In the middle of last week, I posted about the increasing prevalence of loot boxes in games. They started innocuously enough through Overwatch, the first game to make them noticeably popular. In it, randomly-selected items players obtained as rewards after leveling up were limited to cosmetic outfits. The concept was popular enough with the audience that of course other publishers wanted to include it in their games. Loot boxes have made their way into several titles releasing this fall, including Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Forza 7. Their implementation has been mixed to say the least, as while Shadow of War did a better job than expected with them, Forza 7 generated frustration to the point that Turn 10 and Microsoft pledged to fix it.
The other titles mentioned paled in comparison to what Star Wars Battlefront II offered, as players discovered in the beta. The game frequently offered loot boxes in the form of Star Cards through Starfighter Crates, with bonuses that ranged from moderate to extremely good. Since these were chosen randomly, one player could go into another match with a much larger advantage compared to others through pure luck. Worse, this will lead to players wanting more loot boxes to get more chances at obtaining the best bonuses in the main game, which will be easier when they can — you guessed it — pay for more. It was the most infuriating and cynical implementation of loot boxes thus far, to the point that I fully expected DICE and EA to do damage control about it before its November 17th release.
But I didn’t think they’d respond this soon.
Developer DICE posted a lengthy “Thank You” statement which said they appreciated the players who participated in the beta, and part of it elaborated on what features and potential changes the final version will have. They also voiced appreciation for the feedback they received, referring more to the positive responses to the gameplay changes they made, and less the criticism of the loot box feature. This also marked first time that DICE explained how the loot box feature works, which is why 60% of the post is focused on them.
They wanted to dispel the notion that this will be a pay-to-win title, and claimed the best items from loot boxes can be obtained by using in-game credits. The boxes themselves will include Star Cards that provide character technique enhancements, alternate outfits, emotes to be used during a match, and victory poses; they’re earnable by completing challenges or other gameplay features, or through buying them with in-game credits or premium currency (i.e. real money). Duplicate Star Cards can be exchanged for crafting parts to update certain Star Cards, but whether specific updates can be made will depend on the player’s level. There’s quite a bit to unpack from this loot box of information. (I’m not sorry.)
Despite the level of appreciation provided throughout the post, notice that few of the issues players raised were directly addressed. There’s understandable concern over whether players will have to continually pay money for the best chances to get the highest bonuses, but while DICE explains they can be obtained without paying a cent, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. The post is worded cleverly, so anyone quickly skimming through could think they claimed loot boxes won’t be as bad as expected, but it’s merely a clarification to make them sound better than they are. The issues that will be changed for the final game pertain to balance issues, and whether they’ll alter other features is currently a mystery.
There’s also a good reason why this is only being elaborated on now, after players stumbled upon the feature during the beta session. It doesn’t sound like the developers are proud of this, but they had to detail it sometime before release.
Fortunately, most of the audience is catching on to how this post didn’t address the issue, so don’t be surprised if they make yet another post about it before mid-November. If they don’t, that means it will be untouched before the game’s release, and they’ll either hope the intense dislike for it subsides or that it’s a vocal minority. Microtransactions are sadly close to becoming an accepted norm in $60 AAA games, and EA and several others wouldn’t mind if loot boxes joined them. If they do further damage control about this, guess where you’ll see another post.
Meanwhile, there’s still hope for the single-player campaign, which will occur from the perspective of the Empire’s Iden Versio, and take place after Return of the Jedi. It’s curious how there’s so little footage of it in action when we’re close to four weeks away from the release, but it’s possible they’ll have a big reveal this month. Don’t be surprised if it’s a brief affair, but hopefully the team had time to put effort into it, and that it doesn’t have microtransactions or loot boxes.