The Untold History of EA’s Long (and Rich) Pay-2-Win Love Affair

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 28, 2017

Filed under: Column 172 comments

On Twitter someone linked me to this video, which tells the history of EA’s pay-to-win shenanigans. It’s a really good video. I know a lot of you don’t come here for video content and tend to skip this sort of thing, but if you get the chance I highly recommend it.

Link (YouTube)

I intended to make a column about this story, but I didn’t have quite enough time to make that happen.

This video really makes me wish I’d spent more time reading EA earnings reports. They’re publicly available, and if you’re willing to sift through the filler and jargon you can learn a lot from them. I read a little a few years ago back when Peter Moore was still running the show. They’re not a lot of fun to read, but given the amount of time I spend slagging the EA leadership I should probably pay more attention to the financial end of the operation.

Sorry to leave you with nothing but a YouTube embed for the column this week. Two of my three kids are moving out today (we’ll be driving them to the bus station when this post goes live) and I spent some of my column-writing time playing Death Road to Canada with the oldest before she leaves.

Consider this an open thread for discussing the video. EA, pay-to-win, loot boxes, the gambling controversy, the quality of their games, etc. Also, if you’re a fan of the FIFA games I’d love to hear what you think of the loot box implementation used there.

I plan to add my thoughts to this next week.


From The Archives:

172 thoughts on “The Untold History of EA’s Long (and Rich) Pay-2-Win Love Affair

  1. Daimbert says:

    I talked about this a few weeks ago in a post on my blog, but to me this is the inherent problem with randomized loot boxes, whether paid with real money or in-game achievements:

    If the things that are in them are mostly cosmetic and unimportant, then players will have no problem with them, but they won’t add much to the game, and so players won’t really feel that much of an incentive to grind for them. This then means that they do a poor job of their main purpose, which is to get players buying and playing your game.

    If the things are important and things that players really want, then you run the risk of turning these things into the “Timmy didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas” sort of experience: someone grinds and grinds and grinds to get that box, opens it up hoping to get what they wanted … and then gets something that they didn’t want and can’t use. That’s going to really disappoint the player which, since these are definitely in-game, will colour their impression of the game. Even if it doesn’t hurt sales of that game, if the system stays the same it will likely hurt sales of any expansions and sequels, and will also foster angry complaints everywhere people can complain.

    It’s really, really difficult to balance these things so that they are important or interesting enough to drive time and/or money spent getting them, but not so important or interesting that if you don’t get it in a particular loot box you aren’t feeling angry and disappointed with the whole thing. Add in the fact that if you are paying real money for that chance you are likely to feel that you should be getting the thing you wanted out of the deal and it gets even more difficult.

    I’d pretty much say that if you’re going to do stuff like this, if you pay you will always get your choice of what you want, which then leads to a system of achievements rather than randomized loot boxes.

    To be honest, though, MMOs have done it reasonably well, with the ability to get some kind of currency which you can also buy which you can then use to buy extra things. As long as there are enough interesting things to buy, the company makes extra money and the player gets to decide what they want to get and so there’s no risk of them getting disappointed when they get something else at random. City of Heroes, before it went under, was great at this because they had lots of things that you could use to, say, build a new costume for a character to make it more like what you wanted, while I find in The Old Republic I have lots of extra Cartel Coins because there’s nothing there that I want to spend them on.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Cosmetic stuff still is important to some people.Separating cosmetics from gameplay just needlessly confuses the very simple issue.As long as you are paying real money to earn a chance for a prize,whatever that prize is,thats gambling.The only time this practice is (slightly) tolerable is in freemium games.And even those have become increasingly worse over the years.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Well, I disagree that it’s necessarily gambling and also don’t think that “It’s gambling!” is necessarily a point against it and, on top of that, wasn’t even talking about the gambling aspect.
        I was just outlining the issues here: if the things aren’t important enough to the players to get them upset if they don’t get them in the random selection, then they aren’t enough of an incentive to get players to participate (from the video, this seems to be the case with Overwatch) but if they ARE that important to the players, then they’ll end up very disappointed and angry if they don’t get it which will sour them on the game. Thus, as I concluded, models where you earn coins to buy specifically what you want work better because they avoid all that.

        So what did your reply have to do with what I talked about?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Because the fact that its gambling is what caused the majority of the outcry against loot boxes.

          1. djw says:

            I thought the problem was “pay to win”?

            1. Bubble181 says:

              Pay2Win is the problem with microtransactions, not with randomized loot boxes.
              The gambling aspect is:
              a) Horribly unethical and
              b) probably going to get called illegal in the EU, with a Belgian,investigation poised to force all games that use them to be 18+ because they’re gambling and thus illegal for minors.

              They’re two different problems.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                Also, a big win for politicians. How many times did those politicians from Hawaii use the words ‘kids’ or ‘children’ while speaking?
                What halfway-smart politician wouldn’t want to be the person seen to be protecting children from a corporation pushing gambling via video games? That’s an obvious move right there.

                (Hope that stays on the right side of the Politics rule… :X)

                Also: no need to apologise about not updating your free (at least to me) blog when your family needs/wants you.
                Some things are Just More Important.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              That was the final straw.Loot boxes have been on the shit list long before ea screwed it up as bad as they could.

          2. stratigo says:

            It IS gambling. Look up the definition of gambling.

            The legal definition of gambling is merely gambling the government deigns to regulate.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      you run the risk of turning these things into the “Timmy didn't get what he wanted for Christmas” sort of experience: someone grinds and grinds and grinds to get that box, opens it up hoping to get what they wanted … and then gets something that they didn't want and can't use….if the system stays the same it will likely hurt sales of any expansions and sequels, and will also foster angry complaints everywhere people can complain.

      Sounds true for you, but not necessarily anyone else. I agree with you – I don’t play FIFA games, but if I’d seen the mechanics for the Ultimate Team mode, I would have just avoided it like the plague. Or bought one pack, felt stupid, and never touched it again.

      But. As the video pointed out Ultimate Team has been running for years, and making EA massive amounts of money. SOMEONE buys them, consistently – for whatever reason – the model wouldn’t have branched out into other games if it were unsucessful in the way you suggest.

      1. Daimbert says:

        From the description of how it works below, it’s only the people who really are into it that need to do so — you can play with many of those players in the game proper — and so these are people who are into the CCG aspect and want to build the Ultimate Team that way. That’s a different mindset from someone who is playing what is supposedly a different sort of game and are then encouraged to do this to “win” the game. The Ultimate Team structure is more like trading cards in general, except that you then get to go and play with them, it seems to me. That won’t trigger the “Timmy didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas” reaction because they are purchasing more to play the trading game than to get one specific outcome (like Vader). And from the video, it seems that you can trade cards with other players, which helps a bit there, too.

    3. Abnaxis says:

      The problem, though, is that once you make the items buyable, you have a system where the randomized loot boxes don’t just give some abstract little prize, they give an object with a value that can be measured in dollars. If the skins/characters/whatever are directly purchasable or transferrable, a market (in-game or back-alley–i knew a guy who bought his first car in high school with Diablo 2 items he sold online even before they added the in-game real-money auction house in D3) will emerge. Hackers and online ne’er-do-wells will emerge in droves to steal accounts for resale. It’s generally a big mess.

      This is a large part of the reason why I’m fine with Overwatch having loot boxes, but I won’t touch TF2 with a ten foot pole because of them. Even if it’s cosmetics either way, the real money changing hands as a result feels scuzzy to me and leaves an intolerable sour taste in my mouth, even though I really enjoyed TF2 pre-hats.

      Not only is black-market nonsense an issue, directly buyable items also make it easier to classify the system as gambling, and I think this in particular is a large issue with the BF2 system that’s caused such an uproar. If I let my kids play a carnival game to win a stuffed bear, that’s a wholesome part of the carnival experience; if I bet the stall owner $10 my kid can knock his milk bottles down with a bean bag that’s…a lot less wholesome.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Note that my proposed system removes the randomization entirely. Instead, you go through and either earn or buy credits — like “Cartel Credits” in TOR — and can use those to buy what you want directly. There’s no more reason for Black Market shenanigans than we have for pretty much any other game right now. It’s the randomization that spawns “Timmy didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas”, which is bad for games in general.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Ah. I thought you were advocating a system where you have randomized loot boxes, but you can pay money to bypass the looting and get what you want directly (if I understand right, this is how BF2 works). My bad

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        This is a large part of the reason why I'm fine with Overwatch having loot boxes, but I won't touch TF2 with a ten foot pole because of them.

        Um,overwatch is selling loot boxes as well.How is that any better?

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Because of the other points I made in my post?

          Paying $5 to try and win a giant stuffed bear you can’t get anywhere else at a carnival game is OK with me, and I think the fact that these games have existed for centuries is a point towards me agreeing with the general consensus that it isn’t gambling (it’s like pornography–you know it when you see it). Paying $5 to try and win $10 in return–or even paying $5 to try and win a bear that’s being sold for $10 in the store next door–is not.

          Gambling isn’t just paying money for an uncertain reward. It’s paying money for an uncertain cash reward. The contents of Overwatch loot boxes is basically a stuffed bear with no potential resale value outside the game. The contents are non-transferrable, and unobtainable through any other means.

          TF2 crate contents, on the other hand, have a marketplace set up specifically so they can be bought and sold for real world dollars. Opening a TF2 crate is more akin to playing at a craps table in Vegas than shooting balloons at a fair, because you (effectively) get real world money in return for “winning” at them.

          1. acronix says:

            That sounds like a technicality. Almost everything has monetary value independent on if you can resell it or not. You can still blow all your earnings trying to catch those special one-time skins as much as you can blow all your earnings playing the roulette. The only difference is that in Overwatch the only ones who get actual money from the Loot Boxes is the developer.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            But you most definitely CAN get that stuffed bear at places other than at the carnival.Not to mention that that bear can later be sold to whoever you wish,which is the exact opposite of the overwatch loot boxes.

