The topic of lockboxes and matchmaking rigging is making its way around the blog world of late, so lets pile on another post to the fire.
I’ll use Az’s post about it as a starting point, because I think it raises good points about the details while unfortunately missing the big picture. I fully agree that Pay-4-Power games stink, especially if the point of said game is also to compete against others. If you throw lockboxes on top, you have a giant dumpster fire of a game. 100% full agreement from me on all that.
But no one is holding a gun to my head forcing me to play such a game. If one came out tomorrow (lets call the game Goblin) that had P4P lockboxes with horribly, horribly odds for getting a super-powerful weapon, and had a matchmaking system that secretly heavily favored buyers and put them up against non-buyers to entice them to buy, I’d laugh at Goblin and anyone playing it before moving on. It would have zero point zero impact on me outside of it’s comedy value. And the same goes for you; if Goblin doesn’t sound like your kind of game, you don’t play it and nothing bad or evil happens to you.
“But but SynCaine, what about Goblin influencing others and suddenly everyone is making terrible game and I have nothing to play?”
Glad you asked blog reader. The only way the above problem happens is if Goblin is successful. And I don’t mean turn-a-profit or sell-a-million-copies successful, I mean WoW/LoL/PUBG success. The reason I ranted about WoW post-WotLK is because not only had the game become “Even a Gevlon can succeed” easy, but WoW was still a major influencer at that time, and now, all these years later, we see just how many bad MMOs we got because so many were copying a greatly flawed version of WoW. If you want to know why the MMO genre is in such terrible shape, look no further than WotLK and the direct it took most of the genre. It’s only now that we are seeing major efforts to do something else, like Crowfall, CU, or SC. (Not saying ‘something else’ will be good, but it will be better than welfare status WoW-clone at least).
Now, can you name me a single Goblin-style game that is even remotely close to such levels of success outside of Asia? WoW isn’t primarily focused on PvP competition, so that’s out. LoL only sells fluff, and has a working ladder system that keeps Gevlons in silver for 1000+ games while placing those with some ability to win at the correct levels, plus Riot is open about the different types of matchmaking manipulation they do (toxic account flagging, smurf acceleration, etc). PUBG also only sells fluff, is more comedy than serious competition (when a player at Shroud’s level isn’t aware that the do-nothing ladder has been reset, that should tell you all you need to know about it’s importance to the vast majority of players), and lets players of any ‘rank’ get into the same game if they queue at the same time.
Will player aversion be worn down over time to such design? Perhaps. Certainly today people are more accepting of lockboxes and microtransations then they were ten years ago, but again, that hasn’t resulted in a full-on Goblin game yet, and I don’t think it ever will.
Remember when F2P was the new hotness, and some people though all games going forward must be F2P because how else can you compete? Now look today, where a lot of players avoid F2P games simply because they are F2P, and the most successful game of the year (PUBG) isn’t F2P, while other massively successful games like ARK release and INCREASE their box price. People learned, albeit too slowly IMO, that F2P brings a lot of baggage with it, and isn’t a great option for a lot of games. Can it work? Sure, CoC/CR are perfect examples of high-quality, solid F2P games, just like countless other games are perfect examples of why F2P can be terrible.
The same applies to lockboxes. They fits some games (random skin gift boxes in LoL), are neutral in others (basically any fluff-only boxes, or some Pay-2-Skip setups), and are a total disaster in some cases (SW:TOR). Ditto for matchmaking rigging. When World of Tanks came out, anyone paying attention knew it wasn’t a pure-skill game (gold ammo), so only a fool would also consider its matchmaking as being pure. But a lot of people didn’t care about all that and just wanted to blow some stuff up, and so WoT saw some success. Did it become the standard, where all future games had gold ammo and wonky matchmaking? Nope. Because LoL exists, is significantly bigger, and shows that a far larger audience will play a F2P game that sells only fluff and has a real, actually working ladder that reflects player skill and only player skill.
So put down your torches until the WoW/LoL/PUBG version of a rigged and lockbox-stuffed game comes out. Until then, the only people affected by such games are the dummies playing them, and as of now, that pool isn’t large enough to matter.
PS: The “but what about the kids?” aspect of all this is maybe the biggest joke of all. If you suck so much as a parent to not only allow your kid to play garbage, but then also give them access to a CC to spend money on said garbage, that’s on you and only you.
