Loot crates – Death by a hundred microtransactions?

Recently there was a great disturbance in the Force.  As if a million wallets cried out in terror and were suddenly locked away from EA’s avaricious gaze!

Ok, that might be overdoing it a touch but the feelings around paid for loot crates/boxes have been growing stronger by the month.  For those not in the know, a loot crate contains a variety of items that can either be new and unique skins that your character can wear, various weapon perks or abilities or even weapons themselves.

The idea of loot crates has been around for some time now, especially within free to play (F2P) games – particularly on mobile platforms – and that you need to part with real money in order to get them.  Now it can be argued that this is a necessary evil for F2P games as the developers and publishers need some kind of revenue to keep the wolves from the door and to continue to produce new updates and new games.  However, this starts to get a lot harder to argue when applying the model to full-price games such as the much vaunted upcoming release of Star Wars Battlefront 2.

There was a very large and negative reaction to the idea of the Star Cards (the ability buffs that characters get) would only be available via loot crates and that those could be purchased.  The impression being that weapons and characters will be buffed via these cards and that people spending extra money will have an unfair advantage.  This is particularly galling as everyone will have already paid upwards of £50 for the game in the first place.

There has been some explanation from DICE around how it works (you may well unlock a Star Card but you won’t be able to use it till your character is a certain level for instance) but the proof, of course, will be in the digital pudding come its November release date.  It has been said though that this new emphasis on loot crates for extra revenue is an inevitable spin off from the new free DLC model being rolled out for this game.

One of the biggest criticisms of a number of games over recent years has been the reliance by studios on DLC’s for maps and characters that have the effect of dividing a gaming community when it should be bringing them together.  An example of this can be Battlefield 1 and it’s DLC model.  So far, within the last year, two DLC’s have been released.  If you purchased Premium then you get early access to that content before anyone else who purchases their DLC’s separately.  So in effect you have three tiers of gamers (Premium, DLC buyers, vanilla game only buyers) within one game.  This arguably dilutes the game down for many people and numbers start to drop off.

There is a counterpoint to the arguments that paid for DLC and loot crates are a necessary evil.  General game prices have not inflated at the same rate as many other products over the years to keep pace with the cost of development and so in order to develop and release AAA rated games there must be other revenue streams in order to do so.  Now this can be argued till the cows come home especially when you see smaller indie games such as Cuphead being released to great acclaim and polish.  But Cuphead and Battlefront 2 are very…VERY different beasts of course.

There is a third way however.  Games such as Rainbow Six Siege seem to have been able to balance this issue with DLC and loot crates out rather well at least in my humble opinion.  R6S has seasons that release content such as new characters (Operators) and maps.  If you buy the yearly season passes then you automatically unlock these early but otherwise it is available to all.  Other than that, you can build up percentage chances to open a loot crate that contains weapon skins of varying rarity.  Also, if you so wish, you can purchase extra skins, loot crates, point buffs etc.  But the biggest point here is that none of those give you extra advantages over players who have not bought them.

And that is the biggest point.  If someone like DICE can reform their crate system for SWBF2 where it is purely for cosmetic purposes only then people would be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.  The question then is would that give DICE/EA enough credits to feed their pet Krayt Dragon……………oooohhhhhh nerdy Star Wars reference!

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