          3. Decius says:

            Pachinko parlors let you win tokens, which can be exchanged for ‘special prize’ medallions within the parlor. Those special prizes cost a LOT of tokens, and have no intrinsic value. But the company that sells them to the pachinko parlor will buy them from you at their own booth, which isn’t affiliated with the parlor but is conveniently close to it.

            Officially not gambling, in Japan.

          4. SharpeRifle says:

            Usually in areas where “carnival” games are allowed there is a specific carve-out in the legal definition of gambling to avoid making so called “skill games” not fit the legal definition of gambling. In theory this is because you as the player are acting to affect the odds by your own actions (I.E. shooting the air gun, throwing the ball.) These are still forms of gambling by a strict book definition though. You ARE risking monetary loss for no gain. (Forgot my NOT A LAWYER disclaimer sorry)

      3. Echo Tango says:

        Even without the direct purchase, you can figure out how much real-world money a loot-box item is worth. Players can keep track of how often a certain item drops, and figure out how much money you’d need to spend on loot boxes on average, in order to get that item. Something like, “Item X drops 1/100 chance, and loot boxes cost Y dollars. Therefore you need to spend Z to get this item with 50% probability.” The same calculations can be made for other probabilities and other items.

        1. Blake says:

          “Players can keep track of how often a certain item drops, and figure out how much money you'd need to spend on loot boxes on average, in order to get that item.”

          Not if they can tweak the numbers in the background using algorithms to determine how long they can keep giving people bad rolls before giving them a good one.
          You can be sure if someone like Scientific Revenue don’t already have a product for that they’d be working on it.

  2. Decius says:

    If EA implemented Battlefront 2 with only ingame unlocks at a reasonable time rate, like the first iteration of Ultimate Team, would it have received any backlash at all?

    If the prices in ingame currency or odds of a good drop were adjusted after launch, would that result in any real backlash?

    If a couple months later, EA offered a patch that allowed people to also pay for the same content that people have been able to unlock with gameplay, would they have received the same backlash that resulted from trying to introduce players to everything at once?

    1. Viktor says:

      Someone else on here pointed out, part of the issue is that when you balance a game for in-game drops, you do it to keep the player from getting frustrated. There’s always another drop to be working towards, and the player should never get seriously annoyed before something else drops to trigger that “You got a cool thing” rush. When you’re balancing a game for microtransactions, your goal is to frustrate the player so they just give up and spend money. You want to drop enough to keep them from ragequitting, but keep them unsatisfied so they spend money to get the same “cool thing” rush.

      So I think that if EA had started with a good game with good drop rates upon release, and then added microtransactions and adjusted drop rates to be more frustrating after the game had come out, yes people would still be upset. They’d just be less upset because fewer people are playing at that point and the debate would be more muddy, but yeah, there would be outcry.

    2. Mephane says:

      If EA implemented Battlefront 2 with only ingame unlocks at a reasonable time rate, like the first iteration of Ultimate Team, would it have received any backlash at all?

      I can only speak for myself here, but I’d still hate it if it were simply the grind reduced and the mictrotransactions removed. There’d still be lootboxes with random contents. Even if they are earned exclusively by playing and at a more reasonable pace, that’d still mean you’d get tons of items you never want, items with stats, with game mechanical effects, buffs, special abilities etc. If, say, I want to play as a Storm Trooper, I’d want all those weapons and abilities unlocked for the Storm Trooper. Getting an emote for Han Solo or a a gun for a rebel soldier won’t do me any good at all.

      I can live with randomized rewards if they are cosmetic-only. But as soon as there are stats and gameplay benefits attached, I want all the rewards going straight to whatever character I am actually playing.

      1. Decius says:

        My entire point is that it WOULDN’T be the current situation with those modifiers. It would be an entirely different situation if EA followed a different path to get there.

        Modern Warfare gated lots of their equipment and cosmetic stuff behind achievements. Changing MW to allow MTX that unlocked random equipment would not be seen the same way.

        EA failed to manage public perception to be favorable to them. That’s not intended as apologist, it’s intended to be as descriptive as possible, because describing the world accurately makes making predictions easier.

        For example, other developers can learn from the situation, and follow the model that Heroes of the Storm uses: Trickle loot boxes to the player, and allow them to buy more and better loot boxes with money, and also allow them to buy things directly with money.

        I would strongly prefer to also be able to just buy all the things for $60 or so, but I agree that would make gaming significantly cheaper than competing entertainment options.

        1. Mephane says:

          My entire point is that it WOULDN'T be the current situation with those modifiers. It would be an entirely different situation if EA followed a different path to get there.

          And my point is, game-mechanically relevant rewards randomized across characters are a no-go for me either way. If there’s 10 different characters and I play 1, that means 90% of all loot is automatically useless to me, or in other words the grind is effectively 10x bigger than it looks like from the outside.

          1. Decius says:

            You wouldn’t play it either way. That’s fine, I’m not saying whether you would or wouldn’t.

            I’m saying that the press would react differently to a retreat to that policy than it would react to making that the initial policy.

            EA isn’t trying to sell to you, either way. They are trying to sell to their stockholders, who believe the media.

  3. Christopher says:

    I watched that video yesterday and was surprised by how it all originated. I don’t have a lot to say about lootboxes. They sound like they suck, but I don’t play games that use them, so I don’t have the personal driving rage to go on a tirade against it. I can say I don’t mind at all that legislators are looking into making them illegal. But frankly I think it’s more tempting to just rag on football, lol. It’s the most popular sport in the world, but as a nerd who’s never played a game it’s just been this thing I’ve always been on the outside of. It doesn’t matter if I was 8 or 28, if I was in a social setting/school/whatever that wasn’t explicitly about nerd shit, odds are half the people involved were either discussing football or playing football. Not being into it has been a good way to not make friends.

    Pay to Win-lootboxes having been introduced by the FIFA games to videogames at large is just adding fuel to the fire of vague bitterness. Dammit football, we were having a good time over here.

    I think EA is in prime position for all kinds of “Please Stop” awards this year.

    Hope the moving goes alright!

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You shouldve tried one of the football managers in your youth.For some reason,nerding out about sports has been accepted for a long time.

      1. Christopher says:

        Football managers are for people who like football, dude. It doesn’t matter if it’s FIFA or Championship Manager, they’re games for an enthusiast crowd that just so happens to be the mainstream in this one case. Who’d ever go “SWEET, a football game that’s a Manager, now I’m into it”? They’re just simulations of the sport.

        Granted, I’d be a lot more into checking out a football game that was a 3d brawler or something!

        1. Daimbert says:

          Who'd ever go “SWEET, a football game that's a Manager, now I'm into it”? They're just simulations of the sport.

          Well, there are people who like management games in general and might think only have a tangential interest in the sport. When I played CMI for a little bit (on a demo) soccer was — and still is — a sport that I only watch when nothing else is on, but the management game with it was fun.

  4. rabs says:

    Living in a country where soccer is hugely popular, I only played FIFA (and PES) games when I was a kid/student, before Ultimate Team cards.
    Fans I follow seem to ignore Ultimate Team mode and play the “normal” game, that EA managed to not break (yet), even if they seem a bit lazy on gameplay improvement. Meanwhile, PES still have some strength and is building up again.
    Anyway, those are reasonable adults, not the target for this kind of scam. And their kids are not old enough for this.

  5. Zak McKracken says:

    It’s always seemed to me as if the lootbox mechanic is actually just something they copied from Magic: The Gathering. I’ve no numbers about how profitable that particular enterprise was but I remember encountering it around the year 2000 and thinking there must be a lot of people pouring incredible amounts of money into this just to have a chance at winning.

    Realizing what you can charge for a deck of cards — and how much more if the numbers on some of them are a bit larger — must have been a similar moment for WOTC as it was for Blizzard when they realized they could get people to keep paying for a game they’d already paid for.

    And I’m sure that a lot of other companies took note.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      Panini stickers were sold in a similar way as far back as 1960…

      Though the video thinks it’s fundamentally different; at least with a real physical object you can swap it with your friends.

    2. Carlos García says:

      Though for Blizzard with WoW, being an online game with servers that need to be maintained and generate continuous costs for the company after making the game, it made sense that they kept charging. I remember at the time I didn’t like the idea of buying a game for sixty euros and still having to pay each month, it pissed me some, hence I never bought it, but I could see it made sense, therefore I never thought ill of the company and accepted it was a reasonable trade off for having a guaranteed good server. I just thought the monthly fee was surely overprized (I don’t remember how much it was), given the success of the franchise.

    3. Lazlo says:

      The huge difference there is that if you get a really great M:TG card, you can sell it, for cash. it’s also important to note that WOTC doesn’t get a penny from *that* sale. That creates its own little economy, where if I want the super-rare “win the game” card that only shows up in one out of a thousand $1 card packs, I can pay $1000 for 1000 packs and maybe get it (and get lots of other cards as well), or I can pay some other price (probably less than $1000) to someone who already got it.

      Of course, the other difference being that you can’t get “free” M:TG cards for playing a lot of M:TG. Though I do seem to recall some rules that, much like playing marbles, allowed winners to pick a random card from the loser’s deck

      1. Blackbird71 says:

        If you’re playing in organized tournaments and other events, you actually can earn “free” cards. I put “free” in quotes because many of these events include entry fees, but if you do well, it is possible to more than make back that fee in prizes.

    4. Steve C says:

      A big difference between EA lootboxes and M:TG (and explicitly mentioned in the video) is that EA is a closed system. A player can buy Magic cards from other players. If you want a specific card you can try your luck by opening a fresh pack or by trading with someone else. In a virtual game where your purchases are tied to your account that’s not possible. EA has completely locked out 3rd party transactions.

      1. Max says:

        But if you can sell the cards, that makes it more like gambling, not less. It does make it cheaper to get the cards you want, of course. From what I heard, constructed tournament players just straight up buy the cards they want, and booster packs are for casual players and, well, gamblers who intend to resell the cards. Or even the unopened packs after they go out of print.

