The Lootbox Problem Part 1: An Attack On Games

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 14, 2020

Filed under: Column 226 comments

You might remember that a couple of weeks ago on the podcast we covered the story of the UK sorta-kinda banning lootboxes. In response to that, a reader / listener sent in a question that’s way too complicated to tackle in podcast form. This discussion requires a lot of nuance, some very careful phrasing, and lengthy examination of the topic from several angles. So instead I’m going to cover this in a pair of posts.

The question is thus:

Dear Diecast,

Shamus, what is your opinion on lootboxes? From your tone, you’re clearly not a big fan, but you usually focus less on your own stance than on the public dynamics of “If EA doesn’t change course, the backlash is going to pressure governments into banning them entirely.” That assessment is probably right, and a more useful contribution to discourse than you being the billionth person to throw in their opinion, but I’m still curious. As a consumer, do you ever buy lootboxes/microtransactions and how do you feel about it? If you somehow became King of America, what if any laws do you think should be passed on the issue?

Ninety-Three

PS: The way you avoid stating your own opinion while talking about the mob of angry people always reminds me of this comic.

Like Dr. Breen, I sense that Ninety-Three has asked an explicit question, while perhaps gesturing towards an implicit one.

  1. Explicit: Given your negative rhetoric, what’s your actual position on lootboxes?
  2. Implicit: Why are you so cagey when it comes to talk of banning? Why do you always sound like you’re offering a threat on behalf of someone else?

Now, these are perfectly reasonable and fair questions. The second runs afoul of politics, so let’s put that off for now and focus on the first one. Yes, my position on lootboxes is fairly negative, but I think my reasoning differs from that of most people.

A majority of objections seem to come at this from a public health perspective. The argument goes something like, “Lootboxes are bad because they exploit naive children and people with a weakness for gambling. They’re inherently predatory.” That’s fine, but again it feels a little political. Also, I’m worried that this argument would be met with indifference by the EA leadershipEveryone is doing lootboxes now, and maybe EA isn’t even the worst. But EA is the publisher I’ve studied the most, so I’m going to single them out. and their shareholders. I know EA CEO Andrew Wilson doesn’t read my blog, but for whatever reason I still have a desire to construct arguments that the leadership might find persuasive.

I’ll circle back to this public health idea later, but for now let’s look at it from another angle:

Lootboxes Attack the Entire Premise of a Video Game

No, video games don't teach you how to kill. You have to figure that out on your own. Video games just teach you that killing gives you fabulous prizes.
No, video games don't teach you how to kill. You have to figure that out on your own. Video games just teach you that killing gives you fabulous prizes.

The definition of “video game” is a subject of constant debate, and we’re not going to untangle that knot today. But for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use this definition:

A video game is where a player must use some form of skillLogic, reflexes, memory, knowledge, patience, situational awareness, spatial reasoning, planning, pattern recognition, timing mastery, etc etc. to overcome a system of rules in order to receive rewards or bring the game into some desirable prescribed state.

A shorter version of this same definition could be expressed as:

The player does stuff to get stuff.

You don’t have to accept that definition in a universal senseI actually think this definition is too limiting, but it’s short and that’s what I’m looking for at the moment., just as long as you understand that this is the definition we’re using for this post.

Maybe you memorize all of the combos so you can beat your opponents in Street Fighter, or maybe you use logic to solve the puzzles in Hexcells Infinite, or maybe you grind mobs in the Canyon of the Magi looking for rare drops, or maybe you walk through the island to get to the end credits of Dear Esther, but you’re doing stuff within the game to get stuff. The stuff you get is your motivation and the stuff you do is the gameplay that (hopefully) makes the process fun.

Perverse Incentives

Interesting game. The only winning move is not to play.
Interesting game. The only winning move is not to play.

Let’s set aside lootboxes for a second and just talk about microtransactions. Games with microtransactions attack this “do stuff to get stuff” cycle, destroying both the fun and the extrinsic motivation to engage. The Diablo 3 auction house was a good example of this. You’re supposed to kill monsters to acquire gear that you use to kill tougher monsters to get better gear. But if you can just BUY the items you want for cash, then you’re skipping over the gameplay and at the same time destroying your motivation for continuing. Now that you’ve got the gear you want, you no longer have anything left to search for and no reason to keep playing. You don’t even need to take the time to get good at the game. Just type in your credit card and skip to the end. It’s like paying money to skip riding the rollercoaster. That’s what you came here to do!

In a psychological sense, the player is trying to optimize their progression. Acquire the best gear. Discover the best build. Learn the strategies to optimally defeat the boss that yields the best loot. But now suddenly the optimal route to the endgame is spending money. The optimal way to play the game is to skip playing the game.

Worse, this creates a system of perverse incentives. In a game with fixed pricingEither a single up-front cost, or a monthly subscription fee. the designer has an incentive to make the game as fun and engaging as possible. More fun means more sales. More fun means users stick around and pay the monthly MMO fee longer. It means people will be more likely to buy the expansions. But if you’re selling the game to a player a tiny chunk at a time, then you want to push them to spend more. The last thing you want is to make the game as good as possible. If the game feels complete, then the users won’t be motivated to add anything to it. What you want is to make the game just barely good enough to keep them engaged, but boring / annoying / frustrating enough that they’ll fork over more money to escape that manufactured boredom / annoyance / frustration.

This is the problem I had with Black Desert Online. I couldn’t form a plan and work towards my goals, because all the stuff I wanted was only available for cash. The game gave me tons of in-game currency, but you couldn’t buy anything useful with it because they wanted me to buy it for cash.

It Gets Worse…

Interesting game. The only winning move is to be the person that owns the machines.
Interesting game. The only winning move is to be the person that owns the machines.

That’s just the damage that microtransactions inflict on the design of a game. Lootboxes take all of that damage and amplify it. Now I can’t even slap down a few bucks and get the thing I want, I have to keep putting money in and hoping the slot machine will bless me with the thing I’m looking for. My skill doesn’t matter. Understanding the mechanics doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this horrendous electronic casino, which now supersedes all other game systems as the player’s central means of progression.

People say things like “Nobody is forcing you to buy the lootboxes. Just ignore them if you don’t like them!” It would be nice if it was that simple, but the fact that lootboxes are in the game means that the design has been twisted in service of this slot machine. Battlefront II is a classic example. The rewards were spread out so far that it would take a week of full-time play just to unlock a single character. The designer doesn’t want you to do stuff to get stuff. They want you to pay money to get stuff, so they make the grind as long, empty, and boring as possible.

Lootboxes are poison. I might understand if they were a revenue model for a free-to-play game, but charging someone top dollar for a game and then making them pay to play slot machines to progress is ghastly.

Worse, I’m not sure how well the big publishers understand the implications of this shift. If you take down your skee-ball machines and billiard tables to put up slot machines and roulette wheels, you’re not just making a different kind of game – you’re entering into a whole new kind of business. This requires a different kind of expertise and a different kind of focus. A smart person would branch out into a new space, leaving their original business intact in case things don’t work out. But EA is taking their flagship titles and retooling them to serve this new market. They’re effectively ceeding this territory to whomever wants it. Now, maybe that’s a move that will pay off in the long term, but does EA realize they’re doing this and do they have an exit strategy if things don’t work out?

I wonder if this isn’t a big part of why everyone is so bananas for Cyberpunk 2077. Maybe the world is really excited for a cyberpunk game, or maybe there’s a huge underserved market of people looking for story based single-player experiences that aren’t always pestering you to jump online or buy the rest of the game.

The Problem is People

I actually thought that the utopia of idle dum-dums was the least realistic thing in Wall-E. No matter how good their life is, individual ambition, vanity, and the desire for novelty would quickly push these people to do stuff. Hedonism is far more chaotic than this.
I actually thought that the utopia of idle dum-dums was the least realistic thing in Wall-E. No matter how good their life is, individual ambition, vanity, and the desire for novelty would quickly push these people to do stuff. Hedonism is far more chaotic than this.

Yes, the big publishers are clumsily jamming lootboxes into our games and ruining the gameplay. That’s bad, but I feel like we need to stop and recognize fact that people keep buying these stupid things.

Obviously this problem isn’t unique to lootboxes.

Constant-connection DRM is an obvious attack on ownership that creates inconvenience for the end user even when it’s working as intended. It’s ghastly and offensive, but millions of people buy those games anyway. They complain if something goes wrong, but they don’t understand or care enough to make a principled stance.

This includes me! I hate how Steam infringes on our supposed ownership of games, but I own over 750 games on the platform. If I want a world with a “You bought it, you own it, you control it” approach to ownership, then I’ve spent the last 16 years sending exactly the wrong message.

The Michael Bay transformer movies are obnoxious, nonsensical, and agonizingly paced. Inane plot threads yank us in multiple directions to create tedious scenes that add nothing to the movie. Everyone is an idiot and the series doesn’t even care about its own convoluted lore. But millions of people line up to sit in an air conditioned theater and watch two hours of gasoline explosions, so the sequels keep coming.

Grand Theft Auto V is an aimless, mean-spirited, thematically incoherent, morally confused, massively hypocriticalThis is a game that makes fun of lowest-common-denominator online shooters with toxic communities, while also being THAT VERY THING. It makes fun of greedy amoral corporations while being run by a company that is THAT VERY THING. single-player story attached to a horrendous pay-to-win multiplayer grindfest / griefing engine. It’s also the second highest rated game of all time and also the most profitable entertainment product ever made.

We can scream at the big publishers all we want about how much they’re ruining games, but let’s save a slice of that outrage for the tasteless masses that lap this stuff up. I realize it’s poor form to accuse the audience because that means I’m either:

  1. Condescendingly pointing a finger at the readership of this blog, or…
  2. Arrogantly pretending that weThe readership / writership of this blog. are some refined class of consumer, above the drooling masses.

Neither of those is a good look. You’re not supposed to point this out. But if we’re going to talk about lootboxes then we need to acknowledge that millions of people buy these stupid games and then dump money into these wretched boxes. I’m not talking about gambling addicts here, I’m just talking about the everyday players that throw money at these ruined games because they don’t care.

The narrative of blaming everything on the villains at EA is very fun and I appreciate the simplicity of it, but any serious analysis of the problem needs to take into account the fact that millions of consumers are offering billions of dollars in exchange for lootbox-fueled games. There’s a large group of people offering EA money to keep doing it, and a small but extremely vocal group of us telling them to stop. EA is just listening to the money.

Will it Last?

Interesting game. Actually, it isn't.
Interesting game. Actually, it isn't.

The one question I have regarding our current situation is: Can it last? Yes, lootbox-driven games are doing great now, but that doesn’t mean they will continue to do so. Despite my cynicism in the previous section, I think it’s possible that lootboxes are headed for some sort of retraction in the coming years.

Maybe The Backlash is Coming, but Slowly.

We’re really focused on critical reception and analysis on this site, but the general public isn’t really tuned in to that. They just buy their games at Wal-Mart and don’t think too much about it. But just because they don’t read critical reviews doesn’t mean they don’t care about quality. It might take them a little longer, but It’s very possible that these shallower games will leave the general public feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps this is like the Gaming Crash of 1983. Atari began shovelling out dross years before the collapse happened, but people didn’t stop buying games right away. They needed to buy a couple of duds before they realized they were panning for gold in the shower. But when they did catch on, they stopped buying games in a big way. Video games peaked at around $3.2 billion in 1983, and fell to ~$100 million by 1985. That’s a drop of almost 97 percent! Like, I can’t think of another market drop THAT big in my lifetime. I’m not saying we’re headed for a market-wide crash, I’m just saying the public might react to this, and that reaction might seem abrupt and extreme to the big publishers.

Maybe the publishers will over-commit to this singular but unsustainable idea.

Lootbox games work differently compared to normal games. Very few people would buy a lootbox for a 6 hour game you beat over a weekend. Also, most people probably don’t have the interest / money to support two different games at once. This could create a winner-take-all effect. These live service games cost a TON of money to produce, and the more there are, the more they’re going to be fighting over the same finite audience. It’s easy money now, but what happens when all the big publishers have expensively-produced offerings in a situation where the biggest game gets most of the money and the rest have to fight over the scraps? The losers will try to siphon users from the winner by offering better odds, rapidly driving prices down and making the games even less profitable.

But What About Legislation?

It's either this meme or the 'Won't someone think of the children?' one.
It's either this meme or the 'Won't someone think of the children?' one.

The question of how we balance Individual Liberty versus Public Good is messy and prone to starting flame wars that create stressful moderation problems for me. And once you strip away the technological novelty of it all, that’s exactly what the lootbox debate boils down to.

However, aside from the danger of moderating a thread where Red and Blue spit venom at each other, there is another reason I’m so cagey about regulation proposals. In the next entry I’m going to very gently attempt to explore this topic in a way that won’t make people hate me or start a huge fight.

Wish me luck.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Everyone is doing lootboxes now, and maybe EA isn’t even the worst. But EA is the publisher I’ve studied the most, so I’m going to single them out.

[2] Logic, reflexes, memory, knowledge, patience, situational awareness, spatial reasoning, planning, pattern recognition, timing mastery, etc etc.

[3] I actually think this definition is too limiting, but it’s short and that’s what I’m looking for at the moment.

[4] Either a single up-front cost, or a monthly subscription fee.

[5] This is a game that makes fun of lowest-common-denominator online shooters with toxic communities, while also being THAT VERY THING. It makes fun of greedy amoral corporations while being run by a company that is THAT VERY THING.

[6] The readership / writership of this blog.



From The Archives:
 

226 thoughts on “The Lootbox Problem Part 1: An Attack On Games

  1. Thomas says:

    This is an interesting article. I’m trying to think through the market forces of lootboxes.

    It’s clearly relative to the quality of the game. If someone said ‘Buy this game from some no name developer. It’s selling point is it has no lootboxes’ – no-one would buy that. The Witcher 3 was marketed on its lack of microtransactions, but it wouldn’t have sold so well if the game wasn’t great.

    Imagine The Witcher 3 still had no microtransactions but had the quality of Greedfall. How many people would buy it? Well we know because Greedfall doesn’t have microtransactions, it would sell as well as Greedfall sold.

    Equally Assassin’s Creed Syndicate had microtransactions but the quality of the game was good enough that I don’t regret buying it.

    On the other hand Assassin’s Creed Odyssey might have had microtransactions to the level where I do regret buying it despite the quality of the game.

    But in terms of having an effect on my purchasing decisions, it’s too late for Odyssey. The issue was too subtle that reviews and feedback wasn’t enough to drive me away from buying it. On the other hand I am feeling less likely to buy Valhalla because of my experiences with Odyssey. But perhaps it would only take a small tweak to Valhalla before it’s worth purchasing again.

    As the videogame market is so small, there are really only a handful of quality games a year in genres you’re interested in. As a result microtransactions have to be pretty bad before they sare a turn off.

    I could see these very weak feedback mechanisms leading to some kind of market collapse. I don’t think publishers will ever receive clear enough feedback to move away because the content of the game is so much more important than the pricing and the review system for understanding the effect of microtransactions is insufficient to guide a purchase.

    So perhaps a lot of anger builds up and one day it blows out.

    On the other hand perhaps the quality of indie games improves as the tools get better and suddenly there are enough quality games out there that they’re able to compete with the big publishers in this area.

    1. Geebs says:

      The funny thing about Odyssey – and I’m firmly of the opinion that the grind in that game is both egregious and deliberately aimed at selling mTX – is that it would absolutely still be a janky mess of insipid or downright nonsensical plotlines, dull combat, and a protagonist with attitudes to workplace sexual harassment which would make even a UbiSoft executive tug at their collar.

      I think the series is just fundamentally broken – even Black Flag, aka “the good one” is a complete mess of time-skips and heel/face turns that just ends up confusing. If people are still buying AC games at this point, they’re not going to stop now. I’m more bemused at how well the series continues to review.

      1. Cubic says:

        I’m more bemused at how well the series continues to review.

        Imagine if the publishers go from pay-to-play to handing out lootboxes for reviews. Or should that be ‘when’?

        1. BlueHorus says:

          I’d think that reviewers wouldn’t publish positive reviews for mere lootboxes. It’s called ‘Selling Out’ for a reason; there’s some value in the thing being sold. Shill reviews are worth their weight in money!

          …at least, I’d *like* to think that…

          (Seriously, though. Someone who’s willing to sell out is also smart enough to know what it’s worth to do so, or their business has collapsed. It’s a similar principle to ‘a sucessful criminal is a smart one; the dumb ones are in prison’.)

          1. Xedo says:

            I expect the greater danger is youtube influencers shilling HARD for a game as part of a promotional system where they are constantly given free lootboxes to open live on stream.

            1. Lino says:

              Better yet, imagine if a couple of YouTubers – with an audience who are mostly under 18 – decided to create a site where you can gamble with real money for items obtained in lootboxes! And not only that, but imagine what would happen if they promoted said website without disclosing that they actually own it!

              Hmmm…. Come to think of it, something like that could never happen. Sure, there are some degenerates in the world, but I don’t think anyone would ever sink that low

        2. Chad Miller says:

          They’ve already learned the trick of patching lootboxes into the game after the reviews come out.

          (if I were willing laws into existence, my first approach would be to attack this stuff from a “truth in advertising” standpoint)

      2. Thomas says:

        We differ in opinion, outside the grinding I enjoyed Odyssey a lot.

        We probably prioritise different aspects. A chance to walk around a beautiful Greece, with a charismatic lead (not Alexios obviously) and to dress them up with gear and dialogue options is plentiful to sell me on the game. I understand that the experience isn’t what other people are after.

      3. tmtvl says:

        I thought the good one was Assassin’s Creed No Number No Subtitle?

        1. Asdasd says:

          At this point I’m not sure if that’s the original game or a reboot from several years later.

          1. Duoae says:

            … or several centuries in the past?! [Spooky noises]

            Seriously though, I’ve enjoyed the majority of AC games I’ve played (didn’t play syndicate or the French revolution one) but the three i enjoyed the most were brotherhood, the first and origins.

            IMO, AC III and Odyssey suffer from the same problem – just too much and too spread out. Also, i hated Black Flag… just could not get into it at all.

            I don’t think they’re bad games and i didn’t feel like the MTX was really that tied into the grind (for odyssey and origins), i mean, it didn’t take much to reach high player level but going through all the quests and locations was more of a grind for me and i tired of it.

            I’m a bit wary of Valhalla because i haven’t seen exactly how they’re iterating on the series’ formula. I could really do with a concise developer feature set walkthrough like E3 days of old. These gameplay trailers are useless and i find the “here’s 1-2 hours of gameplay” impossible to digest… I actually DO have better things to do with my time!

            I read a couple of sneak peaks at various outlets but i just don’t get a good vibe for the game’s structure.

    2. Moridin says:

      A lot of media has the same problem, really. You can make an awful game/movie/whatever and if it’s part of a series with strong brand, it’ll still sell pretty well. The impact is only really seen when you release a sequel and people refuse to touch it with a ten-foot pole because they had a bad experience with the previous release.

      1. Thomas says:

        At least with films there are a lot of good quality options out there in the long-run. Someone who is tired of vapid blockbusters can find plenty of proficient substitutes that otherwise mirror the experience well. And even within the blockbusters there’s plenty of competition each year. DC suffered because Marvel was doing it better.

        It’s a bit rockier with games, because there is less competition. If you have an Xbox or a PS4, you really only have access to one high quality driving game a year (or less).

        And outside of AAA, indie games do offer competition, but they rarely deliver the same kind of experience as AAA games. There is no indie GTAV.

