Monday, October 2, 2017

Gaming Round-Up: Microtransaction Criticism

"Fallout" by Fabled Creative

Behind the addictive psychology and seductive art of loot boxes by Alex Wiltshire: “Loot boxes are everywhere. They're in shooters, RPGs, card games, action games and MOBAs. They also take the form of packs, chests and crates. They're filled with voice lines, weapon skins, new pants or materials to get you more loot boxes. They're in free games and paid ones, singleplayer and multiplayer. They can be free to open and paid for with real money. You may feel an almost violent antipathy to the very idea of them, but you've probably also opened a fair few. The appeal isn't hard to grasp. Opening a loot box is a rush: a moment of anticipation followed by release. That colourful animated flurry is often accompanied by disappointment, but is sometimes with the joy of getting exactly the item that you wanted. And then you feel the gambler's pull to open another, pushing you back into the game to grind or digging into your wallet to earn or buy your next one.”

For Honor, Halo Wars 2 Push The Boundaries Of Microtransactions by James Kozanitis: “Microtransactions of any kind in video games will always irk consumers, even in a game like Overwatch that is sold at a relative discount ($40) and only has cosmetic bonuses available for purchase. Throw in microtransactions that actually affect the game or give someone a competitive advantage, and you've just invited a village of pro-consumers to sharpen their pitchforks and come after you. Of course, there are a few different schools of thought, with arguments both for and against. The argument of time vs money is the most compelling. The basic argument is one type of gamer has more time than he has money, so he can use that time to invest in unlocking better upgrades, and the other type of gamer has more money than he has time, so he can use his money to gain an advantage he wouldn't be able to gain through time. But, that falls short when you complicate things any further. What if you have more money than I have time? Better yet, what if you have both money and time? Better yet, what if you have more money and time than I have either? Then is this microtransaction model fair?”

The Future of Gaming: Free DLCs and Paid Microtransactions by Boston Blake: “Over the course of the last two decades, the gaming industry has seen significant shifts in how video games are created and played. Thanks to improvements in technology and graphics, games have better, more realistic visuals. Thanks to the growth and expansion of the internet, gamers can now play in real time with friends and strangers from around the globe. More recently, there’s been a shift in the way video game developers collect revenue: namely DLCs and microtransactions. In fact, despite the negative rap many gamers hold toward microtransactions, there’s no denying it’s an effective means of income for video game companies. This shift has been so lucrative, in fact, that this Game Rant writer believes it will be an integral part of the future of gaming. The last few years have taught us that gamers have high expectations for video game developers, to the point that even a minor flaw in an otherwise stellar game can spell disaster for a game’s potential sales. This changing mindset among gamers has led to new practices by the gaming industry that will forever change the future of gaming.”

The maddening genius of the loot box by Nick Statt: “The most astounding part is that none of this matters at all. Every item is cosmetic: they won’t make you run faster, deal more damage, or collaborate better with your teammates. Everything Blizzard has included in the update, and every update prior to the anniversary event, is designed to be an aesthetic flourish. You can get your hands on a funny dance animation, or a slickly designed new skin that makes a character look like a futuristic space marine or even a beekeeper. More than anything, the anniversary event illustrates why Blizzard’s business model for Overwatch is such a successful departure for multiplayer shooters — and how it could become the gold standard going forward. Because Blizzard doesn’t sell in-game currency at a 1:1 ratio, like many other modern games with collectibles, players are forced to buy bulk packs of loot boxes. These boxes have a random chance of dropping something you’ll want. But more often than not, they contain stuff you already have. There’s also a currency in the game that will let you buy items directly, yet you can only earn that currency by opening a loot box. So think of this system as like trading card booster packs, where you might have a slight chance of getting a rare card grouped in with a bunch of so-so ones.”