        1. Blake says:

          Outside of a couple of brief moments in Magic history when a few cards became worth approx $stupid, nobody has really bought boosters with the intention of reselling for a profit because it pretty much never pays out.

          If somebody wins 90 cents back on their dollar on a pokie machine there’s lights and sounds and all sorts of things designed to give them a high, but when somebody opens a rare magic card that almost covers the cost of the booster they don’t feel like they’re almost winning money.

          The main thing is well-defined card rarities as well as a healthy secondary market keep it so that players don’t feel like they keep needing to fork over money for a chance to get better cards, they either open boosters for fun (or for drafting), sometimes cover some losses selling cards back, and buy the cards they specifically want when crafting a deck.

  6. Josh says:

    My earliest memory of loot boxes is from Team Fortress 2. You would receive these crates in the course of normal gameplay, but you have to pay for keys to open them. I consider this to be a dirty trick, even if TF2 was free to play after the original purpose (and has gone completely free since then). It plays on some kind of human psychological weakness, something like wasting an opportunity if I don’t buy the key, because look at this valuable crate I’ve got!

    If Valve wanted money for TF2, they should have given the opportunity to buy things outright. I’ve never opened a TF2 crate and have no intention of doing so. They sit in my inventory. It’s one strike against a company that I otherwise mostly appreciate.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      If memory serves right,you actually can buy items outright in tf2.Or I think you can buy the ingredients that allow you to craft the item outright.It was a while since I played,so I dont remember the specifics.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        You can buy items directly. (Last time I checked about 5 years ago or something.) They’re more expensive than individual keys, but a lot cheaper than using keys to open many crates to hope for the random item.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      Quite a lot (though not all for various reasons) of items can indeed be bought outright, and plenty more can be traded with or bought from other players in the official community marketplace.

  7. Xapi says:

    I am a player of the FIFAs. I think ’16 is the last one I actually bought so I don’t know the specifics of how they are being implemented now, but I have played ’18 at my brother’s house, and I can say this:

    In FIFA you can load up a friendly match and play with any team you want against any other team you want. You can also start a tournament in the same fashion. This is available both online and offline/with people in your house. In ’16 there was also a competitive mode that let you play several matches against rivals i your “tier”, and depending on your results you could be promoted to the next tier, demoted to the previous one, or hold your ground. This mode was the one I played the most, personally. Again all this is with the official teams as they are in “real life”, with all their players completely unlocked.

    There’s a particular mode of play that is Ultimate Team, that allows you to make you own team out of the players that are given to you at start, whom suck, and then you start to acquire “card packs” with players as you win matches and tournaments. This is the lootbox part of the game, but it is com´pletely walled off from the rest of it, and you don’t need to pay 10 bucks to play with Messi, you just load up a match with Argentina or Barcelona and you are golden. If you want Messi on your Ultimate Team to play with Cristiano Ronaldo and Pelé, then yes, you’ll have to spend either insane amounts of time or rather large amounts of money.

    Most people I know play friendly matches or leagues using the regular teams. There’s a certain draw to making your own super team by sinking hundreds of hours or hundreds of dollars into the game, I guess, but I don’t know how much traction that gets.

    1. Potsticker says:

      FIFA 16 was the last iteration of the game without the Alex Hunter “The Journey” mode. Starting with FIFA 17 they introduced a single player campaign (called “The Journey”) where you almost have a roleplaying game-like experience as a player in the English footballing pyramid. You have relationships with NPCs and everything. It is a whole separate mode of play from the Ultimate Team mode (although at the completion of the campaign you get the player you made as a playable character for your Ultimate Team) in addition to the regular “Just play against your friends” mode. So I think the video stretches a bit when it says that Ultimate Team is the primary game mode. It is right that loot crates have been part of it for a long time and you can pay to win that part of the game, but there’s always been an option to avoid that mode if you want and still have fun. It’s kind of like how you can have a totally satisfying game experience playing WoW without engaging in the PvP side.

      EA really managed to break the camel’s back in multiple places on this one though. Ultimate Team has existed for a long time with MTX and we’ve had pay to win mechanics in the freemium Game of War-type games. So there’s no real new mechanic here. People have certainly thought of Game of War’s business model as predatory, but I can’t think of a huge outcry to shut down the practice. People either don’t play the games, or pay to play and are satisfied with the experience. It’s the same way with MMOs – in order to keep customers happy paying a monthly fee for a game they’ve already purchased, you need to make players feel like they’re getting a satisfying experience. A lot of MMOs didn’t do that, people stopped playing, and their games are either now free to play or the companies are out of business. But EA went whole hog and made the core of their gameplay content built around lootboxes. And it’s Star Wars, so people want to play. It’s not like Game of War (or FIFA) where you can look at it and say, “eh, that’s not for me.” People like Star Wars and want to play Star Wars games and want to play as Darth Vader if that’s an option. Like Mass Effect 3 with Day 1 DLC, they have a super popular IP and are trying to see how much extra money they can get away with taking from fans. I hope the fans react accordingly.

  8. mechaninja says:

    Skillup has a really pleasant voice. Dude started out by just making videos for The Division, but he grew it from there. I don’t actually like most of the games he makes videos for, anymore, but his general interest videos like this have gotten really, really good.

    I was one of those who in my heart blamed Blizzard for loot boxes, so this video was a bit revelatory. That’s probably the main reason I tweeted it at you, Shamus. Jim Sterling is always a hoot, but I don’t remember him tracing things back through history like this.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      I’ll have to agree there. When I saw the “year of the lootbox” video the argument was that the lootboxes were caused by Overwatch: Essentially, the rate of lootbox-using games increased greatly after the release of Overwatch and that’s what caused it, which made sense to me at the time since I don’t play Overwatch and had no idea this was going on in the FIFA games.

      This video makes a much more thorough argument and makes more sense. If EA has been doing this for 5-odd years (and the documentation seems to showcase this), and publicly posted record-high income from that division last year which boosted its stock, it seems logical that other publishers (and their board of investors) would take notice of that.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The only thing I disagree with in this video is that ea is the ending sentiment that ea is doomed because of this.Yes,their golden goose might* be over,but they still have enough money to buy a bunch more studios to pad out the transition period until they find some new way to milk money from their customers.Plus,their sportsball products have sustained them for a very long time before lootboxes were even a dream.

    *I know that everyone wishes this to be a sure thing,but keep in mind that the matter is still just being investigated.

    1. Groboclown says:

      I remember reading that EA and other micro-transaction based companies (ala King) have hired people from the gaming (read: gambling) industry to help them design their games to be more addictive. I need to find some sources for this.

      That just one example of why I’m pretty sure that the big studios who have banked on the micro-transaction model will come up with some way to work around whatever legal hurdles are put in their way to try to milk it to keep their high profit margins.

      1. Decius says:

        Plus $800,000,000 a year can afford to buy a lot of legislation.

        1. Steve C says:

          …In the USA. It doesn’t in the rest of the world. FIFA is very much a “rest of the world” game.

          1. djw says:

            Bribing politicians is hardly unique to America though.

            1. Steve C says:

              Kind of is in this specific context.

              1. djw says:


                I’m pretty sure I’ve read about huge corruption scandals involving FIFA on a number of occasions, so I would think bribing politicians on this subject would be easy.

                1. Steve C says:

                  Bribing politicians in unstable locations like Kandahar and Brazil for a specific event isn’t the same thing. Bribing lawmakers in stable countries like Belgium, France, Germany etc is just not going to happen. Laws are not made in the rest of the world’s western democracies like they are made in the USA.

                  1. djw says:

                    Well, that’s nonsense.

                    You can feel free to have the last word if you like, but IMO we will just be disagreeing on that one.

                  2. Decius says:

                    Laws are made by whomever has the power. Money can buy power, anywhere that money is good. (Where money can’t buy power, it’s essentially worthless, and vice versa).

        2. djw says:

          Yes. This makes my highly skeptical of any proposed law to regulate the loot boxes. EA (and similarly large companies) will manage to come out on the other side just fine, and all the small developers/producers will be stuck with onerous compliance requirements.

        3. BlueHorus says:

          Plus $800,000,000 a year can afford to buy a lot of legislation.

          And lawyers. I can see EA et al arguing appeal after appeal after appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court/Equivalent Judicial Body in several countries over this.
          If it’s really that big a chunk of their annual profit, they will fight as hard as possible to keep it.

    2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I too, thought that conclusion sounded more like wishcasting.

    3. Fade2Gray says:

      I haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, but I have to agree that anyone who thinks this is going to kill off EA is dreaming. We can’t even be sure that loot boxes are going to die off (which I doubt will happen even with legislators making overtures to that effect); but, if they did, EA would just transition to the next money making scheme. I’m sure they’re plenty large enough to be able to weather an unexpected dry spell.

    4. Matt Downie says:

      I don’t think the point was “they are doomed”.

      But: if the speculation is correct that the most profitable half of their operation is going to be declared illegal across much of the world, then it means anyone who owns EA shares is going to lose a lot of money.

  10. Dev Null says:

    I’m not a fan of loot boxes in games or anything, but I’m fascinated by the potential consequences of making them illegal, or regulating access to games that contain them. Surely you couldn’t restrict access to electronic loot boxes to over-18s without also similarly restricting access to physical loot boxes, like baseball cards or Magic cards? How would you justify treating them differently?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      See thats the fallacy that keeps popping up around.Just because all those things went unregulated for a long time does not mean they shouldnt be regulated in the future as well.Nothing says that ccgs cant be reclassified.

