Why I boycott games with loot boxes

This is a stance that I felt I have needed to express for some time, because while a lot of it is shrugged off or defended in some manner, there is one simple point that I do not think gets talked about often enough alongside it.

You just need to look at my following list on Twitter to know I like video games.

I enjoy DLC expansions, and consider a number of micro-transactions to be a nuisance more than a help, but I do not condone loot boxes in the slightest. I can honestly say everything I can't stand about how the majority of businesses seek to almost weaponise the desire to obtain than what the lootbox offers, which says something when you look at my career history.

But I am also very lucky, the majority of games I enjoy to play do not work well with such a mechanic. For me, video games are so much more than blasting at or racing other people online, they're a powerful storytelling medium with arguably more to offer the consumer than any other medium. As the power of technology has grown, the possibilities of games has soared.

However, much like Hollywood has with films, the biggest names in video game publishing have found a formula that they believe will create success for them and as such have pursued it to saturation. Call of Duty, among others, is an annual affair, and publishers have sought more and more ways to make money out of consumers than the original price, enabled by downloadable content. DLC was something that was offered should the creators develop more content after release, now it's a normality. Now, it's normal to see such content included with pre-orders, let alone everything else.

Loot boxes are especially insidious to me because they bank on a consumer willing to pay and pay and pay until they get the item that they want from it. It's more money for less effort unless the player is exceptionally lucky, and odds are such a player is few and far between. There's also that sense of chance that is parallel to slot machines and other senses of gambling. Some people are prone to getting addicted to it, as it is that time between the bet being made and the results

However, the sorts of games that get away with this more than others are games that don't require one element of development (or, at least, get away with a minimal version thereof) that the games I enjoy depend on, the development of a great story. Games like Overwatch and Call of Duty don't need much by means of a story, the entertainment players get comes from other players, ally or enemy alike.

Sandbox games like Assassin's Creed, however, don't get away with this anywhere near as easily. I played Assassin's Creed: Unity, the first of the series where Ubisoft added micro-transactions to the main game and frankly, that was a mess. Seeing a long grind that was clearly there solely to test my patience after a short stint of what felt like older games just prompted me to eject the disc and not play it again, and that is bearing in mind that it was a buggy mess around Christmas, a month after launch. Syndicate didn't seem as intrusive, but there was enough in the experience tree and everything else to remind me that Ubisoft wants to uncap what they earn out of me just overpowers the sense of satisfaction I seek. So when Origins came out last year, I explicitly told Xander I didn't want it. Being someone who doesn't like the idea of loot boxes either, it wasn't a problem to him.

Stardew Valley
It's no secret to the gaming community that big mouthpieces lie to us and sometimes, sales in and of themselves prove that. Stardew Valley's success is proof that players don't just want high-fidelity graphics. Persona 5 is a story-based, single player dungeon trawler that saw success that Atlus didn't see coming, proven by the fact that the limited Take Your Heart edition was sold out entirely in pre-orders and physical editions became hard to come by quite quickly. Resident Evil 7 went back to its roots, releasing last year to commercial success. Hellbalde: Senua's Sacrifice, an independent title from an established name (its developer, Ninja Theory, created Heavenly Sword and DmC: Devil may Cry) published independently with grassroots marketing, received praise and success as a game as well as for its expression of mental illness. Monster Hunter World, a game that thrives on true player choice (14 different weapon trees and both solo and online options of play) offers free sizeable DLC and collaborative quests while paid-for extras are trivial at best. Less than two months after launch, it was announced to be Capcom's best selling single game of all time.

The thing is, games are not a product in the same sense as food, clothes or ornaments. They are a medium, something that calls for us as their consumers to dedicate our time to them. All the more worth thinking about when games can ask for hundreds of hours of our time. What will ultimately make a game a success or failure in the eyes of the public is not just how many copies sell, but how much enjoyment those people get. I'm fairly confident that Metal Gear Survive will not be seen as a success no matter how much it sells, because it has none of the spirit of the franchise it is claimed to be part of.

But we are long past the point where we could possibly play all the games that exist in their entirety. A lifetime is no longer enough, and thanks to digital distribution, games don't just have to compete with their contemporaries, but with classics that people, for one reason or another, couldn't play before. For me at least, that's a pretty extensive list, and some RPGs can easily command hundreds of hours of our time. So for me at least, boycotting games with loot boxes (and overly intrusive micro-transactions) isn't just logical to me as a consumer, I am not missing out as a player. Now that European countries are starting to clamp down on it (I'm cheering for the Netherlands and Belgium right now for seeing things as they are) I'm going to kick back and wait for the bubble to burst.


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