        And microtransactions are a subtle issue in terms of their effect on the experience. It’s a little like product placement in films – product placement may take you out of a film but it’s rare for it to be so bad its not worth seeing the latest hit over. But microtransactions are much more insidious

        1. Supah Ewok says:

          Videogames from 15 years ago are also far more difficult to experience than movies from 15 year ago. Videogames are in a very odd place where there is a “window” to experience them best, and once the window moves on barriers are placed much higher than any other common entertainment medium I can think of. Especially when so much TV and movies are now available via streaming platforms. If one runs out of movies from this year, all previous years of the last 50 beckon.

          That is, of course, talking about console users, but the majority of the “uninformed consumer” that Shamus is talking about are on the “plug and play” boxes.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            It’s not just a matter of getting the games running; video games, especially older video games, require effort to beat so even if you are able to run the games you have to deal with different standards of difficulty, different control schemes, and just plain flaws that hadn’t been ironed out of the discipline yet.

            You can watch a 1980’s movie and even if you miss some references to the culture of the time, you’ll still get to the end in a couple of hours and still understand most of what you saw. Compare to trying to play an early FPS with no mouselook, or a 3rd person 3d game with shitty early-era 3d cameras, or even just any 8-bit game if you’re not accustomed to them. It’s easy to come to a screeching halt within minutes, if you ever get off the ground at all.

            1. Supah Ewok says:

              I would peg that as an evolution of a nascent medium, and why I did not go back further than 15 years for videogames, and 50 years for movies. Plenty of people accustomed to modern movie conventions would be deeply unsatisfied by silent or black and white cinematography.

        2. Duoae says:

          Maybe it’s just not my genre but do people really want more than one good simulation* game per year? Or even every two years? Okay, there are also more arcadey titles as well, so maybe that’s a factor but i just don’t have so much to ask of those types of games.

          *simulation as in the game is trying to replicate a real world activity with some level of fidelity.

          Story- based games i understand because I’m playing not only for the game play and there are effectively almost infinite worlds and stories to regurgitate from a writer’s and artist’s mind. But i don’t need a new football game if the old one played well. Would i like updates to rosters? Sure, but does it fundamentally change the game? Not for me.

          I actually really like rally games but I’ve only bought and played 3 or 4 over the last 20 years. There isn’t that much improvement or difference between them, for me.

          Is this just me?

          1. Thomas says:

            The point isn’t that people want to buy 2 simulation games a year and can’t.

            The point is, if you want to buy 1 simulation game you have almost no choice, so competition forces are weak.

            1. Duoae says:

              Then don’t you just buy the last game if you didn’t buy it or wait for the next?

              My point is that there is competition but only when it’s supported by the market. I’m not sure anything other than ultra popular sports games really has the market to be releasing yearly or more frequent entries.

    3. Freddo says:

      The lootbox discussions harkens back to the discussion about DLC, especially zero-day DLC, these days usually disguised as premium or ultimate editions. The debacle around Fallout 76 was when I saw a lot of people posting: “fsck pre-ordering, fsck premium editions, from now on I’ll just wait for the game to be on a steam sale”.

      Looking at my stack of unfinished games, books and movies I can easily wait 6 months or more for a game to go on sale (or to be cracked, depending on my dislike of the publisher).

    4. guy says:

      When it came to my purchasing decisions, I bought Shadow Of War and it put me off microtransaction lootbox games so badly I didn’t buy AC:Oddessy.

  2. BlueHorus says:

    …there is another reason I’m so cagey about regulation proposals. In the next entry I’m going to very gently attempt to explore this topic in a way that won’t make people hate me or start a huge fight.

    Wish me luck.

    Good luck! It’s an interesting topic and I’d like to hear more about it, while avoiding a classic Internet Flamewar.

    Very good point about the problem being people; companies of all kinds will only sell what people will buy. The rising price of games and harware makes me shake my head in amazement every new console generation, but thousands of people still pay up.

    I’d love to believe that we’re headed to some kind of crash where people lose interest in games as they exist now, forcing change…but I remember hearing talk like that nearly a decade ago, and nothing came of it…

    1. Thomas says:

      Games are as cheap as they’ve ever been when adjusted for inflation. Even if the mentioned price rise for the next generation comes into effect, that only put us back to prices of games in the early 2010’s.

      Although the ones with microtransactions have an uncounted expense.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Plus, you know, the whole indie market and free-to-play, which makes games cheaper even at their nominal price point.

        1. Thomas says:

          And sales. Almost every game on the PSN rotates on and off sale every other month like clockwork, once you get a few months past the release date. And Steam does even better sales.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            And giveaways and bundles. There was a diecast on this very site where the hosts discuss it not being worth the clicks to claim a free AAA game for a site where they already had an account.

      2. Duoae says:

        People keep saying this but it’s like saying, “i never fall over”.

        In a vacuum and in one instance, this is true. But it’s highly reductive and doesn’t give a complete picture of all the mechanisms of product pricing.

        This isn’t as simple as “games are the cheapest they’ve ever been on an individual level”. That’s a pointless argument. A large proportion of products that are consumed by people are currently “the cheapest they’ve ever been on an individual level”. Are you arguing that everything should be increased in price regardless of other factors?

    2. James Schend says:

      I think a big part of the problem is that AAA games *haven’t* been rising in price. The price got fixed at a standard $60 in about 1994ish and nobody’s tried pushing the envelope since. AAA games have never been cheaper than right now. (And if you average the price with all games, including mobile and indies packed in those 12-for-$3 deals, games in general have never, ever, ever been cheaper than they are right now.)

      It’s interesting to me that you perceive that the price of games has been rising despite all that. I wonder where that impression comes from?

      But if you’re a company making AAA games, and you (due to social pressures) are forced to sell it at $60, how do you make more money? Nobody wants to be the first one to charge $80 or $100 (which is what they ought to cost if you account for inflation.) The BUDGET of the game has been rising. Salaries have been rising. And while the number of people capable of buying the game is also rising, it can only rise so far. The obvious answers are DLCs, microtransactions, and lootboxes. And now we’re getting into the era of big AAA game companies doing it with asset-flips, like Fallout 76 which is 95% content recycled from Fallout 4 (and which was originally sold at AAA prices).

      The obvious SOLUTION is a campaign to companies making AAA games: if you think the game’s worth $80, charge $80. If you think it’s worth $100, charge $100. It’s a simple solution. Sure, people will bitch and moan. People bitch and moan, but they’ll get over it, and the sooner some AAA publisher makes the move the sooner we’ll get over it.

      1. Thomas says:

        I fear some ‘brightspark’ exec will then eventually say ‘Hey and we could make even more money if we keep the microtransactions in’.

      2. jawlz says:

        They haven’t been rising in price, but the audience/customer bases for AAA games has grown exponentially since 1994.

      3. BlueHorus says:

        It’s interesting to me that you perceive that the price of games has been rising despite all that. I wonder where that impression comes from?

        Bigger numbers; I didn’t account for inflation. Mea culpa.
        Plus, I remember buying games for £30 in the late nineties & early 00’s…probably second hand, though there might be a factor of currency fluctuation in there as well.
        Consoles weren’t as much, certainly. I remember looking at the price of a PS4 when it first came out and breaking into derisive laughter.

        1. Geebs says:

          Correcting for inflation – which tracks the cost of living – isn’t really fair when wages for the 99% haven’t increased in the last decade. Disposable income, especially for young people, has decreased for precisely this reason, so inflation isn’t a great way to track the price of luxury goods like video games.

          1. Thomas says:

            That’s only consumer price inflation. Currency also inflates, and wages rise along with that inflation. Average wages were £320 per week in the UK in 2000, and now they’re £540.

            Plus I believe the studies suggesting wages haven’t risen over the past few decades are arguing that they haven’t risen _after taking into account consumer price inflation_. That’s why some economists take issues with the findings because calculating consumer inflation over a long time period is tricky.

            1. tmtvl says:

              Has the mean wage risen with the average wage? That’s a good way to check whether the number is reliable or slanted due to a few people earning vastly more money.

              1. Nimrandir says:

                Did you intend to ask about the median wage? Most of the time, I take the word ‘average’ to indicate a mean, unless doing arithmetic with the data values doesn’t make sense. The median is also less sensitive to outliers like The Bezos.

                It was extremely hard to write the above sentences without using ‘mean’ as an indicator of intention. I hate my native language sometimes.

                1. Thomas says:

                  What I quoted was the median wage, which is less sensitive to averages as you said. Wages are almost always reported in medians to prevent the bias tmtvl outlined, which is why I shortcutted to ‘average’ even though the convention is normally that average refers to mean average.

                  1. Nimrandir says:

                    That makes sense. I often use ‘typical’ in these situations to avoid conflating average and another measure of center, but I’m professionally obligated to do so.

            2. Syal says:

              I don’t know how many people actually work at federal minimum wage levels, but it was $7.25/hour in 2009 and it’s $7.25/hour today.

              1. Thomas says:

                In the UK the minimum wage was £3.60 per hour in 2000 and it’s £8.20 now, so the increase is even bigger.

                The US has a hang-up about minimum wages that most of the rest of the OECD doesn’t. The UK also doesn’t make exceptions to minimum wages for the food industry.

                There are decile wage statistics for the UK which you can use to see that earnings have increased on the low end too. I’m not so familiar with US stats, but if you can find the equivalent it would settle the point.

                1. Syal says:

                  …well… I found it. I can’t read it.

                  Average annual wages are apparently a bit over $50,000, and have consistently risen $10,000 every ten years. Median (“estimated”, whatever that means) is around $32,000, and has consistently gone up $6,000 every ten years.

                  1. Thomas says:

                    Wow, that site is incoherent. I’m a professional statistician, I work with economic data all the time, I know what I’m looking for and the words typically used to describe it, you had already linked me to a table that had most of the things I was looking for and I still couldn’t find what I needed after 15 minutes of searching.

                    I know statisticians are bad at describing things, and I’m sure the UK website is unintuitve, but that is something else.

                    1. Thomas says:

                      Okay, I took a second shot at it and found it. Maybe all statistics websites are this difficult to navigate and it just requires some familiarity to get through – a helpful reminder to try and be better myself!

                      In 2010 the lowest earning 10% of full-time employees in the US earned at most £356 a week. In 2019 the lowest earning 10% earned at most £442 a week (before everything kicked off). So even for low-earning people, a $50 game in 2010 would cost about $62 now as a proportion of their wages.

                      However, for people on minimum wage, as you say, then they’re earning the same as minimum wage earners back in 2010 (I checked, most states use the federal minimum or similar). I find that kind of crazy because the cost of buying stuff in the US has gone up 16% between 2010 and 2019. If you were to spend all of your wage on Big Macs, for every 10 Big Macs a minimum wage worker could buy in 2010, they could only buy 6 in 2020*. For those people a video game price increase would have a real impact. Let’s hope less people are on the minimum wage these days – the increase in wages for lower earners would suggest that’s true.

                      *That’s not using consumer price inflation, that’s using the actual price of a big mac in 2010

            3. Geebs says:

              The ONS says that real-world median disposable income has decreased by 2.9% since 2008. It’s also worth noting that household debt has increased during the same period, a lot of which belongs to the Student Loans company. Much of the increase in median wages was in the 40-49 year bracket.

              I’d still say there’s a valid argument that the young adult audience for AAA videogames *in the UK, which is a relatively wealthy country* hasn’t got any richer over the last decade. That’s before you factor in the specific observation (and very close to being political, so please delete if appropriate) observation that there’s a huge wage gap where group that is perhaps the most likely demographic for an NBA game is, on average, making much less than the national medians.

              I think the most sensitive index for whether videogames cost “too much” globally probably remains the piracy rate. While some people gonna pirate, I imagine a lot of that is driven by people who want the games but never, ever could afford them due to economic disparity.

              1. Thomas says:

                “Real” in that context means inflation adjusted, and the “disposable” part means cost of living inflation has also been applied.

                As the price of games has remained fixed over that time, it means the real world cost of games has not only fallen, but people have 2.9% more income to spend on them if they so chose.

                1. Thomas says:

                  Sorry, “disposable” just means “after tax”, also whilst ‘real income’ means inflation adjusted income, I don’t know if you’re quoting the ONS, or just using everyday terminology. Unadjusted median disposable household income in the UK has increased 6.7% since 2007/08.

                  1. The Puzzler says:

                    I suspect when a lot of people say disposable income, they mean “after I’ve paid my rent and other essentials, which have increased in cost at the same rate my income did”.

                    1. Duoae says:

                      Yeah, i think this is probably correct. The cost of renting in the two counties I’ve lived in has increased by approximately a factor of 2 over the last 10-15 years.

                      I really doubt that the actual amount of disposable income to spend on entertainment has increased, especially as entertainment has gotten more expensive itself.

                    2. Thomas says:

                      Yes, I thought the ONS stats on the second called it disposable income but I appear to have been mistaken.

                      Either way, the literal amount of £’s people earn has increased a lot, so whilst other entertainment has become more expensive, games have become cheaper because their prices haven’t increased with inflation.

                      This did finally lead me to what I was looking for though. The ONS has household expenditure statistics on games. The volume of games bought has increased by 51% in the UK since 2008. Whilst the money being spent on games (non inflation adjusted) has only increased 31%.

                      The cost of games inflation adjusted (using GDP deflators to avoid issues with CPI) has fallen 8.2% by since 2008 (and 60% since 2000)

                      Can we call the issue settled now? However you look at data, the answer is the same. Games are cheaper than ever.

                    3. Geebs says:

                      @Thomas

                      Well, you didn’t address the increase in household debt, or the massive reduction in the cost of manufacture and distribution of games over the last 20 years.

                      The page I found said that households are on average spending £0.80 on video games per week, and £0.20 on consoles. Apart from the fact that this suggests that the average family buys one console every 20 years, the ONS also thinks that the average household spends £40 per year on games, or 0.57 copies of NBA 2k21.

                      Or maybe, they’re having to buy second-hand because games are too expensive *for the average household’s budget*, which would explain the discrepancy between spending and RRP. Or they still have a PS3, X360 or even PS2.

                      I imagine that when the furlough money runs out, video game spending is about to drop precipitously, so again the timing for this latest price increase is rather curious,

        2. James Schend says:

          Accounting for inflation, I’m not sure consoles have been rising in prices. The SNES listed at $200 in 1992, using a inflation calculator I Googled up that’s equivalent to $365 today. So maybe consoles are somewhat more expensive (assuming the new ones will list at $400– but also keep in mind modern consoles also do more stuff), but it’s not a huge leap. I’d call console pricing “normal”.

          But a $60 game in 1992 would be $110 at 2020 prices, even without comparing the difference in production costs.

          1. Supah Ewok says:

            Take a moment to think about how many games you think are worth buying for $110, and if you’re like me and many others, you’ll find your answer as to why games have not shifted in price for a long time. Inflation doesn’t matter. What consumers perceive the monetary values of games to be matters to successful business a lot more than price indexes.

            It’s also actually wrong that games have been a steady $60 for all these years. I remember way back to 8 whole years ago when AAA games would release on Steam for $50, not $60. It was thought that that was because digital distribution was new and hadn’t taken off for consoles yet, and publishers were passing on their savings in distribution and production costs to the consumer.

            Yet the moment publishers realized that the market on Steam and PC in general was actually rather sizeable and not just a faceless morass of pirate boogeymen, those prices shot right up to $60. Because it was never about costs. It was about what publishers thought people would buy games for. They thought games needed to be cheaper to entice people away from pirating. When they figured out that their own rhetoric about piracy was mistaken, they charged PC users the same price as everybody else, because they could.

            I buy very few games for 60 whole bucks. You can say what you want about inflation, but $60 is still a big chunk of money for an entertainment module, no matter how many hours are in it. I’d be down to just a couple of favorite series for Day 1 buys if the price went up anymore. Despite the long tail to products that digital sales have created, that first big chunk of revenue from the first couple of months on the market is what pays off the investment in production for games, and it relies on memetic spread of product awareness. Publishers have to dance between a price that maximizes that spread with a price that gives them the most money, and the most profitable spot on that curve hasn’t budged for a long time. From a consumer perspective, there is absolutely no need for it to budge anymore. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something or is misguided. If there’s a problem with production costs, there are actually two solutions: only one of them is making consumers pay more. The other one is cutting costs. Nobody ever brings up the latter when talking about the “morality” of game prices.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              Because it was never about costs. It was about what publishers thought people would buy games for.

              Of course, this is how prices work, for everything. If you charge less than what people are willing to pay, you’re just leaving money on the table and doing so is typically either a stunt or the sign of a tiny operation without enough people in suits to find the ideal price point.

              An important thing which often gets missed in talking about the morality of prices is that there is no Cosmic Register Of Value saying that a thing is objectively worth this many dollars. In fact, there’s no such thing as being “valuable” end of sentence, only being valuable to someone. When we do talk about what something is worth end of sentence, that’s a shortcut for something like “what it’s worth to the average consumer in this region”. There is literally no measure of value other than what some person or group of people is willing to pay. If someone is actually charging more than a product is “worth”, the merchants will be the first to know because they’ll notice no one is buying. If they’re not having cashflow problems then they’re not charging too much, they’re just charging too much for you.

      4. ivan says:

        “Salaries have been rising.” Whose? The ground level developers? Well, a little, yes, but not as much as inflation. And it’s kinda balanced out by systematic firing and rehiring policies. The customers? No, not really. Definitely less than inflation. The CEOs? Yeah. Yeah, loads.

        Anyway, to your last paragraph, they’re doing it, currently, it seems pretty clear. For this next gen, they’re raising prices to 70. But, it seems pretty clear also, they are not getting rid of any of the other stuff, the lootboxes and micros and whatnot. Why would they? Because they’re nice?

        1. James Schend says:

          $70 isn’t enough to make up the difference, so it’s not surprising it’s also not enough for publishers to consider removing microtransactions. They “should” cost somewhere between $100 and $110, if game prices had moved the same way as all other consumer prices over the last 25 years. Now that I’ve done some more research, even the $80 price point I put in my first comment I think was too low.

          The real point I’m making is it you want microtransactions to go away, you should encourage game publishers to charge what they think the game is worth instead of toeing the completely arbitrary $60 line in the sand.

          1. tmtvl says:

            Quake 1 sold 1.1 million units in 3 years time. Battlefield 1 sold 15 million copies in 4 years.

          2. Duoae says:

            I don’t see anyone mentioning digital sales. Publishers have a greater piece of the pie than they’ve ever had in the past and it’s only growing. The amount of long-tail revenue from non- transferable products with almost zero reproduction costs ameliorates a lot of the lack of perceived price stagnation.

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          The customers? No, not really. Definitely less than inflation.

          Yes really, wages have absolutely been growing and even outstripping inflation across the board. Minimum wage kind of keeps pace with inflation (it’s only increased periodically, making for a spiky graph thus “kind of”), the number of people working minimum wage has been falling for decades, and income across basically every demographic is going up. Have you looked at the statistics behind the claim you’re making?

      5. Scerro says:

        Games settled at $50 for a new title in the PS2 era. Games haven’t been a solid $60 for 20+ years.

        This is a good read that might help you be more accurate with your assertions.
        https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/07/the-return-of-the-70-video-game-has-been-a-long-time-coming/

      6. Hector says:

        Your post in theory is about the economics of it. But you got every specific fact wrong. This is not an insult, but a statement of reality. You do not understand how supply and demand work in this context.