The problem is the insidiousness of market forces. Did anyone boycott GTA5 due to the Shark Cards in GTA Online? Did anyone not play Mass Effect 3 because of its multiplayer loot boxes? These are AAA games with excellent gameplay and are 99% good… minus the odious microtransactions you can technically ignore.
Like a boiling frog though, we’re eventually going to realize – too late – how much damage has been done to the development process. For example, Star Wars Battlefront 2 is going to sell millions of copies, in spite of all the loot box talk. It’s a not a deep shooter, but it’s fun. And it will get millions of more dollars because of its loot boxes. Not including loot boxes is literally leaving money on the table. More and more developers are going to realize that, and since the market has been inoculated into accepting them, these developers are not going to be punished.
Visceral Studios getting shut down because they were “just” creating a single-player games made headlines, but how many do we not hear about? How many developers are spit-balling game design and then veer towards microtransactions? And how many of the “good” titles like LoL with cosmetic-only revenue streams secretly cook the matchmaking software to direct players towards purchases? Activision got the patent, but we already have plenty of examples of companies engineering matches to achieve specific purposes. When the process is a black box and there’s hard cash on the line, there is zero reason to trust that they won’t just grab the cash.
Did GTA5 sell millions because it has online play? God knows I didn’t buy it for that. Also even GTA:O isn’t focused on competitive PvP, so who cares if someone spends money to skip ahead? Same for MA3 but to a much larger extent, who the hell cares about it’s multiplayer? As you said, you can ignore them, and in those examples, very easily. If you liked GTA5 and GTA:O spending gives GTA6 a larger budget, is that really a bad thing?
I think SW:B2 is going to take a sales hit from the lockboxes, just like Diablo 3 took a hit because of its AH at launch. In D3, that was later fixed. Maybe they don’t fix SW:B2, but if the system stays as it is, it will hurt it long-term (either in SW:B2 retention, or SW:B3 when that happens). Also, if you are looking for competitive shooters without lockbox bs, you have plenty of options. No gun to your head to spend money on a game promoting lockboxes that heavily. If you buy it that’s on you. I certainly won’t be buying it.
As for single-player games and studios, are you arguing we are hurting for quality options on that front? Because looking at my Steam list, I’m not. And I’ve actually now got money invested that single player games will continue to be very viable.
Finally, If LoL rigged it’s matchmaking beyond what Riot says, people who have discovered it already, and that would result in a massive PR hit for them. Depending on what the rigging was, a potential migration of players over to DOTA2 or another MOBA would also be a very real possibility. Remember games like WoW/LoL/PUBG get so huge because of the snowball effect, and the moment you lose that you take a MASSIVE hit (WoW after WotLK). Considering the money they are making, you really think Riot would take that risk? I don’t.
See, that’s the problem. We don’t know that all the microtransaction money rolling in (31% of Take-Two’s total revenue circa 2016) is actually going to be rolled into GTA 6. We do know that GTA 5 sold 80 million copies and has ZERO single-player DLC whereas GTA: Online gets constant updates. The devs have admitted that they were too busy with fixing GTA: Online originally, but then “it didn’t make sense.” Probably because of all the $$$.
Do you think GTA 6 will have multiplayer with microtransactions? Of course it will. How about Red Dead Redemption 2? The Magic 8-Ball points to Yes. You didn’t have to care about ME3’s multiplayer at the time, but because it existed and was so profitable, EA’s entire gaming orbit shifted. It’s arguably why Andromeda sucked so hard, why any development time was wasted on Dragon Age multiplayer, and why we have loot boxes in a Star Wars shooter. That’s the danger: downstream effects. If you wait until your favorite franchise/series/etc gets loot boxed, it’s too late.
Only flaw I see is all those examples are for games/studios I just don’t care about. EA produces garbage as far as I’m concerned, lockboxes or not. GTA 5 was fine, but not a top game for me. What else has Take-Two done? XCOM2 didn’t have microtransations or lockboxes.
On the other hand, I just don’t see the same type of lockboxes being added to LoL, PUBG, or EVE. I don’t see games like DOS2 suddenly changing course and getting lockboxes. I don’t see indie games like Rimworld suddenly shifting. And if they do, it will be like MMOs trying to make F2P work, it won’t, and people will move on to something better.
So sure, some studios chase the easy short-term money, and as we saw with ME:A, it can turn into a disaster for them. Dawn of War 3 also was full of that stuff, and it bombed as well. Let’s see how SWB2 does (I mean, we know it won’t do PUBG numbers, but will it even beat expectations?).
