Ubisoft to focus on f2p titles

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?

Video Game Industry to disclose loot box drop rates

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.

Children bullied for “wrong” in game clothes

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“.

The Anthem in game store

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.

Street Fighter V receives MTX ads

Is there anything more annoying than that salesman, be it on the street, on the phone, or by your door, who wants to sell you that fantastic pen you already know you really don’t want? I don’t think so. A while ago Capcom announced that they would be adding advertisements to Street Fighter V during loading screens. Well, now they are here, and there is a catch if you want to turn them off. The ads will, at the moment, only be for in-game content such as cosmetics, but as a consumer I am very skeptical if it will remain this way.

The natural response from gamers when the news hit was, “absurd”, but the strong reaction didn’t stop Capcom from going through with their announcement. Don’t like that ads? Turn them off, but you won’t be getting that extra fight money in ranked and casual matches. In relation, basically nerfing the reward in comparision to players opting out.

Commercials and ads in games is nothing new, in sports games they’ve been around for a while, but in these cases, it comes across as natural and it’s not shoved into the face of the consumer, who paid $60 for a full game.

I sincerly hope that players of Street Figher make themselves heard, and most surely make sure to turn ads off. Capcom will be monitoring their internal statistics closely and if it turns out the benefit to these ads are greater than the bad will they create, you can bet your hat on you will be seeing this kind of behaviour even more. Vote with your wallets ladies and gentlemen.

FTC investigates loot boxes

The Federal Trade Commision in the USA, also known as the FTC,  have decided to investigate the Game Industry  practices regarding the sales of loot boxes in video games. This is very welcome news for gamers, but especially for parents around the world, as many children are exposed to these random content crates every day in their life, crates which essentially are designed around the mechanism of gambling.

It was Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), who brought up the topic of loot boxes in the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security.

Loot boxes are now endemic in the video game industry and are present in everything from casual smartphone games to the newest, high-budget video game releases. Loot boxes will represent a $50 billion industry by the year 2022, according to the latest research estimates. Children may be particularly susceptible to engaging with these in-game purchases, which are often considered integral components of video games. Just this month Great Britain’s gambling commission released a report finding that 30% of children have used loot boxes in video games. The report further found that this exposure may correlate with a rise of young problem gamblers in the United Kingdom. Belgium, Netherlands, and Japan have moved to regulate the use of loot boxes in video games given this close link to gambling.

It is very shocking news to hear that 30% of children in the UK have purchased loot boxes in video games, and it’s even more concerning that this exposure may correlate with a rise of young problem gamblers in the same region. Let that sink in, it’s a very infuriating thought, when we know that big conglomerates, like Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft are preying on children in this manner, children who are much more susceptible to the mirage of a loot box. As adults we have the responsibility to stand against these practices which may have an ever lasting effect on children growing up today, by accepting loot boxes as something perfectly normal. Hassan continues:

Given the seriousness of this issue, I think it is in fact time for the FTC to investigate these mechanisms to ensure that children are being adequately protected and to educate parents about potential addiction or other negative impacts of these games. Would you commit to undertaking this project and keeping this committee informed about it?

The chairman Joseph Simons replied with a “Yes.”. The instant response from the Entertainment Software Association was:

Loot boxes are one way that players can enhance the experience that video games offer,” the association said to Variety. “Contrary to assertions, loot boxes are not gambling. They have no real-world value, players always receive something that enhances their experience, and they are entirely optional to purchase. They can enhance the experience for those who choose to use them, but have no impact on those who do not.

That is a lot of enhancing for something which has no real world value. What a great business idea to sell digital items which don’t have any real world value, the wording brings the mind to a…scam. How about giving out these enhancements as rewards for what the player achieves in the game? Since they do not have any real world value, why would it be a problem?

While the investigation doesn’t really mean anything so far, it’s a first and very important step in the right direction. We will report further on this topic as it develops.

Ubisoft sugarcoating Trials loot boxes

In a recent post in the Steam community forums Ubisoft responds to the community backlash regarding loot boxes in Trials Rising which is released on February 12th in 2019.

Ubi_Warlock responds:

As has been pointed out, these loot crates are purely cosmetic. I do appreciate why players feel the way they do about them (not a huge fan myself), however, as it was also pointed out, you can always just not buy them.

Ultimately, they’re intended for players who want something to help them stand out from the crowd when playing online, or even just those who are big fans of the game and want to support us further.

I get the feeling game companies have understood how gamers feel about the pay to win model, with the Star Wars Battlefront II debacle being the prime example, as it really back fired on EA last year. But they haven’t just yet understood how gamers feel about cosmetic items locked behind pay walls. Ever so often the best looking cosmetic pieces are behind these walls, being unobtainable if you don’t suddenly get the urge to be ripped off to acquire the item.

Yes, it means that some players end up spending more on our games than others and that does result in increased profits for us. It also helps us to put more money into new titles and to understand what players look for in their games. If players simply didn’t buy these crates, they would not be added into games in future.

In essence, loot crates are gambling, and they are advertised and sold to anyone, even preying on consumers under the age of 18. Saying that the loot crates help you understand what players look for in their games is a very strange statement, because we are pretty clear about how we feel about loot crates. We don’t want them in our games.

All in all, loot crates / cosmetic items in general have been a huge boon for the Gaming Industry, being a driving factor in the increased popularity of Gaming over the past decade or so.