        1. Hector says:

          Pricing theory is a hugely messy area of economics, so I am simplifying. And I do not claim to be an expert on it by any stretch of the imagination. However, here are a few elements that should be understood as they apply to software, and games specifically.

          First, prices do not *ever* merely match general inflation except in a legal contract linking the two. Inflation measures are just some form of average of actual price increases among many goods or services. They are essentially un-coordinated among . The argument that games are are underpriced because they aren’t increasing with inflation is not merely wrong, it inverts cause-and-effect. Inflation, by various measures, is lower than it would otherwise be because games are not increasing in price. Conversely, some other prices increase faster than average inflation measurements. The only people who make this argument are people who don’t understand basic economics… or who want to deceive in order to raise their prices.

          Second, prices are sticky to a degree, but only to a degree. And, as it turns out, we have quite a bit of evidence that price sin the video game industry can and do change – but in general, the trend has been falling prices, not rising ones. But how can this be? Are the publishers all so generous that they cut prices out of the goodness of their hearts?

          You may laugh at your own convenience.

          It’s simply because of supply and demand. The really short version is that software has effectively no marginal cost – that is, serving one customer costs exactly the same as serving one million customers. Companies have judged, by and large, than they will make more money from charging customers less money than more money – because the number of customers will make up for it.

          Things like Steam sales are another element in this, because they allow companies to efficiently practice Price Discrimination. That is, they can easily offer the game for a high normal price, and pick up customers who value it for less later on when there’s a sale. In a retail environment, this would be really difficult to achieve consistently, but electronic storefronts make it effortless.

          Micro-transactions are another form of price discrimination. They allow, in theory, customers who value a game more to invest more money in exchange for better stuff. Unfortunately, this is sometimes detrimental to game design, but from an economic perspective that is irrelevant. *ANY* and all forms of price power will be exercised, and Micro-transactions have a specific added bonus that is possibly unique to the software/gaming world: it creates a path for price-discriminate customer to become the price-insensitive customers. This is not necessarily unhealthy – it’s what allowed Warframe to make millions from a free game.

          However, companies don’t do these systems out of the goodness of their hearts. They are, over the long run, profit maximizers or trying to be so. Even when the companies really are run by gamers first and accountants second, the practicalities of operating a company require that games be developed with the intent of making the most profits. The difference between a good company and a bad one isn’t that the good guys don’t make money, but that they provide good long-term value for the money.

          1. Duoae says:

            I would give this post a thumbs up on certain sites that should probably not be named here ;)

    3. Erik says:

      companies of all kinds will only sell what people will buy.

      Just want to point out that this is one of the major holes in economics. Companies will only sell what people will buy is correct, but only for commodity-level markets. For novelty and bespoke items, the reverse is true – people can only buy what a company is already making and selling (or willing to make for a price). Unfulfilled demand doesn’t show up in the economy; it only shows up when supply finally is created and suddenly second-best choices are abandoned in favor of the actual desire.

      I hope that this turns out to be true about lootboxes, but I fear that lootboxes run into Soren Johnson’s principle: if you give players a chance, they will optimize all the fun out of the game. Lootboxes are the epitome of this principle, in that you can just pay a little money and optimize away the need to actually play. This is a hideously stupid thing to design into a game if you care about gameplay, but it’s an obvious money winner – let all the overoptimizers pay as much as we can get to “win” without playing.

      In the short-sighted executive view, this works, since by the time the game turns out to have no legs once the initial batch of overoptimizers have paid, the executive has the money and his bonus. And the exec often doesn’t care about the remnants of the game because they’ll be re-org’ed away from that to mess up something new in a different division, since they did such a great job on the last one. By the time the game proves to be a hot mess, it’s someone else’s job to clean up.

      1. Mr. Wolf says:

        Soren Johnson’s principle sounds interesting, suspiciously similar to the reason I hate competitive gaming. Can you direct me to the source? I’d like to read up on it.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            My favorite phrasing of the same idea comes from Zack Johnson, one of the Kingdom of Loathing developers. He once complained about a segment of the playerbase who “would rather stab themselves in the dick for eleven points than sleep with the prom queen for ten points”. “Dickstabbers” went on to become a commonly used term in the community, but despite the contemptuous name development focuses on the idea that the optimal strategy should be fun, because as much as the developer might wish otherwise, you can’t just shout people into playing suboptimally.

          2. Mr. Wolf says:

            Thank you, good sir.

        1. Chris says:

          I dont know Soren Johnson’s principle, but it reminds me of something the guy that created MTG said. He said that if you give people an optimal path in a game, even if its boring or stupid, they will do that because its the best way to win. Then after they played the game once they put it away because its no fun. So you have to make sure optimal play is also the most fun.

      2. Asdasd says:

        Conversely, players may not appreciate being asked to make choices which cannot be optimised, as a distinction without a difference rarely feels meaningful or interesting.

  3. Infinitron says:

    Isn’t this a bit old meme now? Sure some games have lootboxes, but you’re also seeing a bunch of games from big publishers that brag about how they don’t have lootboxes, catering to the segment of the audience that hates them. I don’t think the lootboxes are taking over everything.

    1. The Puzzler says:

      No-one claimed lootboxes were taking over everything.

      Some drinks brag amount containing no sugar. That doesn’t mean that sugary drinks aren’t a public health issue.

  4. Geebs says:

    Steering clear of whether regulation is good or bad, AFAIK there are significant additional taxes on businesses who operate gambling services. Getting lootboxes classified as gambling might significantly impact their profitability to the point of their not being viable.

    1. ivan says:

      Gambling regulation isn’t just taxes though. It’s also licences, and requirement on gambling houses that they operate in certain humane ways. Things like a duty of care to the customer, to not abuse them. Casinos nowadays will not just let you spend and spend and spend until you ruin yourself. In order to accomplish that, you kinda have to be cunning with your own gambling, to avoid them limiting your ability to gamble in their establishment, or just banning you entirely. They don’t particularly operate that way because they’re nice, but because gaming laws require them to do so.

      Other things include freely available, transparent and clear display of odds, age restrictions, etc. etc.

      Anyways, to conclude, if lootboxes in their typical current form were classified as gambling, that wouldn’t mean extra taxes, that’d mean them being shut down (in their current form), because as a form of gambling they’re horribly illegal, abusive, with opaque odds and targeting people of all ages including small children. If casinos operated even slightly similar to how lootboxes do, they would lose their gaming licences overnight.

      TD;DR: If classified as gambling, lootboxes in their current form would be illegal, not taxed.

  5. Bloodsquirrel says:

    A majority of objections seem to come at this from a public health perspective. The argument goes something like, “Lootboxes are bad because they exploit naive children and people with a weakness for gambling. They’re inherently predatory.” That’s fine, but again it feels a little political.

    It’s also something that gamers should have the sense to be wary about, since moral panic about video games is unlikely to work out in our favor. People always seem to be blindingly naive to how other people’s idea of “But think of the children!” might involve banning something that you like.

    The truth is, I think that you just need to reach a point where you realize that you are no longer the target audience of the AAA publishers. I almost never buy AAA games anymore, precisely because of how many of the current trends of AAA design are alien to my interests. But the good news is that there’s a thriving indie market now.

    I almost have to wonder if the very reason that AAA games are going so far in (from my view) and awful direction is because of the success of the indie market- people like me now have another outlet for our dollars, so we’re less likely to spend them on AAA games, so it’s less profitable to aim AAA games at us. I’m okay with ME: Whatever the Fuck is Next being a complete mess. Make it action schlock, put in lootboxes, go nuts. I don’t care, because unlike when ME1 came out there are a ton of lower-budget RPGs being produced that fit my preferences better anyway. Bioware games aren’t for me anymore. They made that very clear, and now BGIII is coming out and it’s being made by a studio that actually wants to be making RPGs.

    I just know that it’s pointless to wring your hands over how bad a job EA and other publishers are doing. It’s as silly as complaining about the Hallmark channel not having any good space operas. People are going to produce products that aren’t for you. You’re way better off finding the people who are producing products that interest you and not wasting your time and energy being worried about companies that no longer even have the pretense of serving somebody with your gaming preferences.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I also don’t play AAA games anymore. The closest games to my sort of interests recently, are Cyberpunk, and the later Witcher games. However, I don’t even own a machine that could play either one of those, so I just play more indie games. :)

    2. Matt says:

      Agreed. This feels like such a non-issue to me because I don’t play any games with lootboxes. Similarly, what do I care if some people want to spend money in a way I consider foolish at a casino?

    3. ThricebornPhoenix says:

      An argument can have a moral component without being “moral panic” (which does not have a clear, rational argument based on the facts of the matter). The moral angle is also the only one that might persuade policy makers, who mostly do not play video games and don’t care if they are less fun to play (Shamus’ argument). And, as we see, the general audience doesn’t care or even notice most of this villainy until it makes headlines in mainstream media. “Lootboxes ruin lives” absolutely gets more cultural traction than “lootboxes ruin nerd games”.

      AAA has been going in this direction since consoles could connect to the internet. The surging indie market may also be a factor, but I believe it’s mostly a matter of another potential revenue stream opening up and publishers compulsively needing to capitalize on it. No matter the base price of the game, no matter how much or how little competition they have, no publisher will ever leave so much as the promise of a hypothetical wooden nickel on the table if they have any choice.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        The point here is that we shouldn’t be making arguments that bring in the “policy makers”, because their history of making policy is uniformly terrible and misinformed. You’re also falling into the exact trap that I outlined: you’re assuming that your moral argument is, of course, logical and thoughtful, and that everybody will of course see it that way, and recognize it as fundamentally different than those other people’s dumb moral panic, and so naturally nobody will use the precedent you set to ban games for being violent, sexually explicit, or, in 2020, containing wrongthink.

        That’s never how it works. You think you’re going to get lootboxes cut out with a scalpel, and then what actually happens is that the whole industry gets a 1000lb MOAB dropped on it. Not even everybody on this comment thread agrees with your moral argument. Why are you so confident that everybody in Washington and the general public are going to fall so neatly in line?

        And your mistake here economics-wise is that you’re acting like a new revenue stream opening up will cause companies to abandon old, profitable ones. If there are still gamers who will spend money on games without intrusive microtransactions, then publishers will want to produce games to sell to those people. As an analogy The profitability of the MCU has not stopped movie studios from making all non-comic book films. But in order to support a 200+million dollar production budget, a movie does have to viable in the global market, and that generally means a special-effects laden action blockbuster. So what we’ve seen isn’t that romantic comedies have vanished, it’s that a new, higher-budged-higher-revenue segment of the market that wouldn’t have been supportable 20 years ago has popped up.

        In gaming, we’re seeing the same thing. They’re spending more money than ever making AAA games, and those games turn out to require the new revenue model. But that hasn’t eliminated the rest of the market- it’s just that the biggest developers and studios have left it to smaller, more independent developers. What would have been a AAA game on the original Xbox is now a smaller-profile project that isn’t going to get space at E3.

        1. Falling says:

          There has been a change to the movie market though. Lots of people talk about the disappearance of the mid-sized budget films, action or otherwise. Some might exist, but largely it’s blockbusters and indie films with not much inbetween. This is unfortunate because blockbusters are too expensive to really risk being creative (hence endless rebooted franchises and super hero films). And indie films are usually too strange to gain a lot of traction (except on occasion). Whereas the mid-sized budget wasn’t such a financial risk, so you afford to be experimental, but it was targeted to the general audience so some became super hits and insanely profitable due to how small the budget was.

          I mean, you even tell this is the case from where these franchise directors come from. Often it’s indie film, indie film… here’s $200M, make a blockbuster! Not much in between.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            That has more to do with the Studio’s desire to keep a tighter control over these mega-franchise films. Just like with their actors, they want to avoid “big names” that will be more likely to chafe under creative restrictions. Also, unknowns are generally cheaper.

            As for the disappearance of mid-sized budget films, what, exactly, is disappearing? And keep in mind when you answer that the rise of streaming and the “Netflix series” is part of the replacement for that market.

            1. Matt says:

              I don’t agree that a Netflix original movie or series is a good substitute for mid-budget films. While it’s true that there may be more money than ever going in to mid-budget productions, individual shows/films have smaller budgets and are chasing a limited pool of AAA talent and public attention.

            2. The Puzzler says:

              Joker and Knives Out had budgets $55m & $40m respectively. I think that constitutes mid-budget in a world where a Pirates of the Caribbean movie can have a budget of $378m. So I don’t think they’re dying out, even if (like romantic comedies) there aren’t as many as there used to be.

              Right now, it’s the big budget movies that are in trouble because half the world’s cinemas have been closed down…

              1. Khwarezm says:

                Knives out is one thing, but Joker has the considerable advantage of being based on one of the most well known and marketable characters in history. Most mid budget films don’t have that luxury, and I feel like Joker might have been a special case since it was made when the DC films was at a low point and thusly the producers might have been more willing to throw money at risky ideas since what was usually a sure bet was not working nearly as well as they hoped. Also I believe that it was still a difficult film to get made regardless, with the studio hamstringing it at several points.

                Another thing to mention regarding Knives Out, Rian Johnson did probably have a lot of clout from doing the Last Jedi (regardless of the blowback, the movie made 1.3 billion dollars), which probably gave him a lot more leverage than most to make a mid budget movie without much interference.

            3. Khwarezm says:

              “As for the disappearance of mid-sized budget films, what, exactly, is disappearing? And keep in mind when you answer that the rise of streaming and the “Netflix series” is part of the replacement for that market.”

              This has been kind of a well known and obvious trend in the film industry for a long time now, probably going all the way back to the early 2000s or late 90s. It is increasingly difficult to get a mid budget, dramatic movie made even among some pretty well established directors who have a history of reasonable returns in that line of work. Frankly, the Blockbusters really have had an excluding effect on other movies made by studios. Sure they could spend some of their money on a cheapish romantic comedy, but the potential returns on a major comic-book blockbuster type film are obscene in comparison, even with the massive budget in mind, so that has resulted in more and more studio resources simply been put into said massive blockbusters, which tend to be based off of safe, well established and marketable franchises that can be exploited and milked for a very long time.

              Even people like Spielberg and Scorsese have complained about difficulty in getting production going for some of their recent films because of increasingly conservative behavior of the major studios. And honestly, as a guy who enjoys both good drama films and a good dramatic TV series, I prefer mid budget drama films to exist as its own thing rather than treating HBO and Netflix series’s as a replacement since they end being having different strengths and weaknesses.

              Having said that, Netflix’s push last year with films like Uncut Gems, The Two Popes, the Irishman and Marriage Story was quite interesting, they seem to be trying to fill in some of the demand for high brow drama that’s been left to atrophy by a lot of the other studios, though I think its worth mentioning that this is probably more for prestige reasons rather than pure love of money, certainly the Irishman probably ended up being a bit of a loss to them if you just go by the spreadsheets but as I said the Prestige of making a headlining Martin Scorsese flick with an all-star cast and what that means for a company frequently shunned by ‘proper’ Hollywood was likely the most important part of their reasoning there.

      2. Syal says:

        The moral angle is also the only one that might persuade policy makers, who mostly do not play video games and don’t care if they are less fun to play

        So the only way to change policy is to… panic… people… with the moral angle. And then this group of panicked people with no understanding of the industry will obviously make informed and rational decisions about the topic.

        1. Liessa says:

          You don’t need to ‘panic people with the moral angle’ to argue in favour of regulating lootboxes. All you need to do is argue that they are functionally identical to other types of gambling, and should therefore be regulated under the same laws – which is basically exactly what the UK’s House of Lords said in their recent report. It’s different from the “video games cause violence” argument because – as Jim Sterling points out – it’s the financial transaction that’s being regulated, not the artistic content. No one has a problem with in-game casinos or random rewards if there’s no actual money involved.

          1. The Puzzler says:

            Well, there was that case in Greece where in an attempt to fight gambling, they banned electronic games from all public places… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_3037/2002

            A ban on loot-box gambling could be a big problem for the gaming industry – a lot of people losing their jobs – and for people playing those games which are suddenly illegal. And it would probably just lead to either (a) a bunch of annoying warning messages about how certain games aren’t for kids, or (b) a change from buying random loot boxes to buying non-random lootboxes, which wouldn’t make games better, except maybe helping some people with a particular type of addictive personality waste a bit less of their money.

            1. Liessa says:

              Once again: this is about regulation, not an outright ban. I don’t know what the rules are in Greece, but I don’t think the existence of a stupid law in one country is a good argument against extension of sensible, already-existing regulations in other countries. In the UK, for example, regulating lootboxes as gambling would likely mean the introduction of an age-verification system, and limitations on the value of individal transactions and/or transactions over a certain time period (similar to the current rules on slot machines, where the maxiumum stake is £2). Though in practice, it’s likely that games companies would just get rid of lootboxes rather than face the hassle of putting all these systems in place – which is 100% a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

              I’m not buying the ‘devs would lose their jobs’ argument either. It’s not the small struggling devs implementing lootboxes, but the large companies who were already making huge amounts of money. The only effect of lootboxes on these companies has been to raise their profits from ‘large’ to ‘obscene’, with precious little evidence that the extra money is going anywhere but into the pockets of shareholders. And while I’m not a fan of microtransactions either, they’re at least less profitable than lootboxes because they don’t exploit people’s psychological weaknesses in the same way – which means the incentives for devs to screw up the gameplay (in order to manipulate players into spending more) are correspondingly lower.

              1. The Puzzler says:

                I have worked for a small struggling dev on a free-to-play phone game where the whole business model was selling ‘hard currency’ to buy lootboxes.

                And I’m not convinced large companies are necessarily making large profits either. A lot of them are doing well one year, losing money the next. (At least, all the ones I’ve worked for ended up getting rid of large numbers of employees.) Expecting new legislation to only affect the profits of greedy shareholders seems optimistic.

                (Overall, though, I think lootboxes are bad for games and bad for consumers, so I’m OK with something being done.)

                1. Richard says:

                  They get rid of employees because having created %product% they can keep selling it without paying any expensive experienced devs to keep making it.

                  And hire a new set of cheaper, inexperienced devs to make the next thing.

                  If there aren’t employment protections to prevent it (or rather, increase the cost of rapid hire and fire), a very profitable company can keep doing this – not because they ‘need’ to, but because doing it makes them more profitable.

                  1. Chad Miller says:

                    It doesn’t even need to actually be more profitable, just not be obviously less profitable; the costs of degraded quality from such a practice are hard to prove, while lower wages are loud and clear on the balance sheets.

          2. Syal says:

            You don’t need to ‘panic people with the moral angle’ to argue in favour of regulating lootboxes.

            The original argument was that the non-panic version doesn’t do anything.

            The moral angle is also the only one that might persuade policy makers, who mostly do not play video games and don’t care if they are less fun to play (Shamus’ argument). And, as we see, the general audience doesn’t care or even notice most of this villainy until it makes headlines in mainstream media. “Lootboxes ruin lives” absolutely gets more cultural traction than “lootboxes ruin nerd games”.

            More importantly, you have very little control over what the politicians do once their eldritch attentions have been drawn. You can argue for regulation, but how do you stop a politician from going past that?

  6. Chris says:

    I think the big problem is that most people dont care, a small vocal minority is against it, and a small paying minority is requiring to make it profitable. Its not everyone in the playbase buying a lootbox or two that makes it profitable, its a small percentage dropping thousands of dollars that makes it profitable. That makes the “voting with your wallet” mentality not really feasible. A thousand people avoiding a game get compensated by a single guy laying down the cash. And all he needs is a few F2P players to beat up with his golden superweapon.