SuperData Research would disagree with you. Most of the top games last month have lockboxes or a P2W structure. Love that DoS2 is on that list though.
I agree with the don’t like then don’t play argument. To say that it’s not pervasive because of Lol…you can drive a truck through that.
Wow broke the mmo. It is really hard to argue that lockboxes are not doing the same when pretty much every non-indie game has them. Not all but most that hit our eyes.
Pretending Superdata is real, here is the top PC list:
WoT (P4P still?)
DOS2 (no RMT at all)
What non-asia games are you talking about?
Here is the top list from Steam:
Warframe (no idea)
Payday 2 (non-PvP, billions of microtransations for more stuff)
Team Fortress 2 (fluff?)
Rocket League (fluff)
Rainbow 6: Siege (no idea)
What jumps out at you off that as bad?
Other than nearly all of them having lockboxes/micros?
CS:GO and WoT are P2W, though the skill in CS:GO is more important. R6 unlocks classes with micros, classes that would take ~20+ hours to unlock each.
Skipping of course all the fun battlefield/COD junk that should hit shortly – or the crud of say, For Honor.
You just can’t say that it’s not there, or not important. You can certainly choose not to participate. But it’s there, evidently. Let me rephrase that. At which point would you judge this to be “over the line”? When a game with more than X players has it? Or when Y% of the AAA games have it? Some other scale?
From my lists very few of those games have P4P lockboxes, and I care exactly 0% about fluff lockboxes, since they are completely harmless.
So my point is that while certainly some games have them, and some of those have even seen some levels of success, its far from an industry standard, and so far hasn’t produced a single “lets copy that” genre-setting title, hence not being worried about it.
I’m not sure when you (if ever) and I last played SWTOR years ago, but I’ve resubbed 3 weeks ago and having a blast – without feeling pressured to buy anything (ridiculous or not) with their ingame coins. I did spend some of the ones I still had (and got 500 new ones as a subscriber) but it’s the normal stuff. Unlocking races, more bag space – I think it’s ok, but I haven’t tried *hard* without subbing, only like a day, in general it reminds me very much of GW2 level of purchasable fluff.
TLDR: I don’t think calling it disastrous is fair anymore.
thats cos you havent hit max level yet. The swtor leveling is some of the sweetest out there in the industry, really good fun with amazing stories. When you get to max level though? Your raid/pvp loot is a lockbox. Yeah.
You can get loot from random lootboxes which you get for levelling up and which have nothing to do with the boxes from the store…
I was also going to ask what in particular is supposed to be so disastrous about SWTOR’s lockboxes. I mean, I know Syncaine hates the game based on hearsay alone, but that seems an oddly specific complaint for someone who’s never played. :P
SW:TOR still selling hotbars and inventory slots is comical. And is the raid/pvp lockbox thing not true?
You can laugh about the hotbar thing if you want, but it’s pretty safe to say that it hasn’t really affected most people actually playing the game. Got anything other than a PR disaster from 5 years ago? :P And don’t most F2P MMOs sell inventory/bank slots?
No, the lockbox thing is not true. They just contain fluff like cosmetic gear and mounts. And unlike most MMOs who feature them, the boxes are not shoved in your face by dropping as super-shiny items out in the world or by trying to lure you in with keys either. They are just goodie bags from the store that you can take or leave.
5 years ago yet still true today, the joke continues. Also claiming limiting hotbar slots for an MMO isn’t a big deal to people, and then having the solution to hit the cash shop is kinda downplaying things isn’t it?
No, I don’t think a free trial having silly restrictions that go away when you subscribe is a big deal. I never stopped my own sub when the game added the F2P option and honestly saw little difference after the change other than the UI now had a store button. Basically the F2P option is only there for people who absolutely hate to pay a subscription for anything and would rather jump through artificial hoops.
See now calling a F2P MMO as having a ‘free trial’ is again stretching things. It’s not a free trial, because even when you do sub, you still see the F2P aspects of the game, hence it being a F2P MMO. Just because I sub to EVE doesn’t make the F2P aspects go away, same for SW:TOR.
That’s a funny example, considering that you said about EVE’s F2P that it had zero impact on subscribers…
And in that post I explain why I said that, which still holds up, and doesn’t apply to SW:TOR.