or, “Why Lootboxes are so goddamn bad to me”.
by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I’m back, Internet! It was a nice few days of relaxation and catching up with friends and family alike. One conversation, in particular, happened to be about Battlefront 2. A friend of mine is playing it, with the Microtransaction stuff out of the game (but we both know it’s coming back before too long), and his thoughts on it were, “I want to play it now, because in four months nobody will be playing it” and I have a feeling that just might come to pass. Which is fine, I don’t even have it. Their openly predatory practices will not earn them my money. And I do think EA are sincerely, genuinely sorry. They’re sorry they got caught. They’re sorry that they can’t make infinite money on top of an already guaranteed gold mine (RE: Star Wars). How many major Star Wars titles didn’t make boatloads of money? Spoiler Warning: Not all that goddamn many. They had a good thing and blatantly ruined it, which I personally trace back to Overwatch. Activision-Blizzard realized they could get people to buy lootboxes in a retail-priced game, and other people did too. But this led me back to think, why are lootboxes so bad for me?
I love cosmetic stuff, and everyone likes having the “new cool thing”. But why are they so addictive to me personally? I have spent unfortunate amounts of money on League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. It’s why I don’t play those anymore. Well, I play the odd League match when I need to or to keep up with the meta/in-game adjustments. But what I was doing was arguably worse than said friend who would just dump tons into a game with lootboxes all at once. What I did was, pick up like 20 in lootbox stuff, here and there, maybe once or twice a paycheck. I would justify it to myself as “It’s just a little bit, just something nice for myself once in a while”, and then it would spiral out of control. There would always be “one” skin I wanted, even if I didn’t play the character. For Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, it’s not quite as predatory, in that they’re free to play. However, League’s new “Blue Essence” system is predatory and is a terrible grind. It is funneling players into spending money on champs instead of getting them with in-game currency. If you’re new, trying to get champions, it’s way harder now. So, my personal justification was a blatant lie. I know how much I’ve spent on League of Legends over the past six or seven years, and it’s a very disappointing number (to me. I’m sure Riot loves it). Even if a fair amount of it was stuff given to other people to do something nice for a friend, it was still a bad idea.
So why is this such a hard thing for me to deal with? It’s not, anymore. I’ve become very good at just not playing these games, which does mean I avoid things that are fun and I do enjoy, but it’s just safer this way. But why? My friend made a very excellent point. We were both Magic: the Gathering players, pretty hardcore at it too. He asked me, “What is the best feeling in the world? Cracking open a pack of cards”. And he’s right. He’s fucking right. I love the feeling of popping open a few packs of MTG cards, even if I don’t need or even want anything out of them. I’ve helped people crack boxes of cards, just because I love the feeling of seeing what comes out of them. I’m usually disappointed, but that downer is immediately replaced by another pack of cards coming to life in my hands. Hell, when the Pokemon TCG went online, I cracked dozens, possibly hundreds of packs. Now, those I got for virtually nothing, because the Internet is a wonderful place, but I still did it and didn’t even need them. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I uninstalled beore it could get worse. But that’s why. Because cracking open packs of Magic cards is damn addictive. It’s just the best feeling. And that’s what lootboxes are. They’re glorified card packs. At least in MTG booster packs, I’m guaranteed a rare. It might be a garbage rare with no real monetary value, but I know there’s one in there.
Lootboxes generally aren’t guaranteed anything, and in some games (until recently), you could get piles of duplicates in them. I once popped 10 boxes in Overwatch, only to find two new items. I received that many damn duplicate items. That was towards the end, when I was so frustrated, I really sat down and looked in the mirror to see what I was wasting my time and money on. And the worst part, I think, is that these companies do not care about the well-being and health of their paying customers. They just want more money. European countries are starting to see that these forms of lootboxes are gambling, and are dangerous/unhealthy. They started off as a way to make money for free-to-play games, and that’s fine! As long as it isn’t turned into something you have to do in order to succeed, then it’s fine. But companies started to see they could make a profit with no real ceiling. Even if it’s bought used, even if they don’t get a single penny off of the actual product, they can still make money off of the lootboxes as that goes 100% back to them, and not to Gamestop, Amazon, or anywhere else. Over the years, hundreds, thousands of dollars from me alone has been sunk into these glorified gambling chests. Is Magic: the Gathering gambling? In its own way, yes. But you know exactly how many of each rarity you’ll get. Except for the odd shiny rare/legendary, you know what’s going to be in there. It’s still dangerous, but that’s part of what makes it so great.
But what scares me, is Magic: the Gathering Arena. I love MTG, but I haven’t played seriously, competitively for a few years now. It’s not healthy for me financially unless I started going to tournaments regularly, but that requires me to keep up with the Standard Meta, which is horribly expensive. That’s why I played Legacy/etc, which really only required one deck or two. They were pricey, but they never really had to change unless I sincerely wanted to. But MTG: Arena will be a free-to-play version of Magic online, with the current Meta/cards available. And you know I’ll be reviewing it, as the resident card player on the roster. But I’m afraid because I know how tempting it will be to crack packs to get cards. I know the temptation, and it’s real. It might sound melodramatic, but it’s not. It’s a real, sincere fear, and I know quite a few people that feel the same. If they turn it into a grind, where you must spend money to be relevant, it will just get uninstalled. I won’t have a choice. But that, to me, is the danger of a lootbox.