    What is most disheartening is how quickly companies have lootboxes down to a science. Every game has the same $5-$20-$50-$100 buy in options. Every game has the same stupid funbux that convert awkwardly. Every game abuses having sets where one piece is very hard to get. Every game has a stupid bar or sparky system that makes you feel youre just about to get it, only to fail. Every system has the same old * system where the best ones are 1% chance to be rolled. Every system has a spinning wheel or roulette wheel that stops just before the one thing you want (and of course the system is weighted, dont think that 1/12 piece has 1/12 odds to be rolled). The whole system is built to torture you and make you feel frustrated until you break and start putting down cash. And the fact they put so much care into the gambling system, and not the actual game, is just sad.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      What is most disheartening is how quickly companies have lootboxes down to a science

      Thing is, it’s not that new. Slot machines, fruit machines and other gambling paraphernalia have decades of research behind them, long before anyone thought of putting the mechanics in games. So it’s fairly easy to port those principles into a game once it’s down.

      Plus, once someone’s got the system down, all the competition can simply copy them.

  7. Sannom says:

    A majority of objections seem to come at this from a public health perspective.

    I’m not sure that’s right ? Certainly in the political and general media spheres, but in the video games sphere, be it developers, journalists or players ? Aside from Jim Sterling, who’s often talked about the way that loot boxes and micro-transactions ruin video games for people with addiction problems, I think that your objections are more common.

  8. Syal says:

    Even free randomization is a bad time. Just watched someone play Third Birthday, and apparently the power level of abilities is randomized at creation, so you just open by rerolling the thing until you get a good power level. Persona 3 and 4 both randomize the abilities of fused Personas, which is especially bad because they have quests that involve putting specific abilities on specific Personas (Persona 5 letting you handpick abilities is a big part of why it’s the best one). Horizon Zero Dawn has literal free lootboxes, and even with a mechanical purpose of avoiding capacity limits it’s like “just give me the stuff directly don’t make me open another menu”.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Even free randomization is a bad time. Just watched someone play Third Birthday, and apparently the power level of abilities is randomized at creation, so you just open by rerolling the thing until you get a good power level

      What, like rolling stats for Baldur’s Gate? ;-)

    2. Chris says:

      Persona 4 the golden has manual skill picking.

  9. Hector says:

    I will be the annoying pedantic jerk: it’s “Prescribed”, not “Proscribed”. Proscription means to ban, outlaw, or forbid and you were discussing the player actively working to accomplish a desirable game state.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Ah, the Pedanticops, sister organization to the Typolice.

      He’s right about prescribed/proscribed though.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        I appreciate that Hector went to the effort, because I would have done it had I woken up earlier.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Oh, I’m not criticising; I just saw an opportunity for a play on words.

          (In all seriousness, if ‘pedanticops’ isn’t already a thing, a) I’d be amazed, and b) I’m claiming it.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Typolice here: to give up territory is to “cede” it, not “ceed” it. I know, it looks weird with words like succeed, exceed, and proceed, but…them’s the breaks.

      3. The Puzzler says:

        Being pedantic is prescribed around here.

  10. Asdasd says:

    Great article, made me laugh several times. Is ‘panning for gold in the shower’ a Shamus original?

    “The designer doesn’t want you to do stuff to get stuff. They want you to pay money to get stuff, so they make the grind as long, empty, and boring as possible.

    Lootboxes are poison. I might understand if they were a revenue model for a free-to-play game, but charging someone top dollar for a game and then making them pay to play slot machines to progress is ghastly.”

    We’re so far down this rabbit hole that I lost my ability to keep caring, but when microtransactions were new on the scene I was strongly puzzled by the lack of pushback from the games media, who were often the very ones parroting that “Nobody is forcing you to buy the lootboxes, ignore them if you don’t like them” narrative. It really bothered me because your succinct summary of why MTX corrupts the premise of a game is obvious if you think about it for a minute, and yet the people in the not uninfluential role of professional mediators between the community and the industry couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, see the problem.

    1. Hector says:

      it is very hard to get a man to understand something, when his paycheck depends on him not understanding it.

      1. Thomas says:

        It’s easy to point a finger at reviewers, but as Shamus pointed out, the general public bought these games too.

        I predict with 100% confidence that if some outlet gave Red Dead Redemption 2 a 7/10 because it had microtransactions there would be an army on Reddit brigading the site and swearing to boycot the reviewer. And whenever you mention that site in the future someone would say ‘dont trust them thats the place that gave RDR2 a 7/10 [no context]’

        They would probably be different people to the people who dislike microtransactions, but the internet doesn’t let you see that nuance

        1. Thomas says:

          Sorry I tried to delete this comment but I’m not sure I succeeded.

          I’m uncomfortable with the way some parts of the community talk about reviewers because I don’t think it’s a fair representation of a broad spectrum of people with different motives and interests. In particular I think reviewers get paid off a lot less than people like to insinuate and a lot them are ordinary people working in very low paid jobs because they love gaming.

          I think this way of representing reviewers leads to a lot of harassment from a small number of people.

          But I also think my comment above wasn’t engaging with you properly and would be unlikely to persuade you otherwise on this topic.

          1. Hector says:

            I gave a glib remark as much for humour and succinctness as anything. You took it and ran with it without explanation. I am not offended, but since you wrote several paragraphs I ought to respond similarly.

            You don’t need bribery to explain why reviewers do or say certain things that are perhaps… not entirely ethical, or why they might muzzle themselves on certain topics where they really should feel free to speak or criticize. Journalism or reporting in general is not dependent its industry in the same way as games are. If Bethesda gets pissy that you didn’t like their latest product, they can and will stop offering you access or pull their ads in the future. This is rather unusual and doesn’t seem to happen outside the gaming world – not even in other tech fields.

            Car reviewers go into detailed previews, reviews, and deep dives about cars. They love cars, and Toyota doesn’t, as far as I am aware, ban somebody because they didn’t like the handling on the latest model of Corolla. It may happen, but I don’t recall hearing that Rtings got shut out of CES if LG was angry they didn’t rate their monitors highly enough. But video game companies seem to go out of their way to imply those very threats, and sometimes they do carry them out.

            As a *group*, however, games journalists also don’t seem to demonstrate the same kind of professionalism I would expect from other, similar publications. Though there are exceptions, they emphatically avoid deep research or insight into the industry, rarely investigate serious issues or cover major shifts in the industry, and have a history of ignoring or concealing ugly facts.

            This doesn’t excuse the customers, or prospective customers, of course. As useful as the internet is, this is hardly the only example of it pushing a mob mentality, and mob mentalities are always the dumbest possible groupthink. But that’s a whole long post on its own, which I shall leave for anthoer day.

            1. Thomas says:

              Thank you for your explanation. My other fear is that the criticism of journalists are poorly targeted – in some areas that outlets that get the most hate from people for making that argument are the ones which actively avoid letting games advertise on their sites and do get blacklisted by companies.

              I think general criticism has the effect of actually letting companies get away with specific bad practice. If people talked about GameSpot and IGN having bad standards it would be a boon to the sites which follow better practices.

              And equally, I see this criticism applied mostly towards formal gaming news sites, but the effects you’re talking about are actually even more strongly applied to YouTubers, who are often given content to report on by the publishers purely based on the ‘friendliness’ of their reputation – not something they court but advertisers know how to grow an ecosystem favourable to them by supporting the ‘friendlier’ YouTubers.

              I don’t want to tar YouTubers with the same generalist brush I was taking umbrage with – I’m just trying to express I think the (just) suspicion is poorly targeted by the community with negative results for the community.

    2. Shamus says:

      Alas, I cannot take credit for that one. It’s been ages, but I’m reasonably sure I lifted that one from Seanbaby.

      http://www.seanbaby.com/

      Warning: That link is a portal to the late 90s internet. (Although I see some formatting changes have been made to make the site readable on modern monitors.)

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        I took a short visit and am even more confused than when I started eating these delicious hostess fruit pies!

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I appreciate your mentioning the fruit pies, since I was seconds from choosing to play River City Ransom all night instead of getting vital sleep. Clutch distraction there, Paul!

  11. Bubble181 says:

    Good luck!

    As a minor nitpick, I think the sentence should be “the Diablo 3 auction house WAS a good example etc”. It was a stupid idea, badly implemented, and nearly destroyed the game, but at least BlizzActivision had the business smarts to patch it out and completely re-balance the game. D3 in its current state isn’t without its flaws (haha) but, like Diablo II, it still has a very solid, active following, is still maintained (albeit with a small staff), and servers are still up – with no additional expense expected or possible from players.

    I also think the market for many AAA games has simply moved on. Like, say, fraternities, you have a constantly moving target: the same age group, with people constantly aging out and others coming in. This means you can’t rely on what happened 5 years ago – the people who were there have moved on. How many AAA games are actually marketed at 35-50 year olds with only a little free time and slower reflexes? Nope, they’re all aimed at 13-25 year old gamerz. I don’t mean this to sound snarky or ageist – I’m not, best of luck and lots of fun to them! But the crowd who buys Call of Modern Recon: Warfare Unchained: Part 17 is a different market from 10 years ago.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      So, what makes these business practices more acceptable to this younger set of people? Presumably they would also appreciate games that don’t waste their time with grind, and which don’t harass them for money.

      1. Eric says:

        As a guess, it’s a product of slow indoctrination from a young age. They were little kids/not born when DLC and microtransactions started appearing, so they’ve always known games to have them. Lootboxes are just a variation on something they’re familiar with. The older crowd, who were teenagers/young adults when these things started appearing, remember that this wasn’t always the state of games.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Well, they’re kids. Famously less mature and with worse impulse control than adults.
        (not that I’m jumping on the ‘What about the CHILDREN?!’ panic bandwagon or calling for a ban)

        I mean, when I think about the stuff *I* used to do when I was that age, and what fads were popular then but have since died out…
        …it’s a lot of things.

        Personally I think that the vast majority of young people will just grow out of games, especially ones that use manipulative tactics like lootboxes. It might even go that microtransactions and lootboxes will speed up the disillusionment.

  12. Echo Tango says:

    Typo: “destroying both the fun and the extrinsic motivation to engage”
    I’m pretty sure that should be intrinsic, since it’s something you’re doing for your own enjoyment (if the word is focuses on the person), of the game (if the word is focused on the thing motivating you). Either way, it’s not an external force like cheevos or fun-bucks, compelling you to grind through a game.

  13. Zaxares says:

    On Hedonism and the depiction of people in a “utopia”: I actually completely agree with you on this! (And this also links into claims that people on welfare or a Universal Basic Income would just sit around on their rear all day and do nothing.) People are inherently hard-wired to want to do something productive and to build status among their peers, which is why we always seem to gravitate to activities and past-times that are competitive in some way. We want to stand out from the crowd, prove that we are “better” than other people, whether it’s because we’re stronger or faster or more beautiful or wealthier or better at playing a musical instrument, and this instinct won’t go away even if we were to be shifted into a society where all of our basic needs are met. For instance, research has shown that people employed at companies that have “unlimited” time off actually wind up taking LESS time off than employees working under a regular system, because nobody wants to be seen as the “slacker” taking more time off than the others.

    On the people that buy lootboxes/microtransactions: I REALLY wish we had some hard data for who exactly is buying lootboxes, because all I have to go on is anecdotal evidence. But from what I hear, it really is a small subset of users (who are prone to addiction and impulse purchases) that is supporting this business model. I’m always reminded of this interview I read with Zynga (the makers of FarmVille) where they readily admitted that 95% of their users never spent a single dollar on their games, but the 5% that did? They wound up making Zynga MILLIONS per month. It seems to be the case too for the MMO that I play, Guild Wars 2. From what everybody in my various guilds tell me, most either do not spend any real money on the game at all (outside of the requisite purchases for the base game expansions), or they are like me, who perhaps once every month or two will spend $10 – $20 when there’s a fancy skin in the cash shop that catches our eye. But that kind of spending, even multiplied by thousands of users, is nowhere NEAR enough to support a company the size of ANet with dozens of staff and various hardware expenses. The only way they can keep staying in business is if there’s a good number of players who are basically whales; players who spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars every month on the game. And there IS actually a player like that in one of my guilds; she’s retired, and due to health reasons she’s not able to spend much time outdoors and so she spends her free time gaming a lot. She spends maybe $200 of her pension every single month on the game. (And I sometimes have to wonder if she’s actually being honest about that figure, because based on the kind of stuff she buys for the guild, if she’s financing it all via real money transactions, she’s likely spending more than that.)

    1. Daimbert says:

      People are inherently hard-wired to want to do something productive and to build status among their peers, which is why we always seem to gravitate to activities and past-times that are competitive in some way. We want to stand out from the crowd, prove that we are “better” than other people, whether it’s because we’re stronger or faster or more beautiful or wealthier or better at playing a musical instrument, and this instinct won’t go away even if we were to be shifted into a society where all of our basic needs are met.

      Are we wandering into “Speak for yourself” mode [grin]? There are indeed lots of people who want to be competitive, but lots of people who aren’t that concerned about it and mostly either just want to have fun or do things to improve themselves. My hobbies tend to be solo and not particularly competitive, and I’ve been tempted to take up musical instruments just for myself and not to be better than anyone else. I suspect that most people might be driven by competitiveness at times, but aren’t overwhelmingly driven by that.

      For instance, research has shown that people employed at companies that have “unlimited” time off actually wind up taking LESS time off than employees working under a regular system, because nobody wants to be seen as the “slacker” taking more time off than the others.

      This is more fear than competitiveness, though, as even if the company allows for unlimited time off that doesn’t mean that they won’t prefer employees that work more hours and so get more things done. So there’s always that fear that taking too much time off relative to other people will result in them being the first ones out if layoffs have to happen. Not specifying working hours/overtime does the same thing.

      I REALLY wish we had some hard data for who exactly is buying lootboxes, because all I have to go on is anecdotal evidence. But from what I hear, it really is a small subset of users (who are prone to addiction and impulse purchases) that is supporting this business model.

      That’s one of the main flaws with Shamus’ comment on that people must like it. All they need are for enough people to like it for it to pay off with lots of money and they’d make a lot of revenue, even if most people ignore it or dislike it. And for those people who like it, it may just be that it happens to hit something that works for them and so IS good for them, like the woman you mentioned.

      1. Syal says:

        I for one don’t have peers, and would absolutely sit around all day if I didn’t have to work. But I know a lot of people who just can’t stand that; they have enough money to retire, and only make it about a week before running out to find a new job. One guy I know got a full-time job on top of his current full-time job and now works seven days a week because he wants to! So the Wall-E version wouldn’t happen.

      2. Zaxares says:

        Are we wandering into “Speak for yourself” mode [grin]? There are indeed lots of people who want to be competitive, but lots of people who aren’t that concerned about it and mostly either just want to have fun or do things to improve themselves. My hobbies tend to be solo and not particularly competitive, and I’ve been tempted to take up musical instruments just for myself and not to be better than anyone else. I suspect that most people might be driven by competitiveness at times, but aren’t overwhelmingly driven by that.

        Hehe, I KNEW that somebody would bring up that point. ;) Especially because I’m actually like you; I’m generally not a very competitive person and my favourite games are single-player RPGs where I can essentially mold the playing experience to my precise liking with mods and such. But still… underneath all that, have you ever questioned WHY you’re doing these things? When you say that “you want to improve yourself”, who or what are you improving yourself for? There has to be a reason behind it. Is it because you feel it will make yourself more “valuable” or “complete” as a person (and in which case, more valuable to what end? Will it make you more appealing as a potential friend or mate or worker?) I just find that it’s very rare for people to want to do things or take up stuff in a complete vacuum; at some point we’ll want to share our experiences with somebody else, whether it’s our friends or partners, or fellow fans, either to gain status, or just acceptance, from that circle.

        This is more fear than competitiveness, though, as even if the company allows for unlimited time off that doesn’t mean that they won’t prefer employees that work more hours and so get more things done. So there’s always that fear that taking too much time off relative to other people will result in them being the first ones out if layoffs have to happen. Not specifying working hours/overtime does the same thing.

        But it IS still a form of competitiveness, no? It may derive from knowledge that, as you say, if you develop a reputation for being the “worst performer” in a company, you’ll likely be the first to be let go when trouble strikes, but that’s still people all jostling to position themselves as being better than their peers.

        1. Daimbert says:

          But still… underneath all that, have you ever questioned WHY you’re doing these things?

          Yes, and typically the answer is “Because it’s fun!”. As an example, I started looking up playing chess again but noted that my learning chess was pretty informal and so wanted to learn to be able to actually play instead. You could argue that trying to be better there would be competitive, but I wasn’t looking to get ranked or even play against other people and so it would be difficult for me to satisfy a desire to be better than other people if not only would no one else ever know, but that even _I_ would never know where I stood. I also play board games by PBF, and while one of them is competitive — Battlestar Galactica — I like it more for the flavour text than for anything else (and in the other I was the moderator and so not playing most of the time, and was able to stick with it because inventing flavour text was fun for me, and while part of me wanted others to appreciate it as well a big part of it was Shamus’ old text of “I do this for my own enjoyment; if you also enjoy it, that’s YOUR problem”). I like to be better than average when I can, but if I can’t I shrug and go with it.

          So acceptance from others isn’t a big deal for me, and I think everyone has at least a couple of things that they do because they like to and don’t care about others accepting it (and some of those things are things they try to hide from other people because they WON’T accept it). So it’s hard to say what will happen when you can get whatever you want and do whatever you want with no restrictions.

          But it IS still a form of competitiveness, no? It may derive from knowledge that, as you say, if you develop a reputation for being the “worst performer” in a company, you’ll likely be the first to be let go when trouble strikes, but that’s still people all jostling to position themselves as being better than their peers.

          But it’s extrinsic rather than intrinsic. Make it so that people are on guaranteed contracts and over time once people accept that that competitiveness will fade away (and people that work harder for no reason will be looked down on).

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      For instance, research has shown that people employed at companies that have “unlimited” time off actually wind up taking LESS time off than employees working under a regular system, because nobody wants to be seen as the “slacker” taking more time off than the others.

      I don’t know why you think this helps your argument. As you describe (and as my experience at such a company agrees with), this is not because because people have some intrinsic desire to work hard, it’s because everyone knows that the guy who takes six weeks vacation is first on the chopping block when layoffs happen and the logical conclusion of that thinking is that you should take as little vacation as possible to preserve your job. “Unlimited” vacation policies aren’t actually unlimited, they’re “Take the legally mandated minimum number of days off, and then you can take more but maybe we won’t give you any raises if you do, who knows!”

      People at companies with four weeks vacation could choose to take only two weeks, and then just not claim their other two weeks of vacation. Now that would be real dedication suggestive of being hard-wired to do something productive. But people don’t do that, they take their four weeks because why wouldn’t you? The contrast between these two styles seems to tell us that when everyone’s taking vacation, when it’s actually free to do so instead of “free”, most people take as much as is on offer and I don’t think that shows what you want it to show about the human spirit.

      1. etheric42 says:

        I don’t have experience with official unlimited systems, but with normal time off systems and an unofficial unlimited system.

        In the official time off system, what I saw was some people who had family obligations and health issues that constantly exhausted their time off and suffered though lower paychecks and the fear of being harassed for taking time off when they didn’t have any left. The rest of the people NEVER took time off unless I was constantly reminding them that they were constantly losing compensation for not doing so (we had a policy you could only save up 4-5 months of time off at a time). It was seriously stressful for me as their manager because I felt it was morally wrong for them to lose compensation but other departments just let their staff lose it.