      1. Dev Null says:

        I agree. Not only _could_ they be reclassified, I think they’d _have_ to be; I honestly don’t see how you could justify one without the other, and any attempt at passing a law that did that is liable to end up challenged in court for inconsistently favoring one industry over another. Which is what’s fascinating about it; there are multiple huge established industries that would be affected drastically by such a change: ~$250 mil a year, for Magic, with by far the largest portion of that being sold to under-18s. Sell your stock in Wizards (or Hasbro, or whoever owns it these days) before _that_ law gets passed…

      2. Daimbert says:

        The thing is, though, that they have been around for a while and even more directly targeted children, so they’re a good counter-example to the arguments that this needs to be done to avoid negative consequences or because consumers are unhappy. And if you try to exclude them, then EA’s Ultimate Team portion, at least, can almost certainly also be excluded, since that really is a CCG in pretty much all ways that count. And if you DON’T exclude them, then you add one more industry with deep pockets that can fight against this.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Seeing how “smoking was around for a long time” has already been brought up,that argument does not hold water.And tobacco industry was WAAAAAY bigger than gaming industry,and especially bigger than card industry.Also,the increase of regulation towards tobacco did not hit alcohol,and the removal of bans on cannabis did not impact any other mind altering substance.

          1. Daimbert says:

            For smoking, you could point to the actual harms. For loot boxes, they can point to CCGs and note that there don’t seem to be any such harms. And the deep pockets of the tobacco industry delayed and watered down regulations, and that was with something that was very much in the mainstream consciousness and that most people agreed with, and the most they were able to do in most places were age restrictions and warnings. And age restrictions are difficult to enforce when it comes to video games AND are often de facto in place anyway since a lot of minors need things like access to their parents’ credit cards to buy these things online anyway.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              For smoking, you could point to the actual harms.

              Harms to the mind have been treated just like harms to the mind for a long time now.And gambling addiction is considered a harm to the mind for also quite a while.

              and that was with something that was very much in the mainstream consciousness and that most people agreed with

              The number of smokers compared to the general population have been vastly greater than the number of whales compared to the gamer population.So even there loot boxes and ccgs are much weaker entrenched.

              And age restrictions are difficult to enforce when it comes to video games

              Depends on the age.The adult only rating has been enforced rather harshly,seeing how practically everyone sees it as a death mark for a game.

              1. Daimbert says:

                The problem with discussing things with you is that you seem to miss over half of most comments you reply to.

                Harms to the mind have been treated just like harms to the mind for a long time now.And gambling addiction is considered a harm to the mind for also quite a while.

                Which is why I pointed out that for loot boxes if you try to assert that that will be a harm that will occur they will simply point to CCGs which have been around for ages and have the same mechanism and say that if there was a risk of such harms, we would already see it. Since we don’t, the case is weakened.

                The number of smokers compared to the general population have been vastly greater than the number of whales compared to the gamer population.So even there loot boxes and ccgs are much weaker entrenched.

                Which is why I pointed out that most people both thought about the issues with smoking AND cared about it, which meant that it was in the public eye. People care more about smoking than they do about games, which means that solving this issue will not win a lot of votes or possibly even be remembered when it comes to the next election.

                Depends on the age.The adult only rating has been enforced rather harshly,seeing how practically everyone sees it as a death mark for a game.

                Only because a lot of mainstream stores won’t sell those games, which won’t apply to loot boxes. This is also why I pointed out that this is already de facto in place in a lot of cases, because children already need access to things like credit cards to buy loot boxes online.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  The problem with discussing things with you is that you seem to miss over half of most comments you reply to.

                  Are you serious?You deliberately replied to just the half of what I wrote before and you accuse me of missing stuff?Fine,troll away,I wont be reading your responses any more.

                  1. Daimbert says:

                    Too … many … mean … yet funny … responses. Must … pass … Will check …

                    3d6c[5] = 1.

                    Whew, passed! [grin]

      3. Decius says:

        Wizards of the Coast has a lot of money (=power) on the line, and will prevent M:TG booster packs from being considered gambling.

        Are baseball cards still a thing? Comparing a BFront2 loot box to a M:TG booster pack to a pack of baseball cards will make it clear to conservatives that they are things that should be available to kids, and kids need the hard lessons on how to manage their money caused by buying too many baseball cards. Libertarians don’t need convincing, and enough liberals will be convinced by a combination of “people have the right to choose” to buy loot boxes and the argument that banning baseball cards will just drive the baseball card market underground and make collectors into criminals, and deregulated baseball cards are best.

        The only people in favor of banning loot boxes, booster packs, and baseball cards are the minority of people who think that EA will become attuned to the needs of their particular niche of the gaming market if their current cash cow dries up. I don’t think that EA can be responsive to my niche without so much of a management change that they aren’t the same company anymore.

        I want to see how Valve does a game in the genre of ‘science-fantasy team based objective shooter, with an occasional melee hero’. It can’t be a literal Star Wars game without Disney’s permission, but I bet the videogame adaptation rights to Gun Gale Online would be fairly cheap.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Well, Valve already have multiple team-based objective shooters out there (TF2, the various CS iterations [though as I don’t play CS I don’t know about the viability of melee there]) so you can probably get an idea from that…

    2. BlueHorus says:

      I still maintain that loot boxes will be back in some new form. If not just repackaged as ‘Opportunity Crates’, then in some other form, like straight-up selling in-game power to players willing to pony up the cash in a multiplayer game.
      They might well die (I really hope they do) but it won’t be quick or easy. Games companies are NOT going to let something that lucrative go without a fight.

      One difference between Collectable Cards and lootbox rewards is that they can be sold on. There’s a big market for second-hand MTG cards, for instance, as well as unique ones and custom artwork on the card that adds value, etc…
      Also, as physical items you can return them if your country has the relevant laws? (Not sure about this)
      You can’t sell on that in-game loot that you don’t want, and you sure as shit aren’t getting your money back from EA…
      Of course, if Collectable Card games became 18-years plus *I* wouldn’t be shedding any tears, but we’ll see…

      1. Dev Null says:

        I would argue that the ability to resell the product – and the ludicrously-high resale values of some Magic cards – would make them even more likely to be regulated. Which is gambling: buying a loot box with no real-world value whatsoever, or buying a packet of cards that might contain something worth hundreds of dollars? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s just the latter. But you’re going to have a real uphill slog convincing anyone that it’s just the former…

        Which, to be clear, is not meant to be an argument that loot boxes shouldn’t be regulated. Only that, if they are, it will almost certainly have knock-on effects in non-video-game industries.

        1. Daimbert says:

          The problem here is that CCGs will point to good old hockey and baseball cards, and even such things as stamps, coins, and comics, to argue that they aren’t any more gambling than those things are, and are in fact even LESS so, because it’s clear that the main purpose for those things is to play them and not as a way to make money. SOME people collect them as an investment, but that’s true of pretty much anything, and so if you want to use that as a reason to regulate them you’d better regulate all the other things, too.

        2. Redrock says:

          That’s exactly it. Reselling lootbox content would actually bring it closer to “real” gambling.

      2. Fade2Gray says:

        Yep. When there’s money to be made, people will find ways to circumnavigate laws and regulations that get in the way. Ban loot boxes and well see companies creatively re-imagining the same mechanics.

        “Instead of loot boxes we’ll have randomized loot drops. The normal drop rate will be set very low but we’ll sell drop rate boosters that will nearly guarantee something will drop for a certain number of matches. We’ll also sell boosts that will improve the rarity of those drops. To improve sales, we’ll advertise the boosts by making players who are using them glow and emit a sound whenever they get a drop.”

      3. tzeneth says:

        Yes but a neat trick would be legislation REQUIRING ownership for the intended object rather than what happens in the video game industry where, due to terms of service agreements and EULAs, you do not own any of your digital goods. This is an easy way of writing the law and forcing companies like EA to make a decision: get rid of loot boxes or deal with the very real consequences of selling something their customers will actually own. Digital companies generally don’t want to have to deal with that quagmire. Especially since they’d have to create a system where a person can sell their ownership of that item WITHOUT any of that money going to EA, as part of the First-Sale Doctrine (digital market is also a very unsettled legal area because of the very real differences between something that’s physical and something that can have a perfect copy reproduced at essentially no cost).

        This is just me pointing out an easy way to write a differentiation and does not handle your interesting point of whether real life CCGs should be regulated like gambling. There’s a legitimate argument they should but that’s not the point I’m making.

        1. Decius says:

          And then Gamestop has a place where they sell collectible Battlefront 2 Cards, and each pack of cards has an unlock code for a FREE loot box on the online gaming platform!

          Precedent exists; the WoW CCG packs would have loot cards with a code for the MMO, and one of the mounts had an absurd eBay price.

  11. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    This was interesting, and thank you for posting it. I don’t actually have a more developed view at the end of it, but at least my lack of an opinion is now more informed.

    I suspect taxing loot boxes is a non-starter, the paperwork on the user side is too much of a nightmare (you’ll get basically zero compliance) which means they’d have to tax the company side, where disentangling the “loot box” revenue from the “digital content” revenue will be a compliance nightmare. Jacking up taxes on digital transactions isn’t going to fly, either.

    Thus, only a regulatory option seems viable, and I’m not sure how that would be done short of banning them outright -which is its own regulatory and political nightmare.

    On the user side, I guess I never found loot boxes for Mass Effect that obnoxious? You could unlock a specter pack in about 90 minutes, faster if you were better at the game than me. But I never felt like I was somehow disadvantaged by using a human infiltrator rather than a turian. Similarly, for Battlefront, I don’t play the game to be Darth Vader, so I’m unclear as to how much being able to unlock Vader matters.

    I really need more of an explanation of exactly how the “baked into the progression/pay to win” part works. It is not clear to me that the advantages of the Wilson box really are that much more than cosmetic.

  12. Matt says:

    I’m far more concerned about attempts to regulate this than I am with the practice itself. Sure the pay-to-win loot boxes discussed in the video aren’t the most customer friendly practice, but I don’t trust the motives of someone like Chris Lee to actually improve the situation for gamers.

    The game is not “basically a Star Wars-themed online casino,” even if EA makes a lot of money with gambling for upgrades. The Battlefront game is still there. And when people like my in-laws read statements like that, they picture something very different from what actually exists. Characterizing the game this way is, I think, disingenuous.

    When politicians did the whole “won’t someone think of the children” thing in the 90s around violence in games, gamers rolled their eyes. Today, Chris Lee does it, and gamers support him. Is there any evidence that children are the ones actually buying these boxes, or are they 20 and 30 year olds who would just prefer a less-costly mechanism to earn upgrades?

