Ubisoft recently announced in their yearly earnings call that they are going to shift its focus from AAA games titles towards creating more free-to-play games. Additionally promising that this decision will not effect the number of AAA paid titles released.
The Ubisoft share has plummeted during Q1 2021 and took another nosedive after announcing their future projections in their latest earnings report, despite the report exceeding last years quarterly report by a wide margin. On the negative side, the future projections are not looking as great, with f.e. open-world pirate game Skull & Bones being delayed into 2022. It is likely in the light of this forecast they are aiming to transform the model in which their earnings are achieved.
CFO Frédérick Duguet: “Our FY22 line-up will be the most diversified we have ever had, with ambitious post-launch plans as well as premium and F2P new releases. Our financial targets reflect these growth initiatives which are intended to generate significant value over the long term.”
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot: “Additionally, we are building high-end free-to-play games to be trending towards AAA ambitions over the long-term.”
Only the future will tell if these promises will be kept or not. And most interesting, exactly what kind of micro-transaction models will be implemented in the games?
The video game developer Electronic Arts has been fined €10M for the use of loot boxes in the football IP “FIFA”. Loot boxes contain random items in exchange for payment, and are often targeted to the younger audience. EA was given the fine notice during the last year, but has since then then appealed the ruling to the Dutch authorities. The court followed the Dutch gambling authority’s opinion, which is that these kinds of elements have no place in video games.
The video game industry group, Entertainment Software Association, announced the new initiative on Wednesday after a loot box meeting with the Federal Trade Commission. The initiative includes the publishers Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to require all publishers of games on their respective platforms to disclose the odds of obtaining all types of in-game items from purchased loot boxes in their future game titles.
These include the following companies: Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, Bethesda, Bungie, EA, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., and Wizards of the Coast. According to the ESA, there are other publishers which also are considering joining the agreement. If they do not, they will not be able to publish their games on the Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch platforms. Other platforms such as the PC are not included.
Exactly when the agreement will come to full effect in the future titles is not yet something that has been disclosed, but the current plan seems to be to roll the changes out during 2020.
This initiative tells us that publishers have acknowledged that their business model is under scrutiny, and that they want to be able to come better equipped with arguments for future hearings by trade commissions and politicians. However, it is not an argument than can be used when it comes to offering loot boxes to minors, since they are less likely to understand how probability theory works.
Recently the Swedish national radio, SR, reported that some children are bullied by other children for not possessing the latest in-game clothes, aka “skins”, which alter the visuals of the game character.
Polygon also reported in an extensive article, that the bullying is making children spend money to stop being harassed for being a “default”, someone who has the basic look of the character. In the eyes of the children, the way your characters looks, reflect your in-game skill. Something a more experienced player knows is entirely untrue. A pair of expensive football shoes don’t make you a great football player.
The National Board for Consumer Complaints in Sweden has received at least ten complaints from parents whose children have spent money ranging from €100 to €2000 without the parents’ permission. For parents, it is important to make sure it is not possible for a child to spend money like this, but part of the responsibility also lies in the hands of the developer. It’s our strong opinion that age verification for any in-game purchase should become mandatory for all games which contain micro-transactions.
It’s important that parents, even though they do not play games themselves, talk to their children about in-game cosmetics in general. Games are about playing and having fun together, no matter how you look, and are not supposed to turn into on-line, ever present stores which provide endless transactions of “digital vapor“.
Last week four representatives from the games industry were invited to the British Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for a questioning session regarding their video games. The industry representatives were Kerry Hopkins, vice president of legal and government affairs at EA, Shaun Cambell, EA UK and Ireland Country manager, Matthew Weissinger, Epic Games Director, Marketing and Canon Pence, Epic Games General Counsel.
The committee began by asking the representatives questions if they kept track of play time, age data and if they kept track of how much a player has spent in microtransactions within a game.
It was when Scottish National Party MP Brendan O’Hara brought the topic to loot boxes things started to get really interesting. When O’Hara asked the question: “Do you consider loot boxes to be an ethical feature?” EA’s Kerry Hopkins replied that they don’t call them “loot boxes” but rather “surprise mechanics”, something that made O’Hara chuckle. She continued by saying that people enjoy surprises and that it has been part of toys for years in products like Kinder Eggs, Hatchimals or LOL Surprise. “The way we have implemented these mechanics is actually quite ethical and quite fun and enjoyable to people”.
It is evident that EA felt pressured about these questions and the public concern about their “surprise mechanics”, especially considering that they make up quite a large part of their profit margin. In the end, our opinion is that it is up the game provider to make sure children and adolescents under the age of 18 are not exposed to these kinds of features, since they are not equipped with the right tools to fully understand they are being duped into spending their allowance on digital nothings.