        The performance between the people who were always taking time, off, the people who never took time off, and the people who took the minimum time off I cajoled them to do was basically the same (and we had a pretty measurable workload). I generally believe this is due to the fact that most of the hours you spend at work aren’t actually working, so those that spent more time out of the office spent a higher percentage of their time in office working. An unlimited PTO policy would have helped the people struggling and would have meant I didn’t have to babysit the ones who weren’t inclined to take vacations.

        My experience with an informal unlimited time off system was that I took a lot of time off, but felt less free to go on “vacations”, everything that needed to be done got done, but I didn’t do as much “above and beyond work” (although that may have been complicated by the fact the company was intentionally in a holding pattern and every time I tried to go above and beyond I got kindly shot down).

        There’s also some evidence that there is a correlation between people who perform better in their job and taking more time off. Which is the cause and which is the effect could be argued both ways.

  14. byter says:

    I wonder if a useful parallel can be made between the video game industry and analogue gaming.
    Whist classic games like chess are often lauded for its gameplay and is known world wide, you will never see something like the Las Vegas strip for games like chess nor will it make as much money as things like magic the gathering or the pokemon card game.
    Obviously we don’t have to point to just chess, there are many many board games and card games out there, plenty of game mechanics to choose from, lots of fun gameplay to be had.
    But still, the recurring spending seen in collectible card games and the thrills to be had in gambling seemingly trounce these complete games you can buy in one perchase.
    Videogames did start out as a ‘hobbyist’ industry, where everyone was producing novel, complete, games for a one time perchase. Similarly analogue games have a ‘hobbyist’ market where people perchase new, complete games with one time perchases.
    Whist I do love these hobbyist style games, it doesn’t suprise me that the big publishers are looking to expand and become the equivalent of things like Magic the Gathering or the Las Vegas strip because those industries have a lot of room to grow whist hobbyist games will probably remain a relatively niche market.
    Still, whist these hobbist markets are relatively niche, they are self sustainable, there are still a great many games being made for the digial and analogue markets for those who want to enjoy good games being reasonably distributed. (Though at least board games don’t have any form of DRM like an indie game on steam has! ;) ).

    1. Daimbert says:

      This, however, ends up being the difference between lootboxes and expansions. There are a number of board games that are massively successful and do a lot of new things but don’t fall into the “buy your things with randomized packs”, but instead through expansions, small and large. The Arkham Horror series, for example, as well as the Battlestar Galactica games — no new expansions are coming out for either — and the Legendary and Star Wars card games, for example, aimed to make money by adding complete sets and decks without adding through randomized packs. There are some games that add through randomized packs but I don’t know of that many myself, mostly because those things can be hard for new players to get into once established and there’s even the issue that Shamus noted: you may buy a new expansion every couple of months for various games, but if you’re dedicated to a card game that uses randomized packs you aren’t going to be able to maintain that level of spending for more than a couple of games.

      That being said, the “know what you’re going to get” model isn’t always great, because sometimes the expansion packs can be VERY expensive for what you get (the Star Wars miniature games are ones that I noted that it would cost too much to get into since I’ve have to pay too much to get anything interesting).

    2. tmtvl says:

      I know big Go (Baduk, Weiqi) championships have million-dollar prizes, do big Pokemon TCG championships have the same?

      1. Nimrandir says:

        From what I can find online, there aren’t million-dollar prizes, but championship winners in Magic and Pokemon can earn tens of thousands.

  15. T-Boy says:

    I don’t exactly see how your argument will move publishers.

    You’re making this argument that EA, or, more accurately, EA’s investors, will take into consideration that micro-transactions and lootboxes will wreck the industry at large when 1) governments can and will regulate the industry, ostensibly because they’re trying to protect public health, but basically because the booze, cigarette, vape and weed markets, like gambling, are sweet revenue sources, no matter the impact to public health, and 2) they’ll get their ass kicked by actual gambling companies, who have had experience entrapping punters in Skinner boxes and sucking them dry, and game companies will have no exit strategy.

    You’re using the actual threat of revenue loss in the next decade, say, to move these people away from this, frankly, anti-consumer move. I want to make the argument that, honestly, they don’t care, because, thanks to the magic of time value of money, any potential revenue gains and losses will basically be irrelevant to their planning strategy. If their discounted cash flow rate is, say, 15%, in evaluating a strategy to pursue in the next three years? Their financial projections by year 3, much less year 5, won’t matter at all to their decision-making. Any potential gains then, in today’s money, won’t factor into their decision-making.

    They’ll ride this train, and ride it hard, and by the time the consequences bite them in the ass, they’ll probably sell their stake to 1) someone who knows what they’re doing in the gambling market, or 2) some sucker who still believes that EA makes video games, instead of addictive Skinner boxes targeted at the neurologically vulnerable.

    And yes, this is why companies make stupid, short-sighted decisions all the time. The strategy is, make as much money, now, and hang the future, because there’s no guarantee that the future money will come, anyway.

    1. Asdasd says:

      “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.”

    2. SpammyV says:

      You don’t even need to make money now, you can constantly lose money and stay afloat on venture capital and shares. See: Uber, Lyft. Most publicly traded companies are actually out to generate shareholder value. Not make money, take care of employees, serve customers better, et cetera.

      1. T-Boy says:

        You don’t even need to make money now, you can constantly lose money and stay afloat on venture capital and shares. See: Uber, Lyft.

        That’s absolutely true, but we might be able to see a little bit less of that, thanks to recent failures related to the biggest players, like SoftBank, in getting their returns from their investments. Who knew a global pandemic would force unsustainable ventures to collapse?

      2. Cubic says:

        Shareholder value = growth and dividends, basically.

        You can lose money but only if you grow commensurately. Amazon is a good example of this. Many tech companies take pride in not handing out a dividend. Even old-school conglomerate Berkshire doesn’t give a dividend. On the other hand, if you just lose money without going anywhere … At some point, even the VCs pull the plug.

        For public companies, take for instance a growth stock like EMC that stops growing: it collapsed to about 1/3 its previous value and got acquired by Dell.

      3. Ninety-Three says:

        See: Uber, Lyft. Most publicly traded companies are actually out to generate shareholder value.

        What do you think shareholder value is? Stocks have value because the company has money, and “lose money forever” is not a strategy that lends itself to surviving as a company. If the market values a stock at more than the next ten years worth of dividends, that’s because it expects the company will still be around and paying dividends ten years out. People keep investing in Uber because they think it will eventually turn a profit (their current publicly-stated plan is to continue losing money until the invention of self-driving cars, at which point their costs go way down with no more human drivers, and they have established a brand as the world’s most popular taxi company). See Twitter, which attracted loads of investment despite quarter after quarter of losses because people anticipated that thirteen years after its founding it would finally start making money.

    3. etheric42 says:

      Self-regulation for fear of future losses/regulation is exactly what motivated the movie and comic book industries in the US to put in codes of conduct. Years later we mock the MPAA and celebrate the comics rebelled, but there’s a historical example.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        That, and the superhero comic publishers wanting to drive the horror comic publishers out of business. (According to one conspiracy theory, anyway…)

        1. etheric42 says:

          Oooh! I hadn’t heard that one! Very interesting.

          That’s a common accusation thrown at various licensing agencies out there. Their job is to preserve the licensees form the competition of the unlicensed, not to benefit the public, I could see how that kind of accusation could stretch to other kinds of approval like rating agencies.

  16. Daimbert says:

    The narrative of blaming everything on the villains at EA is very fun and I appreciate the simplicity of it, but any serious analysis of the problem needs to take into account the fact that millions of consumers are offering billions of dollars in exchange for lootbox-fueled games. There’s a large group of people offering EA money to keep doing it, and a small but extremely vocal group of us telling them to stop. EA is just listening to the money.

    The issue once you start blaming the audience, though, is that there are hosts of reasons why the impression you’re getting of the audience isn’t accurate. Some, for example, might consume the media despite disliking those elements you complain about because there’s nothing else that even comes close, and so that’s the best they can do (which is the main reason I play MMOs despite not liking them, as for the ones I play I can’t even get close to that experience and setting anywhere else). Some of them may be doing it for very specific things that they get out of that and can ignore the parts you dislike, like with Michael Bay movies where they note that they’re looking for something light and explodey at that point (one of my gripes about modern TV compared to older TV is that modern TV tends to be too serious and rarely allows for shows that are just plain and simple fun, and games are going the same way at times). And a host of other reasons. It’s hard to make any kind of good judgement or rant about why the people in the audience are going along with this thing that’s clearly not in their best interest because often what’s in their interest is a lot different than you’d think.

    With lootboxes specifically, I think the implementation in the sports games sounds interesting and liked them in Injustice 2, but I would pretty much only earn them through the game and not pay for extras. Personally, if I was going to pay I’d want to be able to pay to get the precise thing I wanted, which is in line with DLC and not lootboxes. But I’m going to be less bothered by those games that have them because my play is always personal and I’d be looking for customization, not “I win” buttons.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      When the whole lootbox controversy kicked into gear, I was kind of blindsided, because I evidently have a pretty high resistance to the temptation of the things. I played the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer for at least six months, on an almost nightly basis, while suffering from depression, and buying in-game credits with money never crossed my mind. I’ve played Marvel Puzzle Quest for years now, and I’m perfectly content to click through garbage lootboxes and wait for something I actually want to appear. I did buy twenty dollars’ worth of fun bucks once (not spent on the game’s lootboxes, though), but that was more an acknowledgement that the developer probably deserved something for the two years I had played their game.

      Now, I can see the deleterious effects lootbox systems can have on games, but I can’t say they have hurt my ability to enjoy Overwatch as I get familiar with what the school e-sports team will be playing. Of course, I’m seeing them as they exist at the tail end of the game’s lifespan, rather than back in 2016.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        This mirrors my own experience toward actual gambling. I only got into gambling at all because of poker (which has a heavy skill component), but when I made friends who did like stuff like slot machines and other no-skill losing odds games they outright couldn’t comprehend how bored I was. I’m apparently completely missing whatever part of the brain finds that nonsense to be fun.

        1. Thomas says:

          We were in a pub with a friend who’d never used a slot machine before. He made a big deal of trying it, got his £1 out, flourished it, put it in the machine and watched the wheels spin. They spun out, he got nothing. He turned to us asked “Is that it? What’s happened?” and the other guys “You’ve lost a £1, that’s whats happened”.

          It’s like if you have a first cigarette, your brain doesn’t have any of the dependency yet so you have a moment to rationally realise how terrible the experience is.

        2. Daimbert says:

          I participated in a gambling study once while taking university courses. I was totally bored with the experience and even when they increased the odds in my favour I was still bored. That sort of thing doesn’t seem to hit the part of my brain that would make it addictive to me …

  17. MelTorefas says:

    Love the article as ever! And good luck with the next one. You walk alone into the lion’s den. Godspeed, sir.

  18. Gman says:

    Good luck, Shamus! I’m rooting for you to make it out of the next one alive!

  19. Steve C says:

    Yes! This is exactly what I believe except explained better and more succinctly than I could. There’s just one aspect that you touched on tangentially involving ownership that I’d also include:

    Another thing about lootboxes are the technical ramifications. By their very nature if a game has lootboxes that game then requires an always on connection to a server in order to generate them. I object that both on a practical level (my internet sucks) and on a moral level. I will not willingly buy something that can be taken away from me unilaterally by the whims of another. The article touched on this, but there’s a deeper ramification…

    I read stories all the time of people who are banned in online games. If that was because of something IRL like harassment or doxxing or a DoS attack etc, sure, ban away. But I’m taking banning for things that happen in-game like finding a bug etc. That infuriates me. If you have paid the company for the product — like in-game items like lootboxes — then that is no different than theft and fraud to me. However this injustice is 100% certain to happen to every single player. Why? For the simple reason the servers aren’t going to last forever. It is guaranteed they will be shut down at some point. Therefore anything and everything paid for via micro-transactions and lootboxes is going to be forcibly taken away with no compensation at some point. Which feels like a scam on a fundamental level to me. The exact same way that other discontinued services like Zune felt like a scam to me.

    Conceivably a game with defunct DRM servers could be hacked to allow local play. (Which would be legal in my country.) But for in-game purchases? There’s no workaround to deal with that. Those are just gone.

    I believe in the first sale doctrine. I believe in the legal affirmation of property rights by courts outside of the USA. I can only see micro-transactions and lootboxes as an erosion of my property rights. And over the past 25 years I have seen exactly that. All of these issues were a dystopian joke in 1995.

    1. Syal says:

      However this injustice is 100% certain to happen to every single player. Why? For the simple reason the servers aren’t going to last forever.

      Eh, that one I’ll argue with. Very few things you pay for will last forever. Pants will rip, blenders will jam, cars will break down and TVs will sputter out. There’s a time period for that where it’s close to fraud, but stuff like Steam and Wow have outlived that by a good margin.

      1. Supah Ewok says:

        Likewise, even games which have traditionally required an internet connection, such as MMO’s, almost all shutter eventually. One could say that just buying the MMO is a scam for it is sure to perish. The argument doesn’t have a very solid foundation for me.

        1. Steve C says:

          Games with subscriptions are charging for access. It’s not the same thing. If you pay for a gym membership, you get access to the gym. If it closes, nothing you own has been taken from you. But let’s say you had 6 months of fees left. Isn’t it right you get your money back? You certainly have a legal right to a refund for services not rendered. You won’t get it because you’re just another creditor that won’t get what’s owed to them. Is that just though?

          But let’s say it is a franchise and you had your stuff stored in the lockers. They are still an operating business. They just closed that one location. Should you not be allowed to get your stuff out of the locker? If the gym sells you equipment, should you return it because they closed?

          Everything ends. That’s not a reason for someone else to decide when that is for your property. Zune ended. It was possible to transfer your purchases off that platform before that happened. A micro-transaction not the same thing as a MMO subscription.

          However I know I lost this battle for the cultural zeitgeist years ago. I think it is wrong in a very dystopian way. I know I’m in the minority and nobody agrees anymore or even gives a shit. Saying “The argument doesn’t have a very solid foundation for me” makes me sad. I want to stress that this never used to be controversial. It wasn’t an argument. It was simply a fact 25 years ago.

          1. Supah Ewok says:

            Plenty of MMO’s charged a price upfront AND a subscription, it was the standard until “Free to Play” took off. Subscriptions may have been for access, but what about that upfront cost? You paid for something that was (almost) guaranteed to die one day. Under your definition, that’s still a scam, so I don’t agree with your definition.

            f you pay for a gym membership, you get access to the gym. If it closes, nothing you own has been taken from you. But let’s say you had 6 months of fees left. Isn’t it right you get your money back? You certainly have a legal right to a refund for services not rendered. You won’t get it because you’re just another creditor that won’t get what’s owed to them. Is that just though?

            Just? It is exactly just. Our law determined that debtors should not be thrown into debtors’ prison or have their debt inherited by their families in case of debt or forfeit. Is it fair? No. It’s also not fair for the gym owner to have lost their business, for the employees to have lost their jobs, and for any investors to have lost their investment. Under a capitalist system, there are winners and losers. It is inevitable that you’ll lose at something, and the only “just” thing is trying to make that the least crappy for all involved as possible.

            But let’s say it is a franchise and you had your stuff stored in the lockers. They are still an operating business. They just closed that one location. Should you not be allowed to get your stuff out of the locker?

            I don’t see how the analogy applies, given that we’re speaking of virtual goods. What are you going to empty out of your virtual locker? What actually is it? A bunch of ones and zeroes? Want to stash that data on a hard drive, to what end? If the game isn’t up, the data is functionally useless.

            It is my contention that data is ephemeral and functionally ownerless. Sure, publishers and such still today exercise private property rights in regards to their data through intellectual property law, but such ownership is meaningless as soon as somebody figures out how to share the data in a manner that the publishers cannot exert their rights over. Data also very often only works in certain technological circumstances; if the unthinkable happened and the Windows OS died a messy and violent death tomorrow, how much data suddenly becomes absolutely useless and valueless?

            Ultimately, anybody who throws money at data shouldn’t harbor under the illusion that they’re owning anything. Ownership is a matter of physical proximity and the application of force to keep it in that proximity, whether with a home shotgun or a lawyer. If you cannot exert force (legal or physical), or very importantly in this context, are unwilling to exert such force for whatever reason, to keep other people from using your property, the concept of property breaks down. We all know that if Valve files bankruptcy tomorrow and Steam disappears, so does our library. If GoG goes belly-up and the hard drive you stored all those games on catches fire and your backup corrupts, you have no access to “your” games data.

            Honestly, I’m low on sleep and I know I’m rambling a bit. I just don’t really hold property rights as seriously as my elders both because of the nature of the times, and because I take long views on history. Perhaps a Sumerian penned a great epic on clay tablets in cuneiform, one that would make us weep to behold, and kept the tablets as carefully preserved as he knew how in his time. Only to be buried in the detritus of ages in what is now the middle of nowhere, never to be found again. That’s the destiny of all data, knowledge, and property, in the long view. 99.999% of any human production is irrevocably lost, a proportion that will not change with our technology as our modern servers are far less capable of withstanding the rigor of ages than clay tablets. In the face of that, squabbles over getting to download a game to your hard drive for “your” ownership that will inevitably be lost for whatever reason within 30 years just seems… petty.

            I want to stress that this never used to be controversial. It wasn’t an argument. It was simply a fact 25 years ago.

            Welcome to the cultural transformation of an upheaval in technological standards. There were lots of things that used to not be controversial before the steam engine took off as well.

      2. Steve C says:

        You’ve picked physical goods as strawmen. Better comparisons are music, movies, paintings, plays and books. I used Zune as a real example. Other good comparisons are micro-transactions such as ones being done by BMW and Telsa right now. Where your car resets if you sell it. Or the recent law passed in Mexico that makes the ‘Right to Repair’ concept straight up illegal. Those are all much better examples than pants and blenders. The reason why I feel strongly is that it is not just about games. Micro-transactions are about everything even tangentially related to software.

        But sure, we can use pants and cars. It is not pants ripping. It is employees of Levis coming into your home and taking all your jeans. The car did not break down. The car was repossessed by the manufacturer. Even though you owned it.

        1. Redrock says:

          I’ll agree that there’s a difference when it comes to intention. Pants rip due to physical laws, while digital ownership gets compromised because of arbitrary decisions made by corporations. Now, one could make the argument that pants and cars are made with planned obsolescence in mind, but that’s a highly debatable topic in and of itself. However, one could also argue that employees of Levis coming into your home and taking all your unbreakable jeans at around the time they would have ripped in olden times, while seemingly unfair and altogether unpleasant, doesn’t really make for much of a difference. Physical good perish because of physical limitations, and digital goods perish because of cultural/socioeconomic/anthropological limitations, but the end result is the same – a product with a limited lifespan. It sucks, absolutely, but it doesn’t necessarily suck that much more than what we had before. Although the steady erosion of control is deeply uncomfortable.

        2. Syal says:

          You’ve picked physical goods as strawmen.

          You said it was theft and fraud because the servers don’t last forever. I said pants don’t last forever. If you’re not going to call pants wearing out theft and fraud, then the servers eventually shutting down isn’t theft and fraud.

          It is not pants ripping. It is employees of Levis coming into your home and taking all your jeans.

