Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Whole Herd of Dead Horses Now: Lockboxes

Think about this the next time you see some player character in truly Epic Pixels strutting their stuff in Orgrimmar, Destiny's Reach, or Meridian: Despite what may be months or even years of raiding, learning strategies and tactics for epic battles against nigh invincible foes, everything they're wearing boils down to good luck on some random dice rolls.
The basic assumption being that cash shops may cause players to lose control of their spending, getting addicted to a luck-based system looking to relieve them of their money. . . such as a slot machine with very random outcome (I do not know how many people get ruined by this rather than card games).
Syl, MMO Gypsy, "Free-to-Play vs. Gambling"
Syl, I think you'd be surprised—nay, shocked—by how many gambling addicts are doing just that, feeding money to one-armed bandits. This article from U.S. News and World Report online, March 2013 describes some of the pitfalls of gambling addiction amid growing availability of casinos in the U.S. There certainly is an element of skill and strategy to games like Poker. They're also played out over a relatively long period of time, with opportunities to judge played cards, odds, etc. "Professional" gamblers gravitate toward those types of games.
Photo by Jeff Kubina. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Slot machines, as Syl pointed out, are completely random, resetting every time the arm is pulled or the button is pressed. I dislike loot boxes (and extremely rare drops from kills) for specifically that reason. There are people who'll spend hundreds (maybe not all at once) without realizing they have, and with nothing to show for it in the end.

Many gamers are already manifesting an addictive personality in subscription games. Think about how many times people run the same dungeon or raid over and over, hoping that that epic sword will drop and that they'll win the loot lottery against any other raid member who wants it. With cash shop keys, now you can bypass the dungeon grind and yank on the slot machine straight away. Y'know, that's kind of Tobold's arguments regarding bypassing unpleasant aspects of a game to get what you want. Carry on then.

Maybe there are other ways to obtain those Epic Pixels. I hope so, at least then you can assess how many keys are worth buying. But then, if you knew Epic Pixels were being sold for, say, $25, you might not be willing to spend $50 on lockboxes. And the games company can't have that. So more often than not, there is no direct equivalent in the cash shop. You have to infer the value.

I hope it is clear from my other posts that I have nothing against cash shops. Heck, when STO was young, I'd spend cash in the store on top of the subscription I was paying every month. I also spent real dough for minipets like Lil K.T. in WoW. I think pay-optional games are a great way for game devs to close the consumer surplus from "potential spenders" to whale-size spenders. But some items seem slightly underhanded.

Don't think that I am blaming players here, at all. I've been known to spend money on lottery tickets and slot machines—and even a loot box or two—when hope overpowers common sense. I've even won $$ occasionally. But . . .

I don't think loot boxes should be part of any game. You may have guessed that, like Tobold, I believe in working for the things I have, in game and in real life. I favor steady earning of currency for Epic Pixels, over random chance of gaining said pixels.

12 comments:

  1. But you still don't "work" for Epic Pixels when you're not guaranteed for them to drop in nature. Actually, it may be worse from a different perspective: you put in a LOT of time (gearing up) for the OPPORTUNITY (raiding) to gamble (random drop and/or loot rolls) on an item.

    I can always earn more money, but I can't get my time back.

    I'm also confounded by how much ire lockboxes get from people. I think it's a "do or do not" situation, and nothing else. Most arguments I see AGAINST them are from people concerned with how OTHERS use them, or how OTHERS might be spending tons of money on them. It's nice that everyone is so concerned for the financial well-being of their fellow players, but all it takes is a personal decision to just...ignore them. And that's that.

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    1. The "gambling" aspect of raiding is the point of my first paragraph. ;)

      You're right about it being a concern for other people, in part. I don't see anything wrong being concerned for my fellow players. In my my case, it's not really ire. The other concern I have, at least in PWE/Cryptic games, is the annoying stream of announcement that so-n-so has acquired Epic Pixels. I am sure the intend is to entice me to spend money on keys. Instead, it just irritates me and acts as a disincentive to even spend time in the game.

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  2. I think ultimately that is the catch there. Players who tend to value their money way more than they value their time... or at least they have an ample surplus of time, tend to be anti-cash shop scenarios. Whereas players who value their time far more than money, or again have potentially a surplus of it, are far more open to removing the time sink by throwing money at it.

    Essentially those with the money want to buy more time... those with the time want to convert it to money.

    I don't mind loot boxes there are just some that feel a bit more egregious than others. I am looking at you SWTOR with your "magic the gathering" style card packs that seem to come out on a monthly basis each with unique goodies that can only be obtained through them. But that particular ire has nothing to do with the boxes existing, but only that they have no function to really get those items other than spinning the roulette wheel. Admittedly I still end up spending my monthly free cartel points on boxes for a shot at something cool.

