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.

Blizzard removes HotS RM loot boxes

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.

Black Ops 4 gets loot boxes

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 folds in Belgium

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+?

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.