There has been plenty of discussion lately over loot boxes, but love or hate them they’re likely here to stay—at least in some form.
Let’s be clear, there are pros and cons to loot boxes—some new issues and some that have been around for decades. But a few minor changes in games may be all we need to fix the issue, rather than the all or nothing policy that some are now pushing for.
Some news outlets are arguing that loot boxes should be regulated like gambling; and these sentiments have even been echoed by politicians in various countries.
The main concern, however, isn’t necessarily that random items that give players an advantage are bad; or even necessarily that some level of microtransactions are bad. The issue is that the system is being pushed too hard by some companies (cough,* EA, cough*).
Of course, there are some methods to level the playing field; such as tools that can calculate your odds of coming out well, like betulator, but I would also argue that overall loot boxes aren’t so bad.
It wasn’t long ago that loot boxes had little controversy attached. If we were playing Diablo II in 2000, finding a treasure chest was seen as a great thing, and players formed their own organic markets to trade their prizes.
Sure, some players found unique items, and those items gave them a clear advantage in PVP modes. Some players sold their items for a pretty penny. And some liked to walk around the maps in their ultra-rare getups as we common folk gawked.
Instead of complaining that random chests were giving an unfair advantage to the more aggressive players, the element of random and vast rewards was seen as a perk in the game.
This didn’t really even change with loot boxes in highly-competetive games like Team Fortress or Counterstrike Go, where players have also built full markets to barter their virtual fedoras or ultra-rare stabby sticks. I think many fans of these games would be rather unhappy if their loot boxes suddenly disappeared.
With this said, I don’t believe the issue is the loot boxes in and of themselves. The problem is with a small number of developers who go way overboad on microtransactions, and don’t give players enough in return; or when players are somehow forced to pay out extra money—in addition to buying the game—in order to compete.
Remember, the debate around loot boxes only started heating up when EA released Star Wars Battlefront 2, and proceeded to charge gamers extra for nearly every character and object they could possibly find. The problem wasn’t just loot boxes—it was also EA selling extremely overpowered characters.
The elements of unlockable elements, character advancement, and having a chance to find ultra rare items are things that add to the fun of competitive games. And going by how these elements were implemented in the past, I think it’s fair to say the problem isn’t the loot boxes. The problem is when developers sell players incomplete games. And these are two very different things.