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    1. LOL So you're mostly mad because you haven't won anything yet? ;)

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    2. Nah I am not really mad, I just find their conversion one of the worst simply because they locked away a bunch of base features and made them cash shop only. Like being able to choose a title to show... or use the cosmetic gear color match system. I have gotten nifty things from the boxes, like really nifty things. I don't think I would spend money on them, but I am happy to spend my freebie points on them.

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  3. What's your position on lockboxes that come for free? Most MMOs that have them also have a chance, sometimes small, sometimes quite generous, for players to open them for nothing. In GW2 and Rift you occasionally get free keys. Much better, in EQ/EQ2, if you're a Gold subscriber you get a set number of free packs of LON cards per month, each of which has a chance to contain all kinds of Epic Pixels along with many cards for the card game no-one plays.

    If there was a subscription MMO which had no cash shop at all but in which lockboxes dropped in exactly the way they do in LotRO or GW2, and if those lockboxes had the same kind of Epic Pixels and the Epic Pixels had the same chance of appearing in any given lockbox as they do in the paid-for kind, would that spoil a game? What if they dropped but you had to pay in-game currency to open them? What if you the boxes dropped all over the place but you had to grind, or raid to get the keys?

    Is the real issue the spending of actual dollars and the potential financial difficulties that could cause vulnerable adults or is it the randomized process of acquisition itself?

    Is there one, overriding, irrefutable moral answer to the problem or is it relative, case-by-case, dependent on circumstance? Is anyone ever likely to agree with anyone else on this?

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    1. Hehe probably not ;)
      for me the discussion gets patronizing when we claim 'some' players can't control themselves. first off, I don't see any proof of this other than that one person in a million (usually we read some chinese guy spent 16k on something..and then we still don't know if that affected his life badly. what if he was rich?). this gets applied to everyday, the way mass media apply one violent person in a million to gaming. how goes the saying: exceptions don't make for good regulations / laws?

      Gaming is a limited affair the way gambling is not. my brother was a crazy UO addict for 2 years who amassed a bit of a phone bill (he then had to pay back to my parents). but he was like the majority of all gamers who get too hooked sometime - his spree passed. he learned a lesson and it's not like life ended in bankruptcy.

      We can never completely protect people with 'addictive tendencies' (as you said too Rowan) from themselves - neither can games. old vanilla WoW had its addicts and I have a hard time seeing how grinding MC for a year for a "chance on the correct tier1" was truly different from a lockbox with a chance on something. you can grind for those keys too and you can call that 'work'. :)
      I agree some games and mechanisms, such as we find in Las Vegas, fuel addictive behavior creating a toxic cocktail but that's worlds apart from lockboxes in GW2 (for reasons I tried to elaborate on). I think if we take offense in those, we basically create a double standard; the mechanism/hook of grinding for RNG already exists in MMOs, only less blatantly so. it is possibly one of the most common motivators in games.

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    2. Oh I just wanna add - I don't like lockboxes myself :D I find them super boring and I used to vendor the ones I got in WoW lol. in GW2 I only open them if I happen to get keys for free. even if it's all RNG hunting, I like the illusion of a journey ;)

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    3. Like Syl, I'll open Lockboxes with keys I get for free. But there is not a significant difference between those that pay gobs of cash and those that spend gobs of time trying for a random drop, IMHO. Either way, it's feeding an addictive tendency. "This next time, I may hit the jackpot."

      It does have something to do with that ineffable quality of money that Syl referenced from the University of Zurich study. "Free" Random boxes in games that are financed in other ways, or are part of the perks of a subscription don't rub me the wrong way in the way that cash keys do. After all, almost every kill in an MMO is a loot piñata.

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  4. 2% of the population has problems with gambling? Not really surprised or shocked by that, lol. Not all lockboxes were created equal. With STO I've bought everything I've ever wanted from the lockboxes without spending a real life dime because of the two way currency conversion. In Uncharted Waters Online though, I have no way to do that, and so, ultimately, they have gotten none of my money to that end of their cash shop. I've spent about the same amount of money on both games overall though, so anecdotal-ly, I can't say anything more than that.

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    1. When you say you bought everything you've ever wanted from the lockboxes, do you mean you opened the boxes themselves, or bought what others were selling through the exchange or directly from the item store?

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    2. Through the exchange/item store using in game cash converted to the RMT cash (dilithium to zen).

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