Overwatch’s loot boxes have come under fire recently
If you’ve typed the words ‘video gaming industry’ up in any search engine, I’m positive that the words ‘loot boxes’ would have followed it. Lately, loot boxes have caused quite a stir throughout the video gaming community, and with good reason!
I confess I’ve not noticed the use of loot boxes in AAA gaming until recently. It never bothered me either – until recently. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen it on mobile platforms, such as Temple Run and even then I found it a bit strange, but figured it was necessary. I should say at the time I was ignorant about the topic and felt that mobile gaming needed more money than most, marketing-wise in particular.
Today, I’m still a bit ignorant but after reading more and more about loot boxes and the controversy surrounding them, I feel that Blizzard’s CEO’s statement about Overwatch’s loot boxes is something that needs to be talked about.
Before I delve right into it, the controversy of loot boxes in simpler terms seems to boil down to this: monetisation and the link to gambling. Now the ESRB has already stated to Kotaku that they do not consider loot boxes as gambling, so, case closed, am I right?
In a galaxy not so far away, microtransactions and loot boxes are a thing now
It was inevitable that before discussing Overwatch, we would need to talk about Battlefront II. Granted, Battlefront II has gotten rid of that god-awful season pass and all DLC content is now free, however, the reveal of loot boxes and microtransactions have left more than a few fans reeling.
I had the pleasure to play the open beta of Battlefront II a day or two after it went live, and I can thoroughly say I was thrashed the moment I started to play. There are two reasons for this:
1. I’m awful at aiming, jumping, doing anything that isn’t me smashing a lightsaber in someone’s face.
2. I had players with Star Cards that could completely annihilate me.
Now DICE has spoken out about the complaints and have promised that they are changing how their system works, including their matchmaking. That is brilliant and DICE should be applauded for their readiness to listen to their fans – but why was this a problem in the first place?
To be frank: it looked as though Battlefront II’s loot boxes were a pay-to-win situation, which goes to say, you would need to invest a lot of money in to get ahead. A thing that would make any Destiny player shiver at the thought, right? And honestly, if that was the case and DICE hadn’t agreed they would make changes, the fall-out could have been legendarily awful.
So what am I getting at with Overwatch? If Overwatch’s loot boxes aren’t helping to win and if that’s clearly the problem here then what is the darn issue?
Overwatch, you are and aren’t part of the problem
When compared to a game like Battlefront II, Overwatch’s loot box system seems reasonably harmless. You get four boxes, you don’t HAVE to pay for them and even better – all of the items are cosmetics. They have no standing on how well you do on Overwatch, trust me, not even Ana’s pirate skin will get me into Diamond.
In that way what Blizzard’s CEO says is correct, Overwatch loot boxes are not part of the controversy that has dominated the internet. Or… Are they? It would be naive to completely let Overwatch and Blizzard off the hook.
Cosmetic items may not change the skill of the player, but it is a powerful tool that players use in order to express and personify themselves to others around them. Through emotes, skins, the spamming of certain voice lines and sprays, you can arguably already gauge what a player is like. Therefore they are important to how players interact with one another.
But self-expression in Overwatch is limited by two things: how willing you are to invest your time in grinding to get that sweet loot and how many times you can dip into your purse to buy that loot straight from the store. But neither of these are reliable if you’re after a certain cosmetic item, and as much as I hate to say it, it is a gamble each and every time you earn these loot boxes.
OverWATCH out for your money!
“What about gold?” Again, you’re right. Gold can be earned through loot boxes and are significantly helpful in being able to pick and choose what cosmetics you want. That is, of course, if you didn’t buy anything before Blizzard decided to change the loot drop rating in Overwatch. What I mean by that is since the loot drop rates in Overwatch changed (and for the better, may I add) the chances of earning duplicates have all but vanished off the face of the earth. With duplicates you were able to obtain a small amount of money, which was helpful even if earing duplicates was beyond infuriating at times. Very rarely do I get duplicates now and even more rarely do I find myself with a loot box full of gold.
It seems a lose/lose situation to me. The now lower rate of duplicates and the low value of gold in comparison to the costly cosmetics makes the system Overwatch has a deeply unsatisfying one. There’s also the fact that some players are collectors, so these cosmetic items are something they desire for their own personal reasons. Sure it gives Overwatch a replayability that even I’ve fallen for more than a few times (Reaper’s Dracula skin WILL be mine…one day.) But the grinding to get to it? Well, it doesn’t even feel like grinding because each loot box you get doesn’t have a guarantee to give you the item you’re after!
Though the issues of loot boxes doesn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon, it thankfully does not take away that Overwatch is an enjoyable game. Despite its faults with their loot boxes, Overwatch remains a game that is successful and, at the very least, doesn’t grant you loot boxes that are pay-to-win – which already puts it ahead (ethically speaking) from a lot of other games that involve microtransactions.
Nevertheless, while it is understandable why Blizzard’s CEO would state that Overwatch’s loot boxes are not part of the controversy considering the intent for the loot boxes is for cosmetics, it goes without saying that loot boxes are designed to make companies money – regardless of intent.
But are loot boxes a necessary evil for the game industry to thrive, especially for games like Overwatch?
What do you think? Disagree? Leave a comment! Agree? Leave a comment! Let’s get this discussion going!