    Any “solution” by Chris Lee and the like will, I think, result in a confusing hodgepodge of state by state regulation, overreach by ambitious lawmakers, and probably result in even more gamer-unfriendly practices, but now with the government getting a cut.

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      With how far removed most law makers are from video games, I’m seriously worried that some well meaning law would end up making treasure chests in RPGs illegal…

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The Battlefront game is still there.

      Sure,just like how poker is still there.How blackjack is still there.How playing the odds is still there in picking the correct roulette bet.How knowing the players and their stats is still there in betting on sports.Etc.Not all gambling is just slot machines.

      Is there any evidence that children are the ones actually buying these boxes

      Yes.There have been plenty of stories of kids spending all their parents money on a bunch of micro transactions.

      1. Syal says:

        How much money do you lose when you lose a round of Battlefront?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          You arent betting on the rounds,you are betting on the loot boxes.And every time you dont get what you were hoping for,you lose.Especially later on when the chance of getting a duplicate card increases.

          1. Decius says:

            How much money do you lose when you play an hour of Battlefront and don’t get any new unlocks?

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              How much money do you lose when you drink complementary drinks in a casino and just spectate?

              1. SharpeRifle says:

                It has admittedly been a while since I’ve been in a casino…but when did they start giving complementary drinks if you weren’t gambling? I thought that was the whole point of them? (If they are giving out more than one or two at a casino you know please share….sometimes I just like to watch the games.)

              2. Decius says:

                One hour’s worth per hour, less the value of the drinks and spectacle. If the casino offered to make a highlight reel that would let you see only the spectacular things that happened during a given hour, would it be gambling to pay them to make the highlight reel before knowing what would be in it?

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Would there be a chance of you getting something special in a percentage of that highlight reel?

                  1. Decius says:

                    Yeah, sometimes the highlight reel shows somebody trying to palm a chip or pass counterfeit bills, and the DVD you buy has the clip of them getting tackled and tased by casino security. If you stood around spectating long enough you can catch it on your cellphone camera though.

                    Either way, it’s a lot of fun to watch for a while. Unfortunately you can’t sell it for cash, either way, because that would break the metaphor.

      2. Redrock says:

        Eh, sorry, that’s on parents. If you don’t bring up your kid to spend money wisely, that will turn out to be a problem one way or another. If they don’t spend money on lootboxes, they will steal mom’s credit card to go partying with friends or whatever. Totally separate problem, nothing to do with game developers or the government.

        1. Syal says:

          Yeah, a kid using a credit card on Amazon or one of those “Buy these $1 games” sites is clearly not gambling and is still a problem. Parents need to not save their payment information on sites their kids will use.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            1)A kid would spend a set amount of money on such a thing,not ALL of it.
            2)Amazon offers ways to abort such a transaction once you find out without the need to go through the bank to do such a thing.Games dont.

            1. Redrock says:

              Most digital game stores allow for a parental lock system of some sort to prevent unwanted purchases. Took a few scandals to get there, but they are in place now. Steam has it, the console stores have it. Dunno about origin and GOG, but I strongly suspect so. Because it’s not just about MTX, you want to prevent unwanted purchases of whole games too, right?

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Most digital game stores allow for a parental lock system of some sort to prevent unwanted purchases.

                Which is a good thing.But once more,thats what stores are doing,not what games sold at those stores are doing.The publishers should be in line with those policies and having a parental lock on by default in any game with potential adult content is not a bad thing.

                1. Redrock says:

                  Can’t really argue with that. In fact, a regulation requiring a default parental lock option in any software with in-app purchases sounds like a very reasonable idea. It’s not really all that intrusive and protects the “children”. I can support that. I still don’t think that it should be necessary and that people should try to be less silly in their spending, but that doesn’t really diminish the merit of your suggestion.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          So a kid stealing cash from their parents to spend it on booze,cigarettes and casinos is just a parenting problem and neither of those things should be regulated by the government,rather just taught at home.

          1. Redrock says:

            No, a kid stealing cash, period ,is a parenting problem. If a kid uses mom’s credit card to buy $5000 of separate Steam games without a single microtransaction, that’s still a problem. If a kid steals cash to go buy frickin candy, it’s still a problem. The availability of age-restricted goods and services is a different problem, which exists separately.

            Also, yes. Innoculating a child against excessive gambling, drinking, drugs and all sorts of bad behavior is first and foremost a parenting problem. Because hopefully you want your child to keep functioning after they hit 18 and not wholly depend on the government to keep them from drinking themselves into oblivion.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              The availability of age-restricted goods and services is a different problem, which exists separately.

              And thats what I was arguing this whole time.You were the one who brought up kids stealing,while I was replying to a question if kids are the ones who are buying loot boxes.Are you opposed to games with micro transactions having better safety against unwanted payments?Opposed to them being mandated to have a parental lock?

              1. Redrock says:

                Not exactly opposed, no, but I hate that it’s the first and main option. I see it as parents shifting responsibility onto game publishers, stores, the government, whatever. Parents should feel that it’s their responsibility to bring up their children the right way, so that they would know the value of money, so that they would have the right priorities, etc. Store policies and regulations should be a sort of extra layer of security for the rare fringe cases. But the way that discussion is framed, it sounds like people screaming “We can’t control our spending habits and our children. We will buy any bullshit dangled in front of us. Please, please, please save us from ourselves before we sell Granny into slavery just to get enough money for another hit of that sweet, sweet bright engram”. Just don’t buy the goddamn game, jeez. Why bring the government into it?

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Its not the first option.People have been waiting for the industry to fix this thing itself for a while now.But instead of it getting better,it has gotten worse.Which isnt surprising really.

                2. ehlijen says:

                  Because that’s kind of a unfair. Why are sellers allowed to outsource their quasi-honest sales pitches and schemes to marketing companies, but when a consumer wants to outsource some of their vigilance to a regulatory body, they get accused of laziness?

                  1. Redrock says:

                    I’m sorry, is anyone forcing anyone to buy expensive gaming devices and proceed to buy games? People act like the mere act of offering a product for sale is some kind of terrible manipulation on par with MK Ultra. People still have functioning brains and free will, don’t they? Now, a regulatory body is needed to, say, prevent companies from falsifying lists of ingredients on groceries. But the government doesn’t need to stop you from buying a hundred gallons of Coke just because you were manipulated by the insidiously bright red packaging. There are very few marketing tricks that can fool someone who thinks for at least 5 seconds before proceeding to consume, consume, consume.

                    1. Shamus says:

                      Okay, given the subject matter it’s totally understandable that we’re being drawn into a debate on the merits of government regulation, I feel like we’ve strayed from discussing EA. I think everyone has planted their flag and had their say. Let’s move on.

                      Thanks for keeping it civil, everyone.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      While I agree ‘basically a Star Wars themed casino’ is wrong, (it’s just one aspect of the game that’s been criticised), are you surprised that a politician put a bit of spin on their intent to regulate a market in a country famous for disliking government regulation?

      Any “solution” by Chris Lee and the like will, I think, result in a confusing hodgepodge of state by state regulation, overreach by ambitious lawmakers, and probably result in even more gamer-unfriendly practices, but now with the government getting a cut.

      Is it really a given that political intervention will be bad and unhelpful? Just, say, declaring loot boxes gambling and making them 18+ only is a fairly simple process that seems (to me) hard to get too wrong.
      Yes, there’s potential for messing up, badly-written laws, long legal battles with companies trying to protect their revenue streams, and all sorts of other problems. But don’t damn people for trying, especially when you haven’t seen – yet – what they’re going to try.

      1. djw says:

        Is it really a given that political intervention will be bad and unhelpful? Just, say, declaring loot boxes gambling and making them 18+ only is a fairly simple process that seems (to me) hard to get too wrong.

        That solution is probably on the reasonable side. One objection that I can think of off of the top of my head is that it might justify a more intrusive DRM (to “prove” you are old enough) but I am really just spitballing.

      2. Decius says:

        “declaring loot boxes gambling and making them 18+ only is a fairly simple process that seems (to me) hard to get too wrong.”

        You need to see more about how government works. They can get that way more wrong than you can imagine.

      3. Blackbird71 says:

        The problem is that in order to “declar[e] loot boxes gambling and making them 18+ only,” they have to first define what constitutes a “loot box”. The definition must be broad enough to not allow loopholes, but tight enough to not restrict other forms of gameplay that should not be considered gambling (e.g., making treasure chests in RPGs illegal, as Fade2Gray mentioned above). Getting such definitions right the first time is nearly impossible, and almost always results in a complicated mess of lawsuits and challenges and revisions, usually because no one thought of some particular edge case or another. It is precisely because of the need for specifics and technicalities when writing legislation that nothing government does is ever “fairly simple”, and there are always a million ways it can go wrong. “The devil is in the details,” as they say.

        1. djw says:

          I agree that its not simple, for all the reasons you listed.

          On the other hand, if they *just* require 18 and over to use a loot box, and then go bother somebody else for a while it might still be better than some alternatives.

          1. Blackbird71 says:

            Except that still doesn’t get around the requirement of defining what a “loot box” is. Is it only a loot box if the contents are random? Or if you have to pay real money for it? What if you pay real money for an in-game currency, and can then use that currency to buy all sorts of things in game (both from the game company and other players, and one of those things just happens to be a “box” of random stuff – is that a loot box? All of these variations have to be accounted for, because companies are going to use any layers of obfuscation they can to take advantage of loopholes in order to keep their golden goose laying as long as possible.

      4. Syal says:

        Third time’s the charm, maybe.


        Regulations have been on the books for 8 years, there’s no mystery about what happens.

        1. Syal says:

          To Shamus: I tried to post a longer version of this twice and they both disappeared without explanation, do you know why?

