and progress. More recently, Belgium forced Blizzard and others to remove paid loot boxes, as it was deemed that the unknown odds and the risk vs reward was considered gambling. In Belgium, and now many other European countries, players can only earn loot boxes in Overwatch through normal game progression.
I know I’m one to often rant about things and share the unpopular opinion, so maybe the following will come as a shock to you…
I personally do not have a problem with loot boxes… So long as the items are purely cosmetic.
This means the items can’t provide additional specs or advantages that alter the gameplay, such as paying for dark clothing in a game like Dead by Daylight where the ultimate goal is to camouflage and survive.
For a game like Overwatch, the cosmetics provided by loot boxes simply grant players additional skins and other novelty, cosmetic items that they can show off in game. With brightened graphics and maps, there is very little, if not no, competitive advantage for choosing one skin over another.
For some of the team at NRDY, we see the purchase of loot boxes as a way to support the game. It helps fund servers, current development, and future developer work. We also have a few friends who work over at Blizzard, and it’s our way of saying “Thanks for all the long nights to make this happen. Here’s to keeping you employed.”.
Recently, Polygon released an article in which they defended Overwatch and their loot box system, saying that more companies should mimic them because the system is that good.
The article goes on to praise the fact that the Overwatch loot boxes were “less stingy and predatory” than other companies, and replacing it with “A-la-carte” items would be more expensive in the long run. They do some mental gymnastics sprinkled with light math to justify the point about pricing and rarity, but in the end the summary is it ends up being $1 a box or about 80 cents per box when you purchase the highest tier ($40 for 50 boxes).
For those of you unfamiliar with the Overwatch loot box system, for each box you are guaranteed at least 1 item that is rare or better out of the 4 total drops — which can include sprays, skins, victory poses, emotes and voice lines. In addition to purchasing loot boxes, Blizzard also has the option for players to win loot boxes by leveling and from getting 9 wins in the arcade mode each week. And to top it all off, duplicate items award credits to your account that can be used to purchase the in-game items. You cannot directly purchase credits with money. Instead, these credits drop from boxes or are granted when you receive duplicate items. They really don’t have to do that.
You’re probably thinking… So what exactly is your issue with it?
Sure, $40 for 50 boxes isn’t bad. You would definitely get a few skins and probably some legendary event items as well. But the real question is… Will you get what you want?
When I was playing League of Legends non-stop, the answer was mostly no to that question. During the peak of my LoL obsession between 2015 and 2016, you could obtain some loot boxes through a grindy progression in game. However, you could also purchase the skins you wanted for a set fee. An overwhelming amount of the time, any items obtained from loot boxes in game were of a common and uncommon rarity.
Being young and somewhat of a completionist, I completely felt like my impressionable (and irresponsible) self was taken advantage of in the moment and I regret the money I wasted on a “luck of the draw” chance where I didn’t know the odds.
I have skins for Shaco, Amumu, Mundo and a lot of other champions that I never even play. I think out of all the money I sunk into the game, I only got 2 skins total that I actually wanted and used (another skin for Mundo, and one for Poppy).
When I reflect back and do the math, it ended up being less than $2 a box for a shot at some loot I really wanted. But in the long run it would have been cheaper to just purchase the skin out right rather than taking the chance and hoping for something nice.
So, if loot boxes are considered “gambling” and there is a genuine concern of risk vs reward for individuals, what’s the solution here?
While Polygon says “A-la-carte” would be more expensive in the long run and praises the Overwatch model, why can’t we give power to the players to choose how they want to spend their money? Some people enjoy opening loot boxes. Some people would rather pay a small fee to unlock the skin they want. Either way, the players get what they want and the game company is still getting that money.