          No it isn’t. It’s like no longer being able to drive my car because the country banned leaded gasoline. It’s being unable to play my PS2 games because my TV sputtered out and the new one doesn’t support AV cables. Being unable to watch my old movie collection because the VCR broke down. My NFL season pass becoming worthless because the whole country got superflu.

          People don’t shut down servers to be vindictive, they do it because they’re losing money. Customer-side, it’s just one more dependency, same as the electricity.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      If that was because of something IRL like harassment or doxxing or a DoS attack etc, sure, ban away. But I’m taking banning for things that happen in-game like finding a bug etc. That infuriates me. If you have paid the company for the product — like in-game items like lootboxes — then that is no different than theft and fraud to me.

      The link you have provided is completely unrelated, describing a case where one player held another player at IRL knifepoint demanding “gimme your walletdragon scimitar”. Call me when developers are committing literal armed robbery.

      Companies can ban you for DDoSing them because their EULAs say that’s exactly what will happen if you do that. They also almost always include a clause telling you not to abuse bugs and stating that you can be banned for doing so. If they tell you “don’t do X or we’ll ban you”, and you get banned for doing X, then crying either theft or fraud seems… bold, whether X is DDoSing or exploiting bugs (somehow every story of “I got banned just for finding a bug” always omits “and using it to farm for twelve hours”).

      If it’s not a scam to pay $15 for one month of access to World of Warcraft servers, then I don’t see how it’s a scam to pay $60 for 4-10 years (however long they end up lasting) of access to the Call Of Modern Shootmans servers. Would your objection go away if they told you at launch exactly how many years the servers would last?

      1. Steve C says:

        The link I provided explains a supreme court case that affirms that digital goods are in fact goods. They are not a service when they are sold like goods. Attempting to transfer or deny someone goods they paid for is affirmed by that court that it is theft. It is related and relevant.

        “because their EULAs say”
        By reading this sentence you have entered into a binding EULA for my intentional property of the words I have written here. You hereby agree that I’m right and that any further disagreement with me is a violation of this EULA. By violating this EULA you must break each of your fingers so that you may not type any form of response.

        I strongly strongly disagree. And no, I’m not going to discuss this any further. This makes me furious in a way that is rightly forbidden on this blog.

        1. etheric42 says:

          The link you provided was to a reddit page that linked to engadget summary that linked to a dead MSN article. Do you have any sources that have a decent translation or secondary sources from legal experts as opposed to legal reporters? This sounds very iteresting!

          The problem is from the summary article it looked like the case hinged on the fact that those “goods” required time and effort to obtain. Similarly the law student int the reddit thread says the case hinged on who the items “belonged” to, not who “owned” them. This is not dissimilar to US law where I would have cause of action if a third party interfered or prevented my use of a contractual obligation, even though I don’t per say “own” the obligated person/company/property.

          Not looking to argue whether this is right or wrong, just curious about the actual application referenced here.

          (And on a more personal level, I’m really torn about EULAs. As they exist now they are nothing legalese, like companies make you put at the bottom of your email. They aren’t an effective agreement with the customer and they don’t even always stand up in court, but everyone uses them and threatens with them. But on the other hand I am starting to come around to the idea that permanency and permanent ownership isn’t necessarily a healthy or realistic outlook for life either.)

  20. evileeyore says:

    “You don’t even need to take the time to get good at the game. Just type in your credit card and skip to the end. It’s like paying money to skip riding the rollercoaster. That’s what you came here to do!”

    That’s not what everyone came here to do though. For instance, I play most games for the story, I vastly prefer choice-driven RPGS and TellTale’s story games (I do play strategy games, which are different, but I’d argue there is a story there as well, it’s just built/revealed by the gameplay. I also sometimes enjoy logic puzzle games, which I admit are completely hinged on your play model).

    “This includes me! I hate how Steam infringes on our supposed ownership of games, but I own over 750 games on the platform.”

    It does not include me. I own 5 games on Steam, one I had to buy there to get very specific functionality (that never worked properly), one required Steam for multiplayer, one I was tricked (didn’t know it required Steam), and one was a gift. I have several other games that loaded themselves into Steam, but since they don’t require Steam to boot or play, I’ve never used them with Steam (Don’t Starve and Dwarves notably). And a bunch of games that Steam gave me for some reason (GOG used to do this as well before people complained the dross was cluttering up their game lists and GOG stopped).

    I hate Steam, all it stands for, and all it’s done. I, mean it’s a dispassionate hate, so I can admit they’ve done good, which makes it so much worse because it helps drive support for the “license your games” model “ownership”.

    “2. Arrogantly pretending that we[6] are some refined class of consumer, above the drooling masses.”

    Not ‘refined’ or ‘above’, but I’d define some of us as adjacent and different. I’ve never watched the Michael Bay movies specifically because I don’t want to support that type of movie making, so I don’t (same behavior with Steam).

    “Wish me luck.”

    I eagerly await your white hot take.

    1. Mr. Wolf says:

      I often feel that Valve sets bad precedents which other companies follow. They introduce some controversial thing, which at most causes brief and localised outrage, but then a few years later a less well-thought-of company will do something similar and the whole internet will explode.

      I mean, don’t tell me a Mann Co. Supply Crate isn’t a loot box, yet nobody was even half as vocal about it back in 2010.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        It’s a loot box, but I’d argue it’s an example of loot boxes done, if not right (if there is such a thing), at least about as non-badly as possible. Team Fortress 2 is free-to-play since 2010, so no issue of paying for a game and then paying more on top (maybe you could make that argument about the period before it went free-to-play, but I’m talking about the form it’s been in for the last decade). Crates contain strictly cosmetic items* that provide no benefit to gameplay whatsoever, so there’s no incentive to spend money on them for that reason. Though I can also understand a continued antipathy for them even in this form on an ideological level, and I’m not going to try to persuade anyone they should love them or anything.

        I also won’t really defend the selling of weapons in TF2 as microtransactions other than to say that, in general, 1) weapons are pretty well balanced and generally side-grades or better than stock only in specific situations, so 2) there’s no particular reason to buy them when you can get them all as random drops over time, unless you really want a specific one. But weapons don’t come from loot boxes, so I think that point stands.

        *I think there might be/have been festive versions of weapons available as drops in some crates, which could conceivably be a weapon you don’t have yet if you’re a new player, but those festive versions are themselves no more powerful than the non-festive versions you get as random drops for free every week.

  21. Topher Corbett says:

    I wouldn’t blame the average player who might occasionally get a skin they want for 5 bucks. I would blame the whales who fork out thousands of dollars on a game. They’re the ones who keep the system profitable, same with every free to play game, and most phone and browser games. And of course the same with gambling, most players will have to win about 49% of the time to want to keep going to the casino, but the degenerate addicts and whales that spend their life savings mean everything.

    1. Mistwraithe says:

      A fair point, except you need to keep following the chain, the real people to blame are the game development companies who deliberately design games to attract and compulsively hook the people who are psychologically most vulnerable to gambling addictions. Whales don’t just stumble into these games and start putting down thousands of dollars, the whole experience is very, very carefully designed to hook the whales, start them off easily and then steadily erode their resistance to spending money (basically normalise it).

      This is not opinion, it is fact. I am a part time game developer (of a different type), I’ve sat in on seminars at GDC (Game Developers Conference) and watched YouTube videos where companies are going into some of the details of how they hook people into compulsive playing, then increase the grind, then carefully offer opportunities to pay money to “save time” and get the shinies. It is all very carefully calculated, lots of A/B testing, etc. In many ways it is no different to any other scam.

  22. Decius says:

    There are options between “Ban everything that is Lootbox” and “Regulate nothing at all”. Because governments are bad at this kind of thing, reasonable regulations would best be done by an industry body.

    Because the industry doesn’t agree, and consumers don’t agree, setting reasonable regulations and policies on secondary monetization cannot be done by an industry body.

  23. ccesarano says:

    This includes me! I hate how Steam infringes on our supposed ownership of games, but I own over 750 games on the platform. If I want a world with a “You bought it, you own it, you control it” approach to ownership, then I’ve spent the last 16 years sending exactly the wrong message.

    I’m right there with you. I’ve started purchasing nearly everything digital now that Best Buy no longer offers a discount, and largely because space is currently a finite resource for me. I don’t have shelves to be stacking games, I hate to regularly take them in and out of storage. Removing and inserting a disc into a console is far more difficult than it would be in a traditional set-up. So, I’ve been buying games digitally.

    And now transactions are mysteriously vanishing from the histories of user PSN accounts, locking them out of games they legally purchased.

    My principles are to purchase a physical copy of any game I love so I can have it forever, but short-term convenience dictates I purchase digitally so I don’t have to bother with discs. It’s a lame conundrum to be in.

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Not to mention that buying physical copies is becoming sort of a sham. You buy a game, insert the disc, and then have to immediately download an update to the game or the console won’t let you play it.

      1. Daimbert says:

        With the Sony ones, I’ve generally found that for single player the system updates, at least, are included on the disk and so you can usually just go ahead and play it after it updates everything. You might miss bug updates and new content (in the case of Pinball Arcade, new standard tables) if you don’t, though.

        1. Syal says:

          My PS4 has never been online* and hasn’t had any trouble running games from their discs.

          *(ASK ME HOW I LIKE NIER: AUTOMATA ENDING E!)

          1. Boobah says:

            I’m kind of hoping for an equivalent in SINoALICE.

            It won’t, because it’s a freemium gacha game, but it is a Yoko Taro game. Or at least has his name prominently plastered over it.

      2. ccesarano says:

        Fortunately I don’t think that is universal. After all, an alternate ending to Shadow of the Tomb Raider was discovered by lacking an Internet connection to patch in the “correct” ending. As Daimbert notes, you’ll miss out on other performance patches and bug fixes, but it’s possible to play the game as it is on disc without an Internet connection.

        Which means, should the servers get shut down, you’ll still be able to play the game. However, this also indicates that certain elements of the game could be lost/changed forever. The idea that Sony’s servers shut down and you have to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider unpatched means you’d get an ending with a tease to a sequel that may never come to fruition.

    2. etheric42 says:

      Hasn’t the disappearing games been a perennial issue since 2016, and it’s usually discovered to be a bug or an obscure process a player has to go through to fix it? And the lack of Sony support being due to general customer service incompetence than maliciousness?

  24. General Karthos says:

    So I play a game with lootboxes, but it’s a bit different. Prominence Poker is a free-to-play game, and they seem to make most of their money from people buying chips and boosts to their chip rewards. You get a small number of chips each day when you log on, and the amount increases if you build a streak of up to five days. You earn lootboxes by leveling up, by winning games, and by completing weekly objectives. There’s no way to buy lootboxes. You earn stuff by doing stuff. (Your leveling up also unlocks certain non-random items.)

    Other than that, I don’t think I own any games that use lootboxes in any form. It’s really not my type of game.

    And if a game is available on Steam or GOG, I will pay as much as 25% more to get it on GOG, because I get to own a copy of the game, and using it does not depend on the GOG launcher. (Galaxy just makes it easier.)

    1. etheric42 says:

      I don’t think you resell games on GOG. I know the license is better than Steam, but it’s still just a non-transferable license I believe.

      Unless I’ve missed something?

      1. Daimbert says:

        You download an actual electronic copy that you can keep and store in multiple places and is the only thing you need to run the game. Arguably, you could resell that, although there’s really no reason for someone to actually buy it from you. But that’s only because resale is pointless, not forbidden.

        1. etheric42 says:

          I believe you are (in many countries, and according to the contract) legally restricted from reselling the electronic copy. Also from making certain modifications to the source code. It’s still a license, just a better one that allows local archival without a mother-may-I. You don’t own it any more than you own a John Deere tractor. Sorry, that last bit was a jab at an industry practice I think is ridiculous. Let me try again: You don’t own it any more than you own a ticket to a concert. Darn there I go again. Umm, you don’t own it any more than you own a university course you paid to enroll in. You can only use it according to the agreement you made when you paid for it.

          You don’t really own something unless you can dispose of it and alter/repair it (if if we are arguing that you can own the game without those features, then it’s just as valid to say you own a game on GOG as you do on Steam). Maybe we’ll get to the point where we own software again. Maybe it will look something like blockchain. If someone out there knows of a software developer/retailer that truly lets you own a game, please spread the word.

        2. The Puzzler says:

          No reason to buy it? If you’re willing to sell me the data for a fraction of the game’s regular price, and I can’t get it free because I don’t trust piracy websites, then it would be a mutually beneficial deal.

          And if you promise not to play it again, then we can even say it’s not piracy.

  25. Nimrandir says:

    Interesting game. Actually, it isn’t.

    Roulette really is a boring game, but it serves as a pretty useful example of probability calculations. Every time I teach finite mathematics, I walk students through progressively ‘safer’ bets on a roulette table, showing how the adjusted payout odds leave gamblers looking at (mostly) the same negative expected value. It also gives me a chance to mention my fool-proof strategy for winning in a casino, which came up in another image caption.

    In the next entry I’m going to very gently attempt to explore this topic in a way that won’t make people hate me or start a huge fight.

    Wish me luck.

    Channeling the finale of Frasier, eh?

    I look forward to the conversation and hope it goes well, although if I were in your shoes, I’d probably just shut off the comments to save myself the heartache.

  26. Redrock says:

    This might sound a little silly, but do lootboxes really matter that much in today’s gaming industry? I get that there’s a number of huge multiplayer titles that use them, and it’s a huge segment in terms of revenue, but I don’t get the same sense of microtransactions and lootboxes encroaching on the single-player segment as I did a few years ago. We get a lot of great single-player games, big and small, that have little to no extra monetization schemes baked in. And apart from a few egregious examples that got heir deserved backlash, even in the multiplayer segement most lootboxes seem to be more or less limited to cosmetics. Things being as they are, I really don’t get the “Lootboxes are ruining the industry!” sentiment. I concede that this can be different for people who are really into multiplayer titles, of course.

  27. Moss says:

    I don’t like loot boxes either, but I disagree with parts of your reasoning Shamus. LBs don’t “Attack the Entire Premise of a Video Game” because they are part of the game. Casino slot machines are certainly games, and LBs are more-or-less equivalent to them. Thus, Battlefront II isn’t an FPS with tacked on micro-transactions, it’s a glorious Star Wars shooter and Casino all-in-one. Similarly, I know a lot of people who got enjoyment from “gaming” the auction house in Diablo III, and I wouldn’t mind it myself if I wasn’t so bad at it. As bad as the auction house was, it was still part of the gameplay in Diablo III.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      The Real Money auction house in D3? It was completely and utterly toxic, and the player numbers bore it out, too. The player base grew enormously following it removal. The game it is now couldn’t and wouldn’t exist with the RMAH still in place.
      Yeah, I know people who gamed it too….By botting all over and reaping the profits of selling mediocre yellows by the hundreds.

      What Shamus means is that it deliberately changes one gameplay aspect and replaces it with something else. The loot drops in D3 with RMAH were skewed horribly against the normal player. I literally finished the entire campaign having seen a grand total of ONE legendary – for another class. My character was mostly wearing blue with a few yellows I got from the in-game AH (never the RMAH). Without the RMAH, drops could be upped to a level players actually like who, you know, like ARPGs.

      That type of system in a game forces it to hobble and weaken other parts of the game. You won’t sell items if everyone can find them. You won’t sell temporary +XP items if XP is plentiful or worthless at high level play. You won’t sell a lot of visuals if the base skins are varied and interesting. Etc.

      1. Moss says:

        The Real Money auction house in D3? It was completely and utterly toxic, and the player numbers bore it out, too. The player base grew enormously following it removal. The game it is now couldn’t and wouldn’t exist with the RMAH still in place.
        Yeah, I know people who gamed it too….By botting all over and reaping the profits of selling mediocre yellows by the hundreds.

        Gameplay being bad and the community being toxic does not disqualify a game from being a game.

        The loot drops in D3 with RMAH were skewed horribly against the normal player.

        Yes, to force players to try their luck in the auction house. But gaming the AH is still a game. We can sit here and agree that the AH was boring until our hair turns grey, but the AH was still a part of the gameplay in the Diablo III game. It was horribly balanced, but I can see how the AH could’ve been made an integral and fun part of the gameplay loop (yes even the real-money AH).

        So my point stands: loot boxes and its ilk do not attack the entire premise of a video game, because they are part of the video game.

        1. Shamus says:

          Reminder: The definition of “video game” I’m using in the article is “do stuff to get stuff”. THAT’S what LBs attack. I made this distinction specifically to address this point.

          Certainly a slot machine is a kind of game, but I wanted to make clear what was being lost. You can argue with my definition of game if you like, but then we drift off into arguments over definitions and lose sight of “Buy stuff to get stuff” replacing “do stuff to get stuff”.

          1. Moss says:

            Well, sure, but “do stuff to get stuff” is a bit reductionary (LBs would be a game since “buying” is something you can “do”). Here’s the entire definition:

            A video game is where a player must use some form of skill to overcome a system of rules in order to receive rewards or bring the game into some desirable prescribed state.

            According to this, slot machines/LBs are not a kind of game since there’s no skill involved. So I concede that yes, if we use this definition of a game, LBs work against that premise.

            I guess I disagree with your reasoning because I don’t accept that definition of a game, and apparently you don’t either:

            Certainly a slot machine is a kind of game,

            This is quickly devolving into a discussion about defining what a game is so we can stop here.

            1. tmtvl says:

              Maybe we could just say

              (not (equal? ‘videogame ‘game))

              .

        2. Bubble181 says:

          It’s not because they’re part of the game that they don’t sour the experience. And I didn’t say the player base was toxic, I say the RMAH was toxic in itself – it hurt every other part of the game it came in contact with.

          If I design a new game, where 22 people are separated in two teams of 11 players, and they run after a ball for 2×45 minutes, and follow every rule of soccer *except* that for $100.000 each they’re allowed to kick enemy team players off the field for 10 minutes, that’s a whole new sport. Sure, you can see it as such. But what you’re going to get is a slightly worse verison of soccer. Pay, kcik off the opposing goal keeper, throw as many long balls as possible – oh, no, your strikers were just sent off because the opponent paid for them, ok, just rush forward, ahhh now the opposition has sent off all our players… It’s going to be crappy soccer where the one with the most money to burn wins.
          Just like Diablo 3 with the RMAH was an ARPG, but with everything just slightly worse than it would’ve been without the RMAH.
          I’m horrible at similes, but feel free to replace with a better one. “It’s another aspect of the game!” doesn’t mean it’s beyond reproach or doesn’t actively make the other aspect(s) less interesting and fun to play.
          Fallout 3, but every time you craft, you get a kick in the balls “as an integral part of the game”, and the whole game’s loot drops and weapon powers have been rebalanced so that you really do need to craft a few items to be able to finish the game, is still a game – but it’s worse than it was without this new addition.

          1. etheric42 says:

            I think to be charitable to Moss, he’s saying that the concept of the auction house didn’t have to be toxic to the gameplay (although I contended earlier that as long as loot drops are the primary gameplay loot, as I feel they are in Diablo-type ARPGS, it will be).

            In fact I could already see a very interesting game from your Moneyball thought experiment. Various sports leagues already let you spend $$$ to get recruit players. As a means of balancing this, there can be budgets that you aren’t allowed to spend past, or a pool of players that are drafted instead of purchased (or both). Even without a spending cap, many teams need to balance their expenditures against their incomes.