        2. SharpeRifle says:

          Ha…I loved its definitions section

          “This section outlines definitions of gambling terms to be used throughout the act. The Act defines a bet or wager to include risking something of value on the outcome of a contest, sports event, “or a game subject to chance.” The “game subject to chance” restriction is designed to include Internet poker in the act. The Act then confuses the issue of skill by stating that betting includes purchasing an “opportunity” to win a lottery, which must be predominantly subject to chance. The Act expressly prohibits lotteries based on sports events. Some activities such as securities and commodities, including futures, that are traded on U.S. exchanges are, by statute, declared not to be gambling. “Designated payment system” covers any system used by anyone involved in money transfers, that the federal government determines could be used by illegal gambling. “Financial transaction provider” is a very broad definition covering everyone who participates in transferring money for illegal Internet gambling. This expressly includes an “operator of a terminal at which an electronic fund transfer may be initiated” and international payment networks. “Interactive computer service” includes Internet service providers. “Restricted transaction” means any transmittal of money involved with unlawful Internet gambling. “Unlawful Internet gambling” is defined as betting, receiving, or transmitting a bet that is illegal under federal, state, or tribal law. The Act says to ignore the intermediary computers and look to the place where the bet is made or received. To force casinos to report large cash transactions, federal law was changed to define “financial institution” as including large gambling businesses. All other definitions are standard.”

          This is just wiki’s description of the definitions section but it states pretty well how convoluted this can quickly get.

          1. Decius says:

            The winner of each hand of poker is largely decided by chance; the skill in poker is to as much as possible only bet on hands you will win.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Depends.In a live poker tournament the skill is in reading the opponents and baiting them to bet more when you think you have a better hand than them and in seeing when they are bluffing.

              1. Xapi says:

                But the outcome of the hand (IE: whose hand wins) is determined by luck unless you are able to bluff your opponents into folding when they had the better hand.

                In any hand where the hands of each or most players are revealed, the outcome is completely luck based. The amount of money each player bet into the hand (IE: The gambling part) is not.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  That is true.But a game of poker is not determined by a single hand,especially not in tournaments.Therefore luck is not the most important thing.Thats what distinguishes poker from other luck based games.A pro will win over a scrub practically all the time.Which is not the case with some other luck based games,like heartstone.

    4. djw says:


      Gambling addiction can be bad, but not everybody who gambles has a problem.

      Alcohol addiction can be bad, but not everybody who drinks has a problem.


      I will concede that carefully crafted government regulations that are overseen by virtuous bureaucrats might in theory be able to solve the problem without ruining games for the rest of us… but what are the odds of that?

      More likely is that the regulations will be written by lobbyists to entrench systems that benefit big corporations like EA at the expense of everybody else.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Addiction may not present the problem for ALL of the people,but it does become harmful in developing minds more often than in adult ones.Which is why both alcohol and gambling are restricted to adults only.

        1. djw says:

          I generally agree that keeping alcohol and gambling away from children is a good idea. However, in the case of alcohol at least, I am not convinced that the laws do more good than harm.

          On college campuses in America most of the students are under the legal age (21) and in order to drink they must go to places where they will not be asked for ID, which often means frat parties. It is arguable that they are in more danger there than they would be drinking at home with a few trusted friends (from drunk drivers, sexual predators, et cetera). Also, when people get sick or hurt at these parties the frat has a clear incentive to NOT call for emergency help.

          Obviously, gambling is not 100% exactly like alcohol, but there could still be unintended consequences to regulation. That said, I am tentatively okay with a law saying that you must be over 18 to purchase a loot box.

          1. Redrock says:

            Well, American legal age for drinking is just ridiculous, everyone knows that. It’s 18 for hard liquor almost everywhere else in the world, and, hell, age of maturity and age of consent in the US is 18 in most states, but you can’t buy liquor until you’re 21? That’s just crazy. I mean, come on.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              To be fair,18 isnt really the age when the body and mind stop being developed.But yes,having the age for handling a dangerous tool be different from the age of legal drinking is silly.

        2. Decius says:

          The causation you suggest is not correct. Laws restricting gambling and alcohol started because they are considered sinful, not because they are harmful. Allowing adults to choose to do those things was a compromise between those who wished to see them banned entirely and those who wished to see them generally allowed.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Regulations change over time.What was banned in the days of yore because it was sinful is allowed now when its considered to be not harmful,but remains banned when it is considered to be.

            1. Decius says:

              Is it considered harmful to be able to buy a beer on Sunday without leaving the city limits?

              1. djw says:

                I think that the origin of temperance laws is more complicated than a simple: sinful vs not-sinful binary.

                The question of sin probably played a role, but the weight of that role vs other constraints certainly varied in both time and place.

          2. Redrock says:

            Nah, alcohol and gambling and other stuff were never regulated because it was sinful or harmful. I’m sorry, but no one cares about those things. But if a large portion of the population can’t work or fight o generally be moderately productive – then people on top get worried. Also, no government likes money moving around without control, and gambling is a big chaotic mess of money, the taxman’s nightmare.

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    Overall, I’m happy that the government is cracking down on loot boxes, if only for consistency with current gambling legislation. Repealing gambling legislation would be good too, but as the video says that doesn’t seem likely at all.

    If Shamus is reading EA earnings statements, and keeping up with the state of all their IP, why not apply for an executive position? I hear they will be looking for new leadership soon.

    1. Galad says:

      I don’t think he’d last long in any meaningful position that requires more than coding or art skills there. He doesn’t seem to be the type to thrive in cutthroat political office environments.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Perhaps you would be interested in the tale of when Shamus was a shift manager at Taco Bell. A position that, to hear him tell it, requires ample political acumen and no small portion of sooth-saying to boot.

        1. djw says:

          Thanks for linking that.

          I’m glad I never worked in fast food. (I had several temporary blue collar type jobs in high school and college, but they were a good deal less stressful than that sounded).

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            You’re welcome!
            The closest I’ve come to working fast food is working the cafeteria in college. It was a lot of running around, but I was never promoted to a position of authority, so I pretty much got left alone to do the job as I liked. It was really odd to me that the service uniform granted me effective invisibility to everyone else. Opened my eyes to how little attention I paid to service people in the rest of my life.

  14. trevalyan says:

    Mass Effect 3 used microtransactions for its online multiplayer, as that very informative video helpfully pointed out. And success in the online multiplayer was indeed important in unlocking the true ending to the game. Given the difficulty in succeeding at higher levels, there was a real incentive for players to purchase virtual lootboxes. Dragon Age: Inquisition also had a microtransaction aspect, but the online multiplayer was optional and had no effect on the actual singleplayer game. EA has absolutely been using microtransactions in its non-sports offerings, it’s just never been as inept as it was in Battlefront 2.

    What interests me on a personal level, however, is the study of loot crates in Overwatch. I had no idea they made such little profit for Blizzard. In time, I think we will probably see similar results for one of my favorite games, Shadow of War. Now, in SoW loot crates offer tangible in-game advantage for the singleplayer game. The loot crates are almost certainly optional: it is more than possible to acquire legendary and epic orcs through normal gameplay, and increase their power levels through the “Orkemon” battle system.

    Yet looking at Shadow of War, what interests me more than any other available microtransaction is that loot crates can be acquired through mirian: the game’s internal, non-purchasable currency. More, you are constantly tripping over in-game currency just through normal play. I had more than 150K of mirian, which is enough for 100 (!) of the silver class crates that provide extra orcish followers and training orders. Even after buying dozens of crates with in game money, I still have 100K left. If I erase my current playthrough and begin a new one, I can keep most of my purchased orcs and training orders: while earning brand new mirian from quests that have been reset.

    In short, anyone who puts RL money to buy the crates arguably has more money than time or sense, given how ludicrously easy it is to get 100% completion and Steam achievements without spending a dime IG. But the psychological nature of the in-game gambling, earning mirian to earn stronger followers- that interests me. It’s arguably one of the better ways to spend in game currency, as opposed to swimming in it like Assassin’s Creed II, and I’d very much like to see how Shadow of War performs in the free/ paid loot crate discussion.

    1. Redrock says:

      Come now, there wasn’t any need to really invest in multiplayer in ME3 to get the needed galactic readiness rating. Also, you could actually bypass it and use the app instead to assign timed missions. The whole mechanic wasn’t there to make people spend on lootboxes, it was there to get people to at least open the multiplayer mode. Multiplayer isn’t exactly an easy sell to single-player story-driven RPG fans.

      1. Rack says:

        At launch and for a while later it was literally impossible to get the “best” ending without engaging in multiplayer (or using the app if it had the same impact)

  15. Redrock says:

    Regardless of how bad lootboxes are, government regulation seems like a bad idea, because once it starts, it will never stop. The “think of the children” argument will then be used to promote censorship of violent games at the very least. I really don’t think anyone of us wants that.

    In other news, EA will be just fine. It seems that it’s usually EA’s prerogative to test the boundaries of what players will accept in terms of additional monetisation. The were the first to try out the obnoxious in-game DLC vendor in Dragon Age, the on-disk DLC in Mass Effect 3, the various stuff in sports games, etc. They always do that, regularly get burned, always carry on.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Regardless of how bad lootboxes are, government regulation seems like a bad idea, because once it starts, it will never stop.

      So I come from a country that used to ‘let’ children work – in dangerous factories where they had a real chance of getting killed/maimed, long shifts for puny amounts of money – and of course they had no time for education what with having to work. So their kids usually ended up in the factories too.
      And when making this practice illegal was brought up, people argued that you should let children work if they want to: the government was curtailing their freedom (as well as that of the factory owners, let’s not forget those poor souls) by banning them from working.
      Anyway, child labout is illegal here, now, and that is Good.

      Awful, dishonest, counterproductive, short-sighted, selfish and cruel things have been done in the name of protecting children, yes. They’ve also been done in the name of personal freedom. They’ve been done in the name of pretty much any principle under the sun.

      Government regulation doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And I really don’t think it inevitably leads to a police state. YMMV of course.
      (And if loot boxes in particular lead to anything drastic, I’d be surprised.)