Wow. Loot crates and cosmetic items have been fantastic for Game corporation revenue, nothing else, squeezing as much money as possible out of sometimes all to young consumers. Claiming that loot crates and cosmetic have been “a driving factor in the increased popularity of Gaming” is a bizarre statement with no backing evidence what so ever. If anything, it is slowly suffocating the art of creating new, unique and rewarding games.

They aren’t a bad thing if done right.

Your feedback on the topic is still very much appreciated as this is a hotly debated topic. I do hope you consider the impact it would actually have on your enjoyment of the game though.

The thing is, loot boxes can never be done right. They feed on the essence of what makes a good game. The sooner the game industry understand how gamers feel about this, the sooner we will all be playing better games which are rewarding real game play progression.

The Fallout 76 Atomic Shop

When Bethesda announced that their new Fallout game was going to feature both a multiplayer mode and microtransactions, it of course made gamers wary. The news of a multiplayer mode were of course good news, but in what way and form were they going to implement microtransactions?

Pete Hines, the vice president of Bethesda Softworks recently stated:

If you don’t want to spend money in the Atomic shop for cosmetic stuff you don’t have to. We give you a shitload of Atoms just for playing the game. Folks that want to spend money on whatever the hell it is because they don’t have enough Atoms, they can, but it’s not, I’m now better playing against other players because I spent money. It’s not pay-to-win. And it’s not loot crates.

The most straightforward way to earn atoms in the game is to complete either the daily or the weekly challenges, which will net you around 50-60 atoms for completing all of the daily ones, or around 140-150 atoms for completing all of the weekly challenges

If you aren’t happy with the rate of earning atoms, you can of course pay for them instead. Adding 500 atoms will cost you $5, $10 buys you 1,100 atoms, $20 buys you 2,400 atoms, and $40 grants you 50,000 atoms. The exchange rate is basically $1 per 100 atoms, with a small discount for the more you spend.

The in game shop, the Atomic Shop is where you spend your atoms. So what does the Atomic Shop have to offer? Like Pete Hines mentioned, so far, there are no kind of loot boxes available in the shop at all. You know how much you pay, and what you get before hand.

The shop itself is divided into apparel, skins, camp equipment, emotes and styles to mention a few. The vault 76 cap is 500 atoms, $5, and if you want a water purifier for you base, it will set you back 300 atoms or $3. You will have to make up your mind if you think it’s worth spending $5 for a virtual cap yourself.

One of the more refreshing business practices regarding the microtransactions in Fallout 76 is that Bethesda will be using the revenue to fund the future development of downloaded content for the game. Yes, you heard it right. Future DLC for Fallout 76 will be free. Pete Hines:

All the content we ever put out for Fallout 76, all the DLC, all the post-launch stuff, is going to be free. That’s important. And to say, the Atomic Shop is cosmetic stuff. To make sure folks understand. Look, there’s a line. There are people who have crossed it, but we’re going to stay on the right side of it in terms of the things you can spend money on and how this stuff works and what you’re getting for your $60. That you know, when they put out new content or features or whatever, I’m getting that stuff for free. That feels right.

This is a welcomed step in the right direction and it will probably make gamers feel less milked of cash, if they feel that the money they spend is actually going to mean more content in the future.

Black Ops 4 adds microtransactions

When Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was released none of the reviewers mentioned anything about microtransactions. The reason for that is because there weren’t any in the game at that point. As players started progressing through the game tiers, many people noticed it was slightly grindy. Three weeks after the game release, as many players already have purchased the game and have invested a lot of time into it, Activision Blizzard silently adds microtransactions to the game.

If you want to own that tier 200 weapon variant you better come with cash in hand, $200 to be precise, or grind 250+ in game hours. To top it off there is a time limit, making it an impossible feat for most people. £1.79/$2 will buy you 200 points, £8.49/$9.99 1100 points, £16.79/$19.99 2.400 points, £34.99/$39.99 5000 points and £84.99/$99.99 will buy you 13.000 points. The points can then be spent on a simple outfit, basically a set of in game clothes, for 800 points, or 200 points to advance through one of level tiers.

Call of Duty fans are naturally upset about the direction Activision Blizzard are moving the game, and at this point you wonder exactly what is going to tip the scale to the point when the gaming community has had enough. It seems like all of the AAA publishers are all moving along the same path of microtransactions, but have learned from their earlier mistakes, and now are trying to sneak them into their games. I wish them all the luck in world.

Diablo Immortal and microtransactions

Activision Blizzard announced Diablo Immortal at Blizzcon 2018 to an, let’s put it mildly, unenthusiastic crowd which expected something completely different. For those of you who don’t know what Diablo Immortal is, it’s a mobile device Diablo game confirmed to only going to be released on the Android and iOS platforms. A statement that stunned  the Diablo fans at Blizzcon, leading to a member of the audience asking if the announcement was “an out of season April fools joke?“. It was also confirmed that the game would not carry an M for Mature content rating. Yes, you heard right. A Diablo game without a Mature rating…

So why does Activision Blizzard move down this route with a game that is seemingly not going to be very playable on a small handheld device using a touch screen? Although nothing has been confirmed in terms of microtransactions as of yet, speculation among fans are that this is the exact the reason why.

The game is likely to be free to play, couple that with the fact that it wont carry a Mature rating to achieve a greater market penetration. Excellent news for investors who want to riddle the product with in game purchases. Nothing is however yet confirmed and we will report further on this topic as everything unfolds.