            So imagine Moneyball, a game of soccer *except* a team can spend $100,000 to kick an enemy player off the field for 10 minutes. At the beginning of the season they are set a cap of X million to recruit players, boot players, and maybe even buy equipment over the course of the season. Perhaps we even throw in a rubber-band mechanic, where losing teams from previous years get a higher budget, or even you get a budget increase every time you lose. Then it becomes very strategic. A team’s star player may be so good that player never sets foot on the field, because every team pays to ban that player from every game. That player’s value might go up because it drains the bank from all of your opponents, or maybe it goes down as you really can’t afford to play down a player 100% of the time.

            When can the power be used? Only when play has stopped due? Or at any time? Can you nuke their goalie? Or the person currently handling the ball? Depending on the permutations it could make for a lot of nuance on how you spend your limited resources and for a very exciting game.

            Where does the money go? Does it go to the player you nuke? Does it go to the organization and help finance the league? Is it a charity system like Foodmachine / Foodhammer, a tabletop tournament ruleset where players can donate cans of food to a local foodbank in order to get rerolls or other bonuses mid-game?

            The devil is in the details, just because money is included at all doesn’t make it a bad game, or not a game at all. Otherwise the only good sports would be a lot closer to college sports, where players aren’t allowed to be paid or perhaps are only allowed to be paid a flat amount that’s level across the field.

            Edit: and to be charitable to you, I see you are saying something similar when you say it is not beyond reproach, as in it is fair game for critique (and possibly lauding). Maybe we are, in fact, all on the same page here, with the minor differences of Moss saying the AH wasn’t all bad, you saying it was, and me saying unless the game had a different/better objective/reward system, then it was necessarily bad.

            1. Bubble181 says:

              Obviously it isn’t bad *by default* if money’s involved. The problem arises when, like in most PTW games you can, well, pay to win. It’s not a productive way of playing. Your Moneyball example could indeed be strategic, and it reminds me a bit of some of the things you can do in Blood Bowl and how team value is taken into the balance.
              In the example I had in mind, though, as in soccer, each team simply has their own budget…And suddenly a match between Real Madrid and Liverpool is basically just an empty field, and a match between Real Madrid and, say, Anderlecht, is completely useless as, even if by some chance Anderlecht ca nget a leg up and actually score against RM, they could just send off the entire opposing team for the last 10 minutes and make 55 goals.

            2. Philadelphus says:

              A team’s star player may be so good that player never sets foot on the field, because every team pays to ban that player from every game.

              So, I don’t personally care about sports in any way, shape or form, but…would actual sports fans find this interesting? Would anyone be interested in going to a game to watch all the worst players muck about because all the best players are banned from the field? I feel like this would create a perverse incentive for any rising talent (who presumably play, at least in part, because they actually love the game) to avoid getting so good that they get banned from doing the thing they’ve spent their life practicing, which would then lead to a steady but inexorable decline in playing ability as anyone rising above the new “average” gets sniped, bringing the average down over time.

              This has nothing to do about whether adding real money expenditures to games inherently makes them worse, mind you, I just wanted to explore the ramifications of this particular gedanken-experiment.

              1. etheric42 says:

                People watch college sports in the US, and minor league baseball, so there is a market to watch people who are not at the peak of their field.

                In the e-sports world, picks and bans for champions are regular features of games with large rosters, and banning OP characters is a common practice that the fans don’t find disappointing (rather, it is healthy because it makes the game less of a blowout).

                The worst players wouldn’t be the ones left on the field, instead the ones thought to strategically match the players from your team. Maybe Beckham doesn’t play every game, instead he only plays games against teams with other A-tier players. The B-tier teams are happy with this. When they play home games their fans are happy with this so they don’t have to sit through two hours of being slaughtered. Beckham’s career is insulated opportunities to injury. Maybe the value of Beckham decreases and he goes to a B- or C-tier team where it isn’t worth the A-tier teams to spend to remove him so he ends up being a centerpiece for an underdog team (which will draw a lot of fan love). If the bankroll is funded in a rubber-band way then suddenly B-tier teams are always playing 11v10 against A-tier and you get a lot more exciting games (and teams that get skilled playing a player down, or in 6v6 situations) so there would be a lot of variety.

                And funds aren’t unlimited. Not everyone can be sniped all the time. It becomes tactical play: when do you let (well-rested) Beckham on the field.

                The sad story is: the player-sniping system already exists, just in a more dangerous format. An intentional foul could allow a team to “trade up”, losing a player for a month and possibly facing some sanctions to remove an opponent for the remainder of the game. These bullets are rationed (too much of a pattern could lead to dire consequences without some plausible deniability…) but they could end or shorten the career of the target. Financial bullets allow this to happen without the potential of injury and in a way that’s fair to the teams that want to “play by the spirit of the rules”.

    2. The Puzzler says:

      Battlefront II is (if I understand correctly) an FPS that’s designed not to be too rewarding because if it was, you wouldn’t want to pay for the micro-transactions. That seems kinda like an attack on what video games traditionally are, i.e., fun.

  28. Hal says:

    We focus a lot on the PC market, but I wonder what loot box regulation would do to the mobile gaming market. So much of what’s available out there follows the Zynga model where pay-to-win/lootbox ARE the game mechanics.

    1. Shamus says:

      That’s a really good point. I don’t play mobile games myself, so I have a bit of a blind spot for that market. But you’re right.

    2. Chad Miller says:

      Honestly if the entire mobile market gets burnt to the ground and rebuilt from the ground up that’s an “and nothing of value was lost” for me. It’s already defined by a race to the bottom effect where nobody will buy games because nobody makes games worth buying because nobody will buy games. Freemium mtx garbage, free with ad-support, or ported from another platform are the only viable business models (disclaimer: I haven’t bothered looking in years but I also haven’t seen or heard any evidence that any of this has changed since last I looked)

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Agreed. Most of the good mobile games I’ve played were made a years ago before Freemium basically dominated the market. As far as I can tell the only recent good mobile games are board game adaptions which thankfully seem to be free of Freemium garbage (presumably because they are replicating a board game which, you know, didn’t have any of the Freemium behaviour in the first place!)

  29. stratigo says:

    It’s all political Shamus.

    The limits of what corporations are and are not allowed to do is always political for any reasons this is considered. Not banning lootboxes is political. Banning them is political.

    You need to not be so afraid of the idea that anything might be political. That is, in itself, a political stance, and one that promotes non engagement in the process of choosing the politicians who lead us. Which, to understate it, is something of an issue in America.

    1. Shamus says:

      This aversion to politics isn’t based on fear, it’s practical, based on past experience:

      https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=31891

      Also, the idea that me not wanting to host and moderate Reddit-style flame wars is somehow promoting “non engagement” is silly. I don’t talk about diet here, but that doesn’t mean I’m promoting eating junk food. There is a time and place for everything.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        BLOG HOST SUPPORTS EATING BURGER KING EVERYWHERE, EVERY TIME!
        NEWS AT ELEVEN!

        O:-)

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Whaddya talking about? This Burger King revelation is small fry!

          At no point ON THIS ENTIRE WEBSITE does Shamus ever say that eating babies is bad! Therefore, SHAMUS YOUNG ENDORSES BABY-EATING!!!!!

          (More seriously: one of the main things that puts me off engaging with politics – almost everywhere – is the…’quality’…of debate and discussion that I see.
          You could frame Shamus’ No-Politics rule as ‘promoting non-engagement’ if you want, but to me at least a lot of the ‘engagement’ that it prohibits is…not worth much.)

          1. Chad Miller says:

            As it turns out, there’s even some evidence showing that slactivism can decrease people’s propensity to productive activism due to people feeling they “did their part” by doing something minor and not all that effective. Internet debate may just be a confessional booth for such people.

            That said, I do agree that the subject of this post is inherently a political question even if this blog and post are inviting a higher standard of political discussion than your median reddit or twitter slap fight.

  30. Ninety-Three says:

    Arrogantly pretending that we[6] are some refined class of consumer, above the drooling masses.

    It’s impossible to say “above” without looking obnoxious and sparking a debate, but even as a cynic I’m very willing to say the local commentariat is at least different from the drooling masses. Just look at what games sell well, and compare it to what people talk about in the “what have you been playing lately” threads. You get way more engagement when writing about Mass Effect than GTA V, despite the latter being the ultra-popular success. The people posting to this not blog are not average consumers of videogames and if we can agree on uncontroversial statements like “the local readership likes RPGs and dislikes FPSs more than the general market”, it seems like we should at least be able to propose that the readership buys fewer lootboxes too (although that’s much harder to prove than the RPG thing).

    1. etheric42 says:

      Yes, but I bet our lifetime spending on M:tG packs is higher than the median amount card or tabletop player.

      Also, has there been any data on what percentage of people that play a game spend money on loot boxes what the correlation between hours spent : money paid is? It may be that the commentariat here does NOT spend less money than the median person that plays the same games, but instead that we spend less money than people who play a lot of that game and that our natural assumption otherwise is puffery. If anyone has some data on that, I’d be very interested.

  31. etheric42 says:

    I really hope you take a moment in this series to address analog games like Magic: The Gathering. They use a lootbox-style system and yet the game is widely played for the gameplay aspect, and not just the lootbox aspect. (Since the rules are freely available, you could call it a F2P game where the welfare/charity period is nonexistent). I think this is a strong counterargument to your assertion that lootboxes attack the entire premise of video games (I know M:tG isn’t a video game, but there’s nothing stopping the model from being 1:1 put in digital form).

    The difference here is that M:tG_gameplay has an entirely different reward loop from M:tG_lootbox. You don’t play the game in order to win cards (unless you’re one of the old-school crowd that played for ante). You play the game to win. While buying cards helps/is necessary to win, you still have to bring something to the table yourself.

    Of course the logical end of this argument gets weird. If M:tG_lootbox is fine, then the lesson the video game industry should learn is to stop letting lootboxes be bought with in-game currency. This is strange because usually “you can get everything through playing” is usually an pro-consumer feature that allows individuals that have time but not money to spare (such as kids) engage with the game on “fair” grounds for those willing to spend. But it makes a certain kind of sense because as soon as something can be part of the in-game economy, all the incentives get screwed up. Additionally the cost of the game becomes a lot clearer once you get rid of the facade that you could get everything you need to play if only you played it like a part-time job.

    As a consumer, I also think it is useful to differentiate between games and hobbies, where a hobby might be a game, but one that demands and rewards a lot of money/time investment. For comparison: Star Wars: Rebellion is a game. It has a large entry fee and certainly the game is richer the more you play it, but you can play it casually and there is a finite amount of content for it. Star Wars: Legion is a hobby. You could play it casually, but you really need to buy a lot of expansions, and paint those expansions, and if you want variety buy more expansions than you could use at one time, and then as new releases come out play to help you understand them, and buy to better engage with them, etc.

    While you can play a lot of different games, there is only so much money/time for so many hobbies. I used to play League of Legends a lot. I really enjoyed it. I still have very fond memories of it. I realized during the time where League was my primary hobby, video games were not. I barely played any games that were released or that I purchased during that time. When I quit playing League, it was partially to go check out those other games. As a consumer, it’s useful to differentiate the two so you have a better idea of your total expected investment when you’re out shopping. This seems like something of a tangent, as many hobbies don’t have lootboxes, but the most successful implementations of lootboxes aren’t games. They are hobbies.

    Previously, Shamus talked about FIFA, and how much money the lootboxes there brought in for EA. I think it’s common for video game hobbyists to denigrate sportsgame players in a similar way they do to Call of Duty players (and Fortnite players, and MOBA players, and EVE players, and mobile gatcha players). They may all be technically video games, but the sportsgame players seem to come from a different subculture (or even culture/tribe) and it’s really easy to Other them. That’s because at some point the sportsgame players stopped being people that shared a hobby but played a different game, but became people with an entirely different hobby that just happens to use the same hardware. And it probably goes even deeper than that, FIFA players may be engaging with a different hobby than Madden players in the same way that DOTA and LOL players are engaging in different hobbies even though they share some features.

    If you add this train of thought to the “lootboxes attack the entire premise of video games”/M:tG argument then perhaps the synthesis should be “Lootboxes work in systems that are DEEP ENOUGH to warrant higher costs in their audience and where the primary engagement loop can function independently from the lootbox.”

    Let’s look at a couple of games and apply that thesis to it.

    Battlefront
    – Deep enough to be a hobby? I don’t know. When you combine them with the Battlefield games there is certainly a large amount of content with a shifting meta as new iterations are released. There is a certain amount of casual-friendliness to it though. When the next one in the series all of your accumulated drops are obsoleted though in a M:tG set rotation manner, so it had better be very deep.
    – Independent primary engagement loop? As far as I can tell yes. Vader is more of a Black Lotus that enables play than an objective you are playing for.
    – Result: I imagine this failed / caused so much backlash because it wasn’t a hobby.

    Diablo 3 Auction House (kind of a reverse-lootbox where you spent real money to avoid randomness)
    – Deep enough to be a hobby? Yes. Although there is something of a game for casual players, the primary focus is on “end-game” (as shown by accelerated leveling over the years) and deeper engagement in the systems.
    – Independent primary engagement loop? Absolutely not. The more the game becomes a hobby, the less you are there for the plot/gameplay more for the loot.
    – Result: This failed / caused so much backlash because of the engagement loop.

    Hearthstone
    – Deep enough to be a hobby? Yes.
    – Independent primary engagement loop? Yes. Buying cards helps you win, but winning is a reward in and of itself (even though winning does help you get cards).

    P.S. Since the Diablo 3 example was a reverse loot box, perhaps the lootbox question isn’t actually about lootboxes, but instead about when is it okay to ask for additional money?

    1. The Puzzler says:

      I’m not sure the MtG business model is widely considered ‘fine’. You’re still encouraging kids to gamble for good cards by buying booster pack after booster pack with real money, with the odds of getting what you want very unclear. It leads to shoddy game balance, encourages the publisher to create new cards that are overpowered compared to the old ones (or ban the powerful old ones so players have to buy new ones), makes it so that rich players have an advantage over poor players, etc.

      Players often find ways to make the game fun despite that, like drafting a deck from a shared pool of cards, but I’d prefer to stick to games with different design priorities.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        with the odds of getting what you want very unclea

        They aren’t unclear. A pack contains 11 commons, 3 uncommons and 1 rare, with a 1/8 chance of a mythic rare instead. It’s advertised how many cards of each rarity are in each set, making the odds of getting what you want a simple matter of dividing one number by another.

        encourages the publisher to… ban the powerful old ones so players have to buy new ones

        It encourages the exact opposite. WOTC has always been extremely reluctant to ban cards (we’re currently sitting through an unpopular UGx-dominated metagame because WOTC has chosen to wait months for the cards to naturally rotate out of the format rather than ban them) and they occasionally admit why: if they establish bannings as a regular occurrence, that shakes people’s willingness to buy cards since they fear that their deck might get banned and their investment rendered worthless.

      2. etheric42 says:

        When I hear people complain about lootboxes, it’s always Battlefront and not Hearthstone. While baseball trading cards were sued unsuccessfully in the US in the ’90s, the popular outcry was against D&D, not trading cards. Blind boxes have gained in popularity in the last two decades with the only pushback I’ve seen is some shops setting up cases that let you trade out the figures you didn’t want. Physical gatcha has been in supermarkets and corner stores for over 30 years without significant editorials attacking the “random Bratz for quarters” youth addiction.

        You say “players often find ways to make the game fun despite that…”, but this is in the face that the vast majority of players play the game in exactly the way it is marketed, not in spite of that, but because it is fun. Just because you and I and fans of the LCG model don’t find that fun doesn’t mean we’re not in the minority. Maybe you didn’t intend it that way, but when you write it like that it sounds like you are claiming that nobody actually has fun that way.

        Skipping over that, my argument wasn’t that MtG is okay so therefore gambling is okay, but instead an argument directed straight at “lootboxes attack the entire premise of video games”. Unless the premise of video games is different in non-superficial ways from analog games, MtG is a direct refutation of that argument. If video games are non-superficially different from analog games, Hearthstone is a direct refutation of that argument.

        Shamus’ definition of games for the purpose of this article is “A video game is where a player must use some form of skill[2] to overcome a system of rules in order to receive rewards or bring the game into some desirable prescribed state.” The claim is lootboxes are a direct attack on this because replaces your skill (you playing the game) with money to short you directly to the rewards. In Hearthstone, spending money does get you boosters, shorting your connection to the free boosters you would get as a reward from playing (and why I focused on MtG, since there are no free boosters), but I argue that getting cards is not the point of the game, winning/improving is the point of the game. Cards are an input, not an output. Having the right cards is a prerequisite to improving/winning, but not the sole input. You could even say a more direct attack on the premise of the game is matchmaking and publicly available deck information.

        Deck information means you only need to bring the skill to play and the skill to choose, but not the skill to construct. But you could also see that as training wheels. Showing you proven combinations until you can learn to improvise. Or something similar to memorizing chess openings.

        Matchmaking means over the long run your wins approach 50% of your games. Unless you happen to be the #1 player in your pool this will never change. If you get better, you get placed against harder opponents, if you do worse, easier ones. >50% periods are due to kaizen and are naturally impermanent. Your skill really has nothing to do with it on a macro level, it’s basically a coin flip. This is a significantly stronger attack on the premise of video games than lootboxes. Even then I find it a weak argument because without multiplayer without matchmaking is an even worse environment where the outcome of of the individual game becomes a coin toss of skill matchup.

        Instead I return to my earlier argument. Lootboxes don’t work when they are the major output of gameplay instead of an input, and where they raise the cost of entry to hobby-level in a game that does not deserve it.

    2. Vinsomer says:

      I’ve thought about the difference between TCGs and lootboxes, and I’ve come to a conclusion that there are a lot of factors that make TCGs better, if not entirely unproblematic.

      It really comes down to the secondary market. I don’t have any experience with MtG, but do have experience with Pokemon TCG and Yu-Gi-Oh (so I’ll refer to PTCG)

      The first most obvious point is that not all games are the same. Much like any hobby, be it fly fishing, surfing, painting miniatures, or woodworking, there are people who want the top-of-the-line equipment and materials, people who maybe even want to compete. And there are those who just take things at their own pace. I genuinely believe that a lot of TCGs are meant to be enjoyed like that, on the playground with your school friends, at a casual level. And that the competitive scene just kind of sprung up with its hyper-optimized decks was perhaps anticipated, but probably not intended.

      But the real difference is the existance of the secondary market. While in most cases, most cards end up having been opened by someone from a seal random pack, you don’t actually have to buy random packs. And sure, the prices for some cards is very high (a competitive deck in Yu-Gi-Oh can set you back $750+, and a full playset of just 4 copies of a single card in PTCG can be $200 at its lowest rarity at times), ‘this hobby is too expensive’ is a different argument (and a subjective one, given that the prices come solely from the secondary market itself and its stochastic sellers) to ‘this business model is exploitative and negatively affects the game’. Whereas almost every single multiplayer game with random lootboxes (never mind the single player ones) prevents and explicitly forbids players from selling their in-game items for real money outside of the game’s system, and many don’t even allow for like-for-like trading within their system with other players, either.

      1. etheric42 says:

        Many have a “dust” system where you can break down loot for a currency that can be used to directly buy loot.