      EA will be just fine. It seems that it's usually EA's prerogative to test the boundaries of what players will accept in terms of additional monetisation…They always do that, regularly get burned, always carry on.

      Welp, people keep buying those FIFA/Madden/other sports games, so EA keeps makin’ them moneys. As long as they do that, they’ll be here to stay. (Sadly.)

      1. Redrock says:

        I don’t really think that video game regulation is comparable to child labor. Nothing ambiguous about child labor – it’s bad and shouldn’t be allowed. Video games, however… Look, conservative politicians and the mainstream media in most countries have been circling videogames for years, talking about how bad they are for children, blaming any and all tragedies, violent incidents and murders on video games. And we used scoff at that, didn’t we? And now we run to the government? Because from the government’s standpoint it makes sense: if loot boxes affect children’s development, so must videogame violence, up to and including mario jumping on koopas. Now, psychologists would say that even without monetization Skinner box gaming loops drenched in violence, like, say, Borderlands or Destiny, would be bad for children. Which means that ESRB ratings should be heavily enforced, with huge fines, etc. Which means we go straight back to games being marginalized, even as we barely started to change that perception. And why? Because of a couple of games with poorly implemented monetization mechanics?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Nothing ambiguous about child labor

          You say that now.But like BlueHorus mentioned,plenty of people were talking ambiguity when child labor was debated back in the day.Plenty of orphans had no other means of sustaining themselves,there were even kids who were the sole providers for their families,etc.

          On the flip side,many people say that there is nothing ambiguous about loot boxes being gambling targeted to children,and yet here we are,debating that very issue.

          And we used scoff at that, didn't we? And now we run to the government?

          Because those are two very different issues.Look,people dont want the government to censor violence in their movies,yet when they stumble upon a real snuff film those same people want it removed*.Thats not hypocrisy because those two things are not the same.Going to the extreme and saying how the government should either not touch a thing or meddle into everything is ridiculous.

          if loot boxes affect children's development, so must videogame violence, up to and including mario jumping on koopas

          Equating those two is fallacious.To bring this back to the child labor thing:Telling the child to clean their room if they want to get their allowance is the same as having them work for money.

          *As soon as the perpetrator is dealt with,that is.

          1. Redrock says:

            Now you are comparing lootboxes to snuff film? Really? Why don’t you throw child porn in there as well? Let’s not talk about the types of things that are recordings of actual crimes that include people getting hurt or killed or worse. Otherwise, as far as I know, art isn’t censored, at least in the US, where it’s protected by the First Amendment, which I genuinely consider to be quite amazing.

            Still, I’m not arguing for no government regulation ever. But I do believe that government regulation of videogames would be problematic and over-the-top, given the rhetoric we’ve been hearing for years. And loot boxes would just serve as an in.

            As for child labour, the fact that some people argued in favor of it doesn’t really make it ambiguous. Child labour is very different from selling people virtual weapons in a video game. Also, can we stop talking about children? The vast majority of games with loot boxes are rated at least T. As Dipper would say, technically a teen.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Now you are comparing lootboxes to snuff film?

              No.Im showing you how wanting one thing regulated by the government does not automatically mean wanting everything similar to it regulated in the same manner.I was saying that your assertion of equating loot boxes with another gameplay mechanic is the same as equating fake violence with filming real violence.

              Still, I'm not arguing for no government regulation ever. But I do believe that government regulation of videogames would be problematic and over-the-top, given the rhetoric we've been hearing for years. And loot boxes would just serve as an in.

              Why?Its not the same people who push for those,and its not the same amount of voter support.Im all in favor of not forgetting the past,but saying that the worst is bound to happen is going overboard with it.

              As Dipper would say, technically a teen.

              And teens are so rational and always make the best decisions.

              1. Redrock says:

                Well, seems we have vastly different opinions of government censorship. No real point arguing about what might or might not be. I believe in the market more than I believe in the government. If the gaming community can’t show through it’s spending behavior that it won’t tolerate loot boxes, maybe loot boxes is exactly what we deserve. But hey, let’s not try to control our spending habits or think for ourselves for one moment. Let the government do it. Maybe you are right and government censorship will save us all, who knows. I have my doubts, though.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  I believe in the market more than I believe in the government.

                  See,this is the thing I cant grasp at all.What makes the market in any way better* than the government?Its the same amount of corruption,the same scumbags on top,and only sometimes does either of them do something actually good**.Why would you put more faith in either of them?

                  Heck,in this very case we see the market NOT regulating itself despite an ever increasing outcry of its consumers.Or are you saying that the degenerate practice presented in this video is somehow good for the market?Despite us seeing practices similar to those leading to a crash in a bunch of industries a bunch of times before.

                  *Or worse,for that matter
                  **And usually its because it benefits them more than the other people

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Damn,I shouldve read Shamus’s post a few seconds sooner.Im dropping this.

                2. BlueHorus says:

                  That sounds about right. It comes down to how much you trust different bodies (the govt, the market) which doesn’t necessarily have a right answer – and could well be cultural differences.

                  if the gaming community can't show through it's spending behavior that it won't tolerate loot boxes, maybe loot boxes is exactly what we deserve.

                  I get that point and it rings true. But at the same time I’ve never bought a lootbox, and they crept their way into a game I was considering getting…(and now won’t. Fuck you, Shadow of War).
                  Though laws aside, maybe the outcry will scare (some) developers off. Here’s hoping.

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Though laws aside, maybe the outcry will scare (some) developers off. Here's hoping.

                    Some are actually including the “no loot boxes” into their marketing.CD Projekt for example.

                    1. djw says:

                      Sounds to me like the whole thing is sorting itself out without any intervention.

                      Buy CD Projekt, avoid EA sounds like a pretty reasonable response.

                      I’m pretty sure that is what Redrock meant when he said:

                      I believe in the market more than I believe in the government.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The “think of the children” argument will then be used to promote censorship of violent games at the very least. I really don't think anyone of us wants that.

      You mean just how gambling regulation lead to the ban of those “witchcraft games” like d&d.

      1. Redrock says:

        now you are just being facetious. What on Earth would gambling legislation have to do with tabletop games? Or children, for that matter?

        Also, since we are talking about it, no, I don’t believe loot boxes are gambling just because they are random. Blind toy boxes are random, as are blind makeup subscription boxes, not just CCG packs. Branding lootboxes as gambling would require an effective ban on the sale of any packs, goods or services where the customer doesn’t know exactly what’s in the the box (insert Se7en joke here).

        Gambling isn’t just about chance when it comes to regulation, it’s about money. In actual gambling there is a (very high) chance to actually lose money. You don’t lose money with lootboxes, you always get the goods, you just might get something you don’t like as much as something else. You also aren’t motivated by the prospect of winning additional money, which is also a big part of gambling. You know that when you buy a lootbox, you’re spending money, it’s gone. Very few people buy lootboxes with the explicit plan of reselling a rare skin, now do they? While for a lot of gamblers addiction is based on that belief that they can win it all back and get rich with juuust one more game. So, unless you can lose your bet and be left with nothing and you can win actual money or some sort of pseudo-currency that is easily and legally exchanged for actual money (tokens, chips, whatever), it’s not gambling. It may have some of the same psychologiical mechanisms, sure, and it can be bad, but it’s not gambling.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          now you are just being facetious.

          Yes I am.Because you are using the slippery slope fallacy.Regulating loot boxes will not automatically mean the death of any other mechanic in video games.

          Branding lootboxes as gambling would require an effective ban on the sale of any packs, goods or services where the customer doesn't know exactly what's in the the box (insert Se7en joke here).

          Ive already mentioned that that is a fallacy.First,the fact that those cases are similar does not mean that the current case should be treated exactly the same.Legalizing marijuana does not automatically make cocaine legal,and banning smoking does not automatically make alcohol illegal.Yet all of those are mind altering drugs and differ only by the magnitude of the effects.

          Second,the fact that some things have slipped through the cracks before(like pachinko machines),does not mean that they shouldve done so,that they will continue doing so in the future,nor that similar things should do so as well.

          So, unless you can lose your bet and be left with nothing and you can win actual money or some sort of pseudo-currency that is easily and legally exchanged for actual money (tokens, chips, whatever), it's not gambling.

          And yet betting on a horse race is considered the same whether you bet actual cash,favor or reputation.It does not matter what you can win,as long as it has a value you are willing to equate with money(eg you would buy it for $X if you had the opportunity).And the only thing that differentiates gambling from not gambling(in most places)is your actual input.If all you do is plop down cash and watch the number randomizer do a thing,its considered gambling.If you personally have an input(say answering a trivia question),its considered not gambling.

          There are edge cases,like knowing the stats of a team in sports betting.But loot boxes are not an edge cases since its all done by pure rng.

          1. Redrock says:

            How exactly is a blind box of toys different from a loot box? Cocaine is more powerful and harmful than marijuana by several orders of magnitude. I don’t think that sort of comparison is viable for loot boxes in games and other types of randomised blind boxes. The principle is the same, as it is with CCGs. And I don’t think that CCGs are gambling, but if I did, I’d consider them more dangerous, since there is a monetary component – you can resell them at additional value. Also, tobacco isn’t really a mind altering drug, but that’s neither here nor there.

            As for horse betting, I didn’t really get your argument. As far as I know, only actual monetary betting is in any way regulated by the government. Gambling with reputation isn’t a legal term that I’m aware of.

            Also, you’ve completely ignored the crucial aspects of being able to lose everything as well as being able to actually win money and increase your starting amount, which is a major psychological aspect of actual gambling. I think that I saw you getting annoyed at someone in this thread for ignoring important parts of your post. So don’t be that guy :)

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              How exactly is a blind box of toys different from a loot box?