Microtransactions Are Hurting and Devaluing Video Games by Taneli Palola: “Over the last few years microtransactions have become increasingly more commonplace within the video game industry, popping up in a huge number of high profile games as video game companies have realized the potential profits that can be made from them. This system is understandable in free-to-play games where microtransactions are the only source of income for the developer. A good example of a game like this would be something like Dota 2, where the main purpose of microtransactions is to buy cosmetic changes to the various characters in the game, while the game itself and all of the characters remain free-to-play for everyone. However, the use of microtransactions in games becomes an issue when they are used in full priced premium titles. We already have to deal with things like pre-order bonuses, season passes, barely justifiable DLC, content cut from the base game to later sell as said DLC, and so on. It's been a long time since the video game you bought was the one you got and that was it.

The Seven Stages Of Spending Too Much Money In Games by Nathan Grayson: ““I was like you once,” says an old man with a beard down to his belt, sitting in the corner of a bar. You think he’s talking to you, but maybe he’s shouting in hopes that someone will listen. “I told myself I’d never buy loot boxes or heroes or none of that,” he whimpers. “How wrong I was.” Twist: the old man is me. For the longest time, my policy with games like Overwatch and, more recently, Fire Emblem: Heroes was “earn or die... or go play a different video game.” Slowly but surely, though, things changed. Here, today, I’m going to chronicle the agonizing process that transformed me into a penniless pauper who shouts in bars—an old twenty-something rich in skins, but poor in friends, love, and life.”

Shadow of War developer discusses the game's controversial loot boxes by Tom Phillips: “Last month, big budget Lord of the Rings game Middle-earth: Shadow of War revealed it would supplement its full-fat price-tag by including loot boxes purchasable with real-world money. It was an announcement which, predictably, did not go down well with fans. The single-player action adventure has an in-game store, called the Market, that sells orcs and other items for use in the game's Nemesis System. You can also buy loot chests, war chests, XP boosts and bundles. The loot chests contain gear (weapons and armour) of varying rarity. They can also contain XP boosts which, as you'd expect, help level up playable character Talion faster. War chests provide orc followers of varying rarity which you can use to help create a strong army. They can also contain training orders to level up and customise orc followers. Publisher Warner Bros. accompanied the announcement with reassurances - that anything gained from the loot boxes could also be earned by simply playing the game, that the microtransactions could be ignored completely, and that they were simply an option offered to players as a way of saving time. So why include them at all? The commercial argument is clear - these things make money and, yes, some of this money will go to supporting the game's developer. But by acknowledging the need to reassure fans it was clear Warner knew this announcement would draw fire Shadow of War's way.”

The Troubling Psychology of Pay-to-Loot Systems by Nathan Lawrence: ““In behavioural psychology, that randomised system of reward is the one that creates the most addiction,” says Emil Hodzic, who runs the Video Game Addiction Treatment Clinic. “That’s the one that causes all the drama.” This comment comes from an interview about microtransactions tied to random number generator (RNG) card packs, or what I call “pay-to-loot”. It’s a system that exists beyond genres and irrespective of the price of a game. It’s becoming more common, too. You can find it in Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Gears of War 4, Dirty Bomb and Hearthstone, to name a handful of names that constantly arose while researching this piece. Publishers will tell you these RNG microtransactions are optional, and to an extent that’s true, but they’re baked into the games in question, and are offered via a number of access points. Sure, you can spend a few (or a lot of) real-world bucks, but you can also use artificial in-game currency… all to buy what amounts to uncertainty. That’s how RNG systems work. What may have been a shiny loot drop one time, isn’t likely to repeat again anytime soon because of predetermined loot drop rates.”

Why Opening Loot Boxes Feels Like Christmas, According To Game Devs by Cecilia D'Anastasio: “Overwatch box animations maximize on anticipation. They break open, shake, spit into the air and rain down items, never revealing what you receive until the very end. The rewards almost feel tacked-on to the opening experience. “When you start opening a loot box, we want to build anticipation,” Heiberg said. “We do this in a lot of ways — animations, camera work, spinning plates, and sounds. We even build a little anticipation with the glow that emits from a loot box’s cracks before you open it.” Originally, colored lights preceding the spinning plates hinted at the items’ rarity. It drew the eye to one item in particular at the expense of others. “We quickly learned that this was too early, and it killed your anticipation of the box’s contents,” Heiberg said.”

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