        Even ones that don’t, if you leave aside “exploitative” and focus on “negatively affects the game”, how is a lootbox that is either an input or a sideshow to the core gameplay loop negatively affecting the game? (other than possibly restricting its playerbase in a multiplayer game, but that goes back to “is this game a good value proposition” and if too many people say no, it fails)

  32. Chad Miller says:

    Worse, this creates a system of perverse incentives. In a game with fixed pricing[4] the designer has an incentive to make the game as fun and engaging as possible. More fun means more sales. More fun means users stick around and pay the monthly MMO fee longer. It means people will be more likely to buy the expansions. But if you’re selling the game to a player a tiny chunk at a time, then you want to push them to spend more. The last thing you want is to make the game as good as possible. If the game feels complete, then the users won’t be motivated to add anything to it. What you want is to make the game just barely good enough to keep them engaged, but boring / annoying / frustrating enough that they’ll fork over more money to escape that manufactured boredom / annoyance / frustration.

    So, after some thought, this kind of dynamic isn’t quite absent from fixed-priced games, it’s more that there’s a spectrum from one-time one-time purchase -> subscription -> microtransactions where the pressure gets harder the further you go down that spectrum.

    In a subscription game, they still don’t want you to run through all the content too quickly. As a result MMOs often have a great deal of repetitive, grindy, mandatory content so that you can’t just subscribe for a month and feel like you’ve done everything. It’s true that they want to roll out extra content to keep you subbing, but lots of mediocre content is still better than smaller drips of great content.

    Even in single-player, one-time purchases, a significant segment of people will want their “money’s worth” (even if we ignore used game sales which provide a direct incentive to keep people hooked on their copy instead of putting it back on the market). Although there are some viewers and players who would be appreciative of shorter, better, games, the mass market still largely wants expansive games even if that expansiveness comes at the cost of lower quality or variety.

    (I realize that one possible objection is that there is a difference between including a mechanic that people hate but won’t let it keep them from buying your product, versus including a mechanic that many players actually want, but…some people like gambling too)

  33. Raygereio says:

    people keep buying these stupid things.

    True, but I’d be hesitant to put the blame of the people buying the stuff.
    There is a psychological aspect to lootboxes. The people behind it are literally exploiting a weakness in how human beings think (Dumb DLC that add just a weapon or other cosmetic crap) are a lesser form of this). And some people are simply vulnerable to being taken advantage of in this way.

    I very much disagree with the stance of this being a “Individual Liberty versus Public Good” thing.
    I see it as “Is it morally okay to allow big companies to take advantage of vulnerable people by enticing them into doing things that aren’t in their best interests?”. And I suspect the only people who honestly think that is okay are the CEOs who make millions.

    1. etheric42 says:

      But that’s exactly an “Individual Liberty versus Public Good” argument. The Public Good is not taking advantage of vulnerable people. The Individual Liberty is not telling people what is okay or not okay for them to enjoy. Similar set of arguments for drugs, pornography/prostitution, obscenity/violence/sexuality on TV/comics, advertising, ecstatic dance, religion, bloodsports, etc.

      PG: We have recognized that people hardwired to respond positively to sexual situations and experience withdrawal when restricted from them. It is literally an addiction. We also recognize that certain secondary sexual characteristics are tightly attached to sexuality in our culture. If a television show features women with exposed cleavage, that corporation is exploiting a weakness in its audience, enticing them to sit and watch that show every week instead of doing things in their best interest, such as rebalancing their stock portfolio or improving their home. Therefore ban all cleavage on TV.

      IL: Yeah, some people are going to be hooked. Others are going to look at it and realize the show itself isn’t that good. Eventually with enough cleavage on the air people on the margin will be desensitized and to be honest what’s wrong with people enjoying this instead of building a new deck?

      PG: We have recognized that people are hardwired to crush their enemies, to see them driven before themselves, and to hear the lamentations of their women. The adrenaline response is literally a drug for people to be addicted to. Therefore the semi-annual fist-and-rock fights in the streets that result in a dozen deaths a year and thousands of broken bones are taking advantage of people’s weakness and predisposition for violence. Is it surprising that the largest donations to the festival are from minor ERs and orthopedists? They are just out for money during what is otherwise the healthiest part of the year.

      IL: It is awfully tragic that people die every year at EdgeFest. But it was’t a surprise. They knew the risks and their own personal risk level and they still decided to participate. Just because you and I are not particularly fans of the sound of shattering femurs doesn’t mean we should deny others the privilege. After all, if you did that, they would have every right to ban our coffee as retaliation. And it shouldn’t be surprising that the festival is sponsored by local medical clinics. What is wrong with self-interest on their part? If anything the festival-goers are taking advantage of the sponsors, as there is nothing requiring them to go to those specific clinics.

      It’s not saying one is always right and the other is always wrong, but that there is an argument on both sides that not just a “because I want to exploit people”.

    2. Vinsomer says:

      It isn’t an individual liberty vs public good thing because addiction is not an individual liberty but rather an obstacle to it, and less addiction is the public good. Both things align.

      Individual liberty, like all freedoms, doesn’t flow in one direction like a river. One of the hallmarks of addiction (and one of the criteria for diagnosing it) is an inability to change your behaviour despite attempting to do so. In that instance, the addict is not free, because their addiction limits what they can do.

      I also rarely see those who argue against lootbox regulation argue for the legalization of drugs, for example. Freedom is not the result of an absence of legislation. It is the consequence of good legislation that protects people from the forces that make them less free.

      The only way it becomes an individual freedom vs public good thing is if you don’t accept that there are possible measures to protect the public that aren’t simply outlawing lootboxes altogether.

      1. etheric42 says:

        Trying to stay out of the politics arena here, but as Shamus impliet, this ship is an a close course for that iceburg.

        Sex can be an addiction, right? Sexaholics Anonymous and all that. Is sex an addiction for everyone? No.

        If you are trying to regulate/stop sex from being available to people who might not be addicted, then even under the framework that addiction isn’t individual liberty, you can see how you are restricting individual liberty, right? The liberty of those who are not addicted versus the public good of protecting those who are or may become addicted. You may say the value of the liberty is higher than the risk to the public good, just like you could say the risk to the public good for legalizing gambling is higher than the value to individual liberty. I’m just saying that is the crux of the argument.

        Sure, there could be also fact arguments. Is sex really addicting. If people weren’t faced with temptation, would they really choose to have sex. Etc. Fact arguments are useful to help you weight the value argument, but it still comes back to the value, and that’s why good, intelligent people can agree on the facts and disagree on the outcome.

        Even if you do accept that there are possible measures to protecting the public that aren’t simply outlawing lootboxes altogether, the measures that protect the public can still be an infringement on individual liberty. If you had to have some kind of license that says it is okay for you to have sex with this one specific person, and there were requirements for said license and penalties for performing the act without it, then that is just a measure to protect the public and isn’t outlawing sex altogether, but a person could (and did) still make an argument that individual liberty is infringed.

        Now, leaving that framework, even the definition of addiction has been a political football to target various disfavored behaviors. There are things that are perfectly acceptable now that would have been considered addictive, self-destructive behavior in the past (and in the reality of that past, would have truly been destructive for that person).

        I would be careful about arguments that “I rarely see person that argues for X also argue for Y.” Many people that fight the war on drugs don’t care about video games. I also rarely see people that argue against doping in the Olympics also against bribing government officials for contracts, but they come from similar values of fairness and safety. Or people that argue for paying college athletes also argue against unpaid overtime/internships, even though they rest on similar arguments about big businesses profiting off of the (dangerous) labor of people who are just trying to get a leg up to the next stage in their career.

        Trying to frame the argument that “if you are arguing to allow lootboxes you aren’t arguing for individual liberty” leaves the question of what are they valuing/arguing for? Are you arguing that anti-anti-lootbox individual have been duped? Are you arguing that they are greedy? Evil? Stupid? Selfish? Or are you saying the argument is purely a solvable facts-based one and that if all facts were known one side would be wrong and the other right with no room for difference of value? I think if you made the second half of your assertion more clear, I’d have a better idea what the conflict is over.

      2. The Puzzler says:

        “I also rarely see those who argue against lootbox regulation argue for the legalization of drugs” – How often do you see anyone express opinions on both?

        Personally I would want both drugs and lootboxes to share a similar of legal category, such as you have to apply for a license to get them.

      3. Syal says:

        Drugs mess with people’s morals. Drug addicts will break into people’s houses and steal and rob to buy more drugs. Making the drugs illegal means we can arrest them before they get violent. Do you think a lootbox addict will rob houses to pay for more lootboxes? If you don’t, then they’re not the same thing at all.

        1. etheric42 says:

          Ironically, I feel like drug abusers have more general sympathy (in the US) than gambling addicts.

          Does that mean perhaps that we support harsher punishments/restrictions of people (or, to be more fair, activities done by people) that we are more sympathetic to?

          Or is it instead that the greater sympathy is a more recent thing and the laws are holdovers from less sympathetic times?

          (This comment may be too political, but I’m hoping to reduce it to the more or less sympathetic axis and not tie it to specific things. For example we are highly sympathetic to children and we support a ton of restrictions on them. Does this generalize?)

          1. Syal says:

            I would say no, people don’t want harsher punishments for the sympathetic, because generally the most sympathetic person they know is themselves and they don’t want restrictions applied to themselves. Same with friends, family, coworkers and so on down the line. I’d say it’s much closer to how smart we think people are.

            Though “drug abusers” is also a more vague category than gambling addiction. The difference between marijuana and crack cocaine is bigger than the difference between poker and slot machines, and I don’t know how much sympathy people have for the meaner drugs.

  34. Gautsu says:

    And sometimes you just buy a loot box because with an actually fun free to play game there is no other way to support the developer

  35. Dreadjaws says:

    Historically, a couple of different things could happen:

    – The market will stabilize. Publishers will realize they’re pushing lootboxes too hard and lower their presence, while also start offering other benefits to compensate. This has pretty much happened with DRM. Stuff like installation limits or always-online are pretty much a thing of the past. I mean, sure, Steam still requires an internet connection, but you can still use offline mode, and single player games don’t stop working if your internet dies. Plus, as mentioned, Steam offers other benefits to balance things out.
    – The market will crash. Making a point to clarify that a crash like the 1983 one is pretty much impossible to happen again due to the indie market alone, AAA gaming might suffer a major blow, and this can only happen if lootboxes are embraced as normal by the publishers. People will, at some point, just get sick, even if they tolerate things now. Considering how powerful certain AAA companies are, I doubt this will lead them out of business. They will simply absorb the blow and move on from the model once they realize it’s the likely culprit. Smaller companies won’t be so lucky.
    – Government will intervene. This can lead to some major repercussions that could potentially alter the way games are made or sold in several different ways. The whole “surprise mechanics” BS won’t stand up to scrutiny a second time.
    – Aliens will attack and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will realize lootboxes are the only way to defeat them. Despite the public’s ill will towards them, they will begrudgingly accept their continuous existence after that whole deal. Lootboxes will get their own TV show, rise to popularity between the Kardashian fanbase and end up the de-facto protagonists of the “Dance with the Stars” videogame adaptation, which, of course, prominently features lootboxes. Then they will become self-aware. Please buy a lootbox to maybe get a 0.0001% chance of continuing this story.

  36. I like the way SSG does their monetization for DDO. It certainly ENCOURAGES you to spend some money (the devs gotta eat!), but you absolutely DO NOT have to. Well, up until recently two of the expansions weren’t available in the in-game store for points (you earn points by playing the game), so you if you wanted those you definitely needed to fork over some cash, but they’ve since fixed that and now you really can play the whole game 100% for free if you want to.

    The main limiter that’s built into the game is how quickly you can respec your character, oddly enough, which makes sense given that building your character and gearing them out is *extremely complicated* and it’s very easy to do something suboptimal that will make things awkward for you. Add into this the fact that if you change your character build, you’ll probably need different gear that you haven’t farmed out yet, and the fact that the “endgame” of the game literally is rerolling your character to start over again at level 1 with permanent boosts from what you just leveled as, and you can see how this would generate quite a bit of money as people get impatient and just say “screw it, lemme reroll NOW!” But on the flip side, if you’re a cash-strapped person with more free time than money, the game doesn’t punish you for it. I know a lot of people who play like this and they’re worlds away better than people who spend money, because they actually know what they’re doing and skill and practice counts for A LOT in DDO.

  37. Vinsomer says:

    As much as I understand blaming the fanbase, I think there’s one huge problem with doing it, for Transformer’s popularity or lootboxes:

    A lot of the audience is children. And yes, loot boxes are designed to hijack your brain’s reward centres to keep you spending in a way that goes well beyond even the dopamine rush that Michael Bay movies are. It’s not a false equivalence, but there’s an important factor that the comparison is missing, and that is addiction.

    It is perhaps one thing to say that gambling addict have themselves to blame. I think that would be a very harsh, needlessly judgmental and honestly ignorant thing to believe, but even the people who believe that don’t argue that we should let children into casinos.

    In most of the stories featuring addicts who spend large sums on lootboxes (such as this one featured in the bbc) got addicted as children. One of the most reasonable and popular proposed policies for lootbox regulation is age rating them like gambling for precisely this reason.

    1. etheric42 says:

      I don’t know, 3,000 GBP seems like a low price to pay for a valuable lesson. It sounds like he’s grown and become wiser about how he spends his money as a result.

      Several years of enjoyment. A valuable lesson. In exchange for ~6 months rent? Some some broken trust from the poeple who gave him that money for college?

      What if he had learned that lesson when he had a mortgage? Kids of his own to take care of? I bet he also walked away with a lot more empathy towards people who are going through a tough time, who have a part of their life they are ashamed of.

      Bad relationships. Reckless driving. Drug and alcohol abuse. Procrastination. Avoiding work to post in blog comments. We all want to protect our kids (ours as in our own and ours as in society’s/humanity’s), but at a certain point it’s counter-productive. What’s that point? People disagree about that. It’s different from subject to subject and probably from kid to kid. They say college drinking is a bigger problem in the US than Europa and some people attribute that to alcohol being a part of kids life in Europe while it is a banned substance in most households in the US.

      Maybe his parents were blindsided by the new digital rebellions. They gave him the talk about unprotected sex and satanic D&D cults but not digital soccer cards. That sucks, but is a part of generational change we haven’t figured out a way to account for yet. I also think most people get to an age where they look around at all their baseball cards / vintage anime dolls / nights spent way too drunk at clubs and realize how much time/money they spent and how existentially pointless it all was and move on to the next phase in their life (collecting vintage cars).

      Why aren’t we having this same conversation about candy bars and sugary cereal? That’s food that’s optimized to hijack your reward system and keep you buying (and putting on pounds), and addiction there has catastrophic health outcomes. Well we did have this conversation a few years back. And the takeaway was that schools and parents needed a refresher that cookies are sometimes food and parents would appreciate it if grocery stores put sugary cereal on the top shelf and had a lane or two without candy bars. Some people still thought it wasn’t enough and there are still 400 pound teenagers addicted to sugar. But the national conversation in the US has moved on and it may roll back to it again in the future.

      Why don’t we just institute similar common sense regulations to protect children from lootboxes? One reason is because from the perspective of the generation holding office now, all video games target children. Just like they thought all cartoons targeted children, and all comics, and all dancing, etc. (depending on generation). Legislation targeting lootboxes should be considered on a case-by-case basis, weighing the pros and cons, and considering that it could target all games, not just a few. Also, many nations already have laws in place stating that children basically have no privacy or money and that it all belongs to their parents or is held in trust for them. So why would we need to ban children from gambling, when they have no money to gamble with anyway?

      So if you were to structure lootbox regulation, what would you advocate for and how would you define loot boxes?

      1. etheric42 says:

        After sleeping on it, I have come to regret the above comment for, while I think starting in the right place, ending up more confrontational than I would have liked. I think I felt it in my gut when I was writing it I should have stopped with the fourth or fifth paragraph.

        I regret, and apologize.

  38. Borer says:

    In the next entry I’m going to very gently attempt to explore this topic in a way that won’t make people hate me or start a huge fight.

    Shamus, did You say start a huge fight? All joking aside, I don’t envy You trying to avoid fights with this series of articles. As soon as anyone mentions getting (or not getting) the government involved in anything, opinions clash – and usually in a major way. I mean, after only two days there’s already 200 comments on this article. And then there’s also the way that gamers oftentimes act in comment sections (although things seem to stay civil on Your site, so maybe we’re very atypical).
    I would completely understand if You post the next entry with comments disabled. It would probably be better for everyone’s mental health if we don’t get an opportunity to shout at each other. I’ll probably stay away from the comments just to avoid having to educate all the people who don’t agree with me on The One True Way™ to handle this lootbox issue.

  39. Adrian Lopez says:

    I’m excited for part 2! I appreciate your perspective Shamus, we need more even minded writers and thinkers now more than ever. Keep it up!

  40. Alex says:

    The difference between a microtransaction and a proper expansion pack is one of degrees, but a loot box is fundamentally different to a non-randomised DLC. Loot boxes can be attacked as a violation of consumer protection principles, as the defining attribute is that you are refusing to tell the customer what they are purchasing. You could make a long and tedious list of every asset in Skyrim: Dawnguard, but you’d be getting everything on that list. If loot boxes always told you what would be in the next loot box before you paid for it they’d be less exploitative because people would quit buying as soon as they knew the next one was something they didn’t want.

  41. qerkface says:

    There is one thing that bothers me about the laissez-faire approach where we say: “Well if people buy it, then let’s just make it and let them dig their own grave”. If we go that route, why don’t we also legalize heroin? After all if we want everybody to take full responsibility, heroin supposedly feels way better than any loot box ever could.

    As for not political: The more time passes, the more I think that “not being political” is just a silly idea when it comes to topics that affect everybody on a large scale, such as gambling or drug addiction. This is not about red vs blue (note that outside of the US with its deliberately broken election system, many countries have a bunch more parties than just two). This is about society.

    Here’s the answer to the heroin question: Because if we legalize everything, there’s a bunch of people who will fall victim to these drugs, because everybody has different levels of resistance to addiction. By making access difficult, we don’t just protect them, but we also protect their families and friends, and the welfare system (if you have one) from getting overloaded. Gambling regulations have the same objective, and many implementations of loot boxes are absolutely the same as gambling.

    Fundamentally whether we even have gambling laws is a matter of ethics, and the *implementation* is politics. One can (and should) totally talk about the ethics without declaring allegiance to a specific political party. As was said above: The declaration of being a-political in a very political argument is itself just as political, in a “I propose to ignore the problem” kind of way.

    1. Shamus says:

      I very specifically didn’t propose to IGNORE the problem, I just didn’t argue for a specific position. That’s a very important distinction.

      Also, don’t lecture me about how to run my blog. You’re free to talk all the politics you want. Reddit even has a special self-contained hell for people looking for that sort of thing.

      I reject the notion that, “This issue is so important we must argue about it EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME, and if you’re not willing to argue to the point of exhaustion, you’re part of the problem!”

      Moderation is a ton of work, it doesn’t pay the bills, and it creates a lot of stress that spills over into my personal life. I’m not obligated to play referee while everyone ELSE evangelizes their opinions on my site. Get your OWN site.

      1. qerkface says:

        You missed the point completely and got angry at your misinterpretation of what I said.

        You can’t talk about lootboxes without talking about ethics, and you can’t talk about ethics without at least touching on politics. Jim Sterling is probably the most vocal person when it comes to lootboxes, and he’s also the most political person in gaming. That’s not an accident.

        I’m not telling you how to run your site, I’m just telling you that you can’t claim it’s not a political choice to ban politics.

        But we’ve had this discussion before, and it’s fruitless every time. You just get very angry. So let’s not.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Just checking: you and Shamus have argued over the no-politics rule before, and you recall that it makes him angry. Armed with this knowledge, you choose to start a paragraph by saying his stance is silly.

          How else would you have expected this to go?

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