              Various ways.Toys can be played with in numerous ways,stuff from a loot box can be used in only one way.Toys can be gifted to someone else,resold,or even returned,loot boxes cannot.Two sets of the same toy can still be played with,two sets of the same card from a loot box cannot*.

              but if I did, I'd consider them more dangerous, since there is a monetary component ““ you can resell them at additional value

              No argument there.But lets not forget the whole csgo scandal,and the fact that sometimes there is a monetary component in loot boxes as well.

              tobacco isn't really a mind altering drug

              Nicotine is a stimulant and the main thing tobacco is used for.So it is a mind altering drug.Not to mention that it is highly addictive,not just psychologically but physically as well.

              only actual monetary betting is in any way regulated by the government.

              How come pachinko machines arent that wide spread?How come you cant bet for goods and services?That is a pretty big loophole that isnt very much exploited.

              you've completely ignored the crucial aspects of being able to lose everything as well as being able to actually win money and increase your starting amount

              Im not.Im saying that risking something to gain something else is not tied just to money.The psychological aspect of gambling is due to you winning something of value,not due to you gaining money.That something of value can be money,but it can be jewelery,art,vehicles,structures,skins for a game avatar,…

              I think that I saw you getting annoyed at someone in this thread for ignoring important parts of your post.

              Nah,that didnt annoy me.I replied to that post with no mention of the omission.It was the accusation that I omitted something while they did the exact same thing before that annoyed me.

              *Ok,there are some cases like ccg where you can use a couple of the same card,but usually duplicates are just trash.

              1. Daimbert says:

                Nah,that didnt annoy me.I replied to that post with no mention of the omission.It was the accusation that I omitted something while they did the exact same thing before that annoyed me.

                Actually, my real complaint there was that you ignored things in my comment that either answered the objections you made in your reply or made them moot. At worst, I didn’t address a point that you had made because I didn’t think it relevant to my point, so I didn’t see it as quite the same thing.

              2. Redrock says:

                What about cosmetics? Or snacks? TotalBiscuit used to do reviews of blind snack boxes, if memory serves. You can’t resell those after using. At least, I hope not.

                Fine, if you want to be pedantic about it, nicotine is formally recognized as psychoactive, along with caffeine, since they are stimulants. Mind-altering, however, is not necessarily the same as psychoactive and isn’t actually a medical term. I wouldn’t call either caffeine or nicotine mind-altering since they don’t actively alter a person’s consciousness, but that’s semantics.

                Regardless of whether it’s money or diamonds, gambling is about the chance of totally losing or winning something beyond your original stake. Loot boxes give neither. They do have a component of gambling, the whole uncertain outcome dopamine thing, sure. But that’s just one part of what makes gambling worth regulating.

                1. Daimbert says:

                  Yeah, I think the arguments to gambling end up being more of a way to directly get regulation than as a real argument. While it might share the addictive nature of gambling, for a long, long time now we have had similar things that weren’t considered gambling or regulated as such. Whether it’s a good mechanism or whether it needs extra regulation is what we really need to focus on, because it’s too easy to defeat the “It’s gambling, so bad!” arguments.

                2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  TotalBiscuit used to do reviews of blind snack boxes, if memory serves.

                  I dont remember if he won or lost anything with those.But like Ive mentioned before,there are edge cases that can be discussed.Loot boxes arent one of them.

                  I wouldn't call either caffeine or nicotine mind-altering since they don't actively alter a person's consciousness

                  Have you ever been around a long time smoker who is trying to quit cold turkey?They definitely act like a different person.You dont have to hallucinate in order for a substance to be mind altering.

                  Regardless of whether it's money or diamonds, gambling is about the chance of totally losing or winning something beyond your original stake.

                  What do you mean by totally losing?Someone mentioned in one of these posts that there is a lottery that gives back a percentage of its cost back if you lose.Does that small change make it not gambling?If not,how is that different from a loot box that gives you a duplicate card on a loss?

                  Also,you keep saying how stuff in a video game are of no value to you.Thats completely fine.But they are of value to some people.Of great value even,since they are willing to spend thousands of dollars in order to get them.To them,getting a rare loot IS getting something of value greater than the original stake.

  16. Amstrad says:

    In regards to the possibility of countries introducing legislation to regulate the use of Loot Boxes, I wonder where the ESRB and PEGI stand on all this. Nominally those organizations were created to self-regulate the contents of games with a ratings system. I could easily see both organizations introducing new ratings that point out the inclusion of these sorts of mechanics.

    1. Redrock says:

      Well, the ESRB currently doesn’t see loot boxes as gambling. Their reasoning is that, unlike in gambling, you can’t lose money – you always get in-game content. They also use the CCG comparison as a defense. Obviously, a lot of people disagree.

  17. Dreadjaws says:

    Here’s my experience: I was introduced to loot boxes in Champions Online a few years ago or so, well before Overwatch was a thing. I had been off the game for a long hiatus and when I came back the developer Cryptic had been bought by Perfect World Entertainment, who apparently are the ones pushing the loot boxes in every one of their games (please note that they recently shut down Torchlight’s developer so they could focus more on loot boxes).

    When I saw them, I didn’t think much of them one way or the other. The game gives you the boxes for free as random drops from enemies and to open them you need to purchase keys, either with real cash or in-game money in the Auction House. I tried opening a few, got a couple of mildly interesting items, and a whole lot of useless crap, then I promptly ignored them.

    But then I started to see underlying problems. There’s a lot of good gear, costumes and powers that can only be obtained through loot boxes (some of them are so rare that you’ll be lucky if you find one for sale in the Auction House). You can’t probably call that Pay2Win because the best gear can only be obtained by grinding, but still. Then there’s the fact that loot boxes rotate, so not only there are items that can only be obtained by a very, very low random chance, but it turns out that for some of them you can spend months until you have the possibilty of trying that random chance. Hell, even that is uncertain, as when old loot boxes return they do it in packs. So if you only want the, say, “Villain lootbox” you might have to grind a while because you’re only getting drops of the “Steampunk lootbox” and “Kitten lootbox” (I really don’t remember any of the names).

    So, in short, if you want a particular item you have to:
    – Wait for the time of the year that the lootbox it shows up in becomes available
    – Fight enemies until they drop a box
    – Hope that the box they dropped is the one you want and not any of the other several varieties
    – Grind until you have enough in-game money to purchase a key to open it (or buy one for real cash)
    – Open the box and hope that you get the item you want, which is always going to be one of the rarer ones.
    – Repeat multo post nauseam

    This is absolutely maddening. Note that the only other possible (not certain, just possible) way to obtain the item is to wait until another player has it for sale for in-game money, which very rarely happens, since these drops are stupidly rare, so they sell as soon as they surface. And even if you manage to find a seller, you need to have previously done some ridiculous grinding to get enough in-game money to pay for it. There’s no way to purchase in-game money (well, not directly at least, you can purchase keys and sell them) but worse, there’s no way to directly purchase these items. You depend on preposterously low chances. You probably have more chances of getting hit by two buses at once than of getting what you want. And you’ll probably mend your broken bones well before the item drops on its own.

    Of course, then I started noticing that loot boxes were showing up in many other games. I swore off playing any game that includes them. Grinding I can accept, but this is busywork. I feel like I’m being hazed by the game. Having to work several hours so I can have a bit of fun at the end is already what I do every day. I don’t need this thing to become fractal.

  18. Amarsir says:

    At 13:30 he shows an unlabeled graph upon which he seems to base some strong conclusions. I’d like more information about that. Does it account for the number of games? Does it conflate the much lower cost of mobile games with the relevant cost of AAA titles?

    If it’s true that development costs peaked in 2009, I think that warrants its own discussion.

  19. David Brennan says:

    Thank you very much for posting the video Shamus. I hadn’t paid much attention to EA outside of reading your columns so it was fascinating viewing.

    I am a bit surprised it came as a surprise to you though given you have written a number of columns about EA criticizing their leadership. Contrary to what I had expected it turns out that EA leadership have actually been very successful within a purely profit driven view of success.

    Microtransactions, loot boxes, etc are certainly worthy of scorn and alienate many gamers, but it appears they were using them because they truly are a significantly more efficient and less risky (in the short term) way of making money. If the figures are correct it appears EA’s profit margin grew from 2% to 20% in the last 5 years which is a very impressive feat.

    Of course this is entirely short term. I agree with the video that EA has done massive damage to their long term business potential. Regulation will happen (and should IMO, I firmly believe it is gambling) and they will suffer for having done such a poor job of actual game development in the last 5 years.

    But it does put a very different slant on management’s performance in my mind. Instead of being totally out of touch with the gaming industry and hence ‘idiotic and self-defeating’, it strikes me they suffer from the very common problem among publicly traded companies of being entirely focused on short term results (and they may have even been hired/promoted for exactly such a purpose, many shareholders seek short term revenue growth in order to increase share prices). Management have been very successful at this but in return have cannibalized the long term prospects of the business.

    So just typically short sighted, rather than particularly idiotic. :-)

  20. Paul Spooner says:

    Seems you’ve developed the technology to lock individual comments instead of having to lock the whole post. Fascinating! Or, has that always been in your toolbox and I’m just now noticing it?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      No,there is just a nesting limit after which you cannot reply further down but have to reply to one comment above.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Ahh, so it is. Ten levels deep.

  21. stratigo says:

    I would like to note Witcher 3 is a game being copied, and a game that copied others.

    At its core it’s an open world sand box RPG. Like, it feels, half the AAA market these days. Mass effect andromeda, Dragon age inquisition, Ass creed origins, Shadows of War. They are all this basic system.

    The witcher 3 is elevated by its story telling.

    Ultimately, the point of this is that the game industry is copying the Witcher 3 as well as they can, but they don’t have the skill to pull off the same story telling.

  22. Richard says:

    The other bit of idiocy is that EA have almost certainly lost all Disney franchises forever.

    EA put something that is now publicly associated with gambling into a Disney game.
    – The UK gambling commission have been publicly investigating whether loot boxes are legally gambling for over a year (they have yet to report), so it’s not as if it was a surprise.

    Disney have a fundamental, core company value of “No Gambling”, going all the way back to Walt himself. They know how much profit casinos and other forms of gambling make, but it is simply not what they do.

    For a concrete example: Every cruise line has an onboard casino – except for Disney cruise ships.

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