In the latest patch for Heroes of the Storm Blizzard has removed the ability to purchase the in-game loot boxes for gems, i.e. real money. It is not stated why they suddenly decided to take this action, but the recent events in Belgium and Netherlands with the respective governments taking action against EA for their FIFA loot boxes is probably the reason why.
The patch notes state:
- Loot chests are no longer available for Gem purchase.
- Rare loot chests are now available for Gold purchase (3000 each).
We see this as a safety precaution as ActivisionBlizzard has received a lot of bad press lately and probably didn’t want to add more fuel to the fire. Given the state that Heroes of the Storm is in right now, we speculate that the income generated from gem sales are probably really low.
I don’t think anyone is really surprised to hear that loot boxes will be added to Black Ops 4 in its upcoming patch, as Activision has been caught lying to their customers on multiple occasions already. We all remember how we were told that Black Ops 4 wouldn’t even contain any sort of micro-transactions, only to see it being added to the game AFTER release, when all the game reviews had been written and most gamers had already purchased the game.
In this new effort of cramming that extra dollar out of their customers, they bring us the “Reserve case”, a euphemism for a loot box that will be sold for $2 in the in-game store. We are told that the contents will be cosmetic only, but we already kind of know that will change in the future…
Activision is in desperate need of increased revenue growth as their last earnings call didn’t impress their shareholders. After sacking 800 employees, mainly from their customers support divisions, this is the next step of the plan, increasing the monetization of their current products. By the looks of it, they are willing to pay any price in terms of relations to their customers, not that they have a great reputation to begin with. Maybe that’s how the reasoning went behind this decision. How much worse can their reputation actually become?
EA and Bioware have been very silent regarding what kind of pricing model ANTHEM would release with. We knew early on that the store wouldn’t contain loot boxes, only cosmetic items, but then gamers in the beta found out that the cost of cosmetics were quite ridiculous with its $20 skins. Journalists have tried to get a response on the matter, but with statements like “this is just an iteration of the final product”, suspicion began to arise.
Now that the game is released for
everyone: What does the store look like, what does it have to offer
and what do the items cost? There are two currencies in the game,
coins and shards, and as for now you can purchase all items with
either of the currency type. While coins can be earned in game,
shards can only be bought for real money in the following amounts. As
usual there is a small bonus of shards the more money you spend.
- 500 shards $4.99
- 1050 shards $9.99
- 2200 shards $19.99
- 4600 shards $39.99
The baseline is basically that $1 will
buy you a 100 shards. For your shards you can purchase armor packs,
which are skins for your Javelin, the exosuit of your character,
fabrics or metals, material customization for the exosuit, and lastly
decals for your suit, which are exactly what they sound like.
While the pricing is not near as bad as it was in the beta, it doesn’t seem that EA are embarrassed by selling skins for almost $10 in a full priced $60 game, and they will probably continue in this manner unless we as gamers start calling them out. Not once, but game release after game release, by not purchasing games which contain these elements we don’t like. How much grindier the game has been made is a question only EA can answer. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.
In April of 2018, Belgium contested the in-game purchasable player packs in EA’s FIFA, claiming them to be of a gambling nature since you don’t know the outcome of the purchase. This meant that EA would have to have a license to sell the packs, which they didn’t. EA has basically been violating the Belgian law for quite a while.
The good news is that EA has finally made the decision to stop selling the “loot boxes” in Belgium and they are very sorry on their customers behalf since they are not able to provide that service any longer. Well, good riddance.
It remains to be seen if other European countries will follow suit. Something we dearly hope here at Don’t Pay the Game, and think they at least should consider, especially since FIFA games are marketed towards individuals with an age of less than 18. The game has rating of 3 (years old), which makes the situation even more concerning. Does your child purchase the player packs? The biggest question of them all is though… Why aren’t games containing loot boxes forced to be rated 18+?
When you think Activision can’t sink any lower with Black Ops 4, here they are, surprising us all again. Their latest addition to the in-game shop is a red dot reticle for your reflex sight, and they are charging the equivalent of $1 for it.
“But it’s just $1.” I prefer to phrase it the other way around. “It’s just a red dot!” To be frank, I don’t see where Activision get the balls to try and charge gamers $1 for a few red pixels. Surely they have to understand that a scheme like this will blow up in their face and put more fuel to the fire of “Cashtivision”
So why do they do this? To get players credit card numbers on the hook. Players who would never spend anything in the game otherwise but think “But it’s just $1.” When the next “crazy sale” of 50% off digital items opens up, it’s only one click of a button away…