Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: Meanwhile, Regarding Loot Boxes…

I posted about how popular loot boxes have become with publishers around three-and-a-half weeks ago, and mentioned the game that started the trend along with recent and upcoming games that include them. Given how they’ve expanded, it’s no surprise that some people are already getting tired of them. Vocal types were bound to voice their displeasure upon hearing how widespread loot boxes were in games releasing this fall, but they’ve now intensified since some of them have released. Along with the displeasure associated with using them in some games, particularly those that goad players into spending more money on random loot, they’re afraid of the concept becoming normalized like microtransactions.

Just ahead of its release yesterday, we received the chance to see how loot boxes work in Call of Duty: WWII, where they’re known as “Supply Drops.” The boxes that drop contain various bonuses that can be called when they player spends either in-game currency or real money, or completes certain in-game tasks. Fortunately, the bonuses are mostly cosmetic, including soldier apparel, new emotes, and gun skins. That’s “mostly,” because rare cards that grant players temporary bonus XP appear depending on how high their rank is.

The concept here was ridiculed due to how silly the animation is, particularly after Eurogamer attached an animated GIF of a box dropping to a tweet promoting an article about them. Some considered this the AAA gaming market’s “Jump the Shark” moment, while others made several jokes about their historical authenticity. My apologies to anyone whose relative was severely injured or killed during World War II after a loot box from nowhere bonked them over the head. In fact, the internet had so much fun with it that Activision had that GIF taken down through a copyright strike, since they felt it was bad press. Fortunately, it’s still in the article.

Silliness aside, there are legitimate issues with the implementation One of the easiest ways for a player to get a Supply Drop for themselves is to complete a challenge that involves looking at three other players opening Supply Drops. That’s a creative way to make some players a little envious about bonuses others are getting and goad them into summoning more boxes of their own. While the boxes don’t contain anything that will significantly alter the gameplay in the main multiplayer modes, they do include items that alter matches in Zombies mode. Some players also don’t like how earning boxes is attached to the social score, which shows how far they’re pushing the goading.

Whether this catches on with most players remains to be seen. Keep in mind microtransactions were also heavily criticized when they first appeared, but they’ve since become an expected feature, so it’s tough to have much hope these won’t stick around.

However, there’s proof that criticism can work, even in minor ways. Star Wars Battlefront II received the most attention in this loot box frenzy, as its implementation irked those who discovered the then-unannounced feature while playing the beta. EA and developer DICE responded by finally confirming the feature, and explained it in a way that didn’t make it sound as bad. They gave no assurance it would be altered before its release on November 17th.

At the time, I noted how there was still a chance for DICE to respond to and alter the feature, and as it turns out, they are. They posted an update about changes being made due to feedback on their website. The Epic Star Cards that provide the option to use extra abilities or weapons will no longer be confined to loot boxes, and can instead be obtained through crafting or buying the limited edition. This is an improvement since players no longer have to gamble through random loot boxes for them. But there’s no way to tell whether the former option could be a grind, while the latter will still give those who pay more a better advantage on day-one, so this is only somewhat better.

Also, those playing will now have to increase their in-game rank in order to update their Star Cards through crafting materials, which are still found in loot boxes. Lastly, most class-based weapons can be unlocked through normal play, and some loot boxes will be exclusive to that class. There was no chance of them getting rid of the loot boxes entirely, as EA knows how much money they could make on them, but this should make the multiplayer a fairer experience. Hopefully more unfortunate surprises aren’t awaiting in the final game.

We’ll find out whether The Great Loot Box Experiment™ worked for publishers when financial disclosure season comes around, which will start around late-March or early-April. It’s always possible that execs could openly talk about how well, or not well, they’re doing before then too.

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