This week was always going to come around. Yes, that’s right, Ash Harrison and I are talking loot crates, microtransactions, and the whole mess that surrounds the topic. Why now, you ask? Well, the ability to purchase Orcs as allies in Middle Earth: Shadow of War is being removed, which was an alternative to building stories with them though the signature Nemesis system of the game (you know, actually playing the game – I know, shock). This isn’t happening until July 17th, though, nearly a year after the October 2017 release. This sets off alarm bells of we-aren’t-stupid, so it’s as good a time as any to discuss not only this news, but the whole topic of game monetisation.
William Robinson: Look, Ash, I guess it was inevitable that Tanuki Talk would lead us to talking about this. Amazingly, there was an official statement this week from Community Admin Monolith Mark on the official Middle Earth: Shadow of War Community Website that announced the removal of in-game purchases; an oh-so-wonderful gesture on their part after, y’know, making all that money since the October release. This is as laughably cynical as I think, right?
Ashley Harrison: I guess it really was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? We’re gonna have to do one of these on my least favourite part of the gaming industry… It’s definitely as cynical as you think it is, yeah. To be removing them after making who knows how much on them already is almost as pathetic as including them in the first place.
WR: Do they think they’re actually fooling us? They have big DLC coming later this year, not far from the removal of this monetisation on July 17th; this is so clearly a ploy to garner goodwill to help the DLC sell. Thing is, I think this just makes it worse as it confirms that they’re trying to play everyone.
AH: Oh, I’m like 99.9% sure it is just a ploy to hope people buy the DLC. If people are spending money on microtransactions all the time, I would assume they wouldn’t buy the DLC.
WR: This feels like an epilogue to the storm that was 2017, in terms of microtransactions and loot boxes. I think, when we look back in 5-10 years, we will see the end of 2017 as a historic moment where games went too far and the customers showed they can make an impact. Star Wars Battlefront II did not meet financial expectations – that’s a fact – because people said no. New stories like these show that companies know it, and are trying to get a better message across (even if here they spectacularly failed).
AH: And what a year we’ll look back on it to be, too. I hate the fact enough as it is that you have to spend £40/50 on a game, then an extra £20 on a season pass on top of it to get the full experience of a game nowadays. I think if we’re spending £40/50 on a game, it should be the full, finished product, rather than half of one.
WR: Properly with you there, and I am so glad that these companies saw backlash in their numbers, rather than just in words. Star Wars Battlefront II, and EA, had to pull the plug and remove the monetisation completely. They have since oh-so-kindly put it back in for cosmetic items only – how you can put monetisation back in as a feature people are meant to see as new content baffles me. It’s a similar situation to Shadow of War, only Battlefront II – as we witnessed – got a more public backlash.
AH: I think I can genuinely count on one hand how many times I’ve bought just a single piece of DLC for a game, let alone a season pass. I hate the very practice and try to stay as far away from them as possible, so I’m also grateful people are boycotting the practice too.
William Robinson: how you can put monetisation back in as a feature people are meant to see as new content baffles me
WR: The common argument is that games are more expensive than ever to make – true in the cases of “AAA” titles striving for photorealism – and that they need more money. What’s your opinion on that?
AH: It’s a case of wasting a ton of money into an area that doesn’t even matter.
WR: That’s the thing – who made them go for such high production values? The companies are trying to 1-up each other in a competitive marketplace, sure, but I don’t think the customers paying more for the decisions going into making games is justified.
AH: Not at all. Us customers are suffering due to poor business decisions.
WR: As aforementioned, in the case of Battlefront II, the monetisation is now cosmetic only. That often seems to be the deciding factor for people; a game like Overwatch, which also has only cosmetic monetisation, often gets away from the negative press; however, some argue it’s the same thing and cosmetics affect gameplay too. What’s your stance on that?
AH: I’m still not huge on cosmetic-only DLC, but I tolerate it a lot more. Hell, I’ve even bought more than a fair few myself (albeit only in games I’ve really enjoyed to further support the developers.) I’d definitely say it’s not the same thing as other types of DLC though. Cosmetic-only DLC only provides a different graphical representation of the game, whereas most other DLC provide further story that should always be included in the base game in my opinion.
WR: So those reports that the upcoming Anthem will only have cosmetics (as EA are gonna have to be oh-so-careful with that game); do you think the community will widely be OK with that?
AH: There’s a part of me that would love for people to play hell up about it and bring a complete end to microtransactions of any kind, but I think it’ll be accepted as just yet another game and we’ll move on with no significance to be honest with you.
WR: Speaking of, Jim Sterling – a big voice on this topic – has literally just posted a video about how the backlash is turning loot crates into something big games just can’t touch now. If they do, they face questions of why they’re in there that are very hard to answer. I’ll link it below, as it’s a fascinating video. I always thought companies would still be able to implement loot crates in some way, but, actually, it’s toxic PR now that can kill your game. With Warner Bros. and EA having to backtrack, maybe loot crates are genuinely going to be rarer now.
AH: Goodbye, and good riddance. As you said, they’re hard to explain as to why they’re in there, because there isn’t a reason as to why any AAA game should have them.
WR: So you think that it’s over? This is just loot crates – microtransactions in general are gonna be harder to see the back of, I think.
AH: I hope it’s over, yeah. Loot crates being a random item you pay real money for, with zero guarantee it’ll be useful, is just a form of gambling and doesn’t belong in any game. I’m glad to see actual governments (Hawaii, Belgium, and Germany have all begun looking into them) taking notice and looking to enforce bans.
Ashley Harrison: Loot crates being a random item you pay real money for, with zero guarantee it’ll be useful, is just a form of gambling and doesn’t belong in any game
WR: Yeah, it’s remarkable how politicians got involved so promptly. It’s good to see an actually relevant political story about gaming, rather than ridiculous talk about them being the cause for gun violence (that’s another discussion haha!)
AH: It really is, yeah. I think it, along with customers just not buying them, are the only way we’ll truly get to the end of loot boxes in video games full stop.
WR: The problems really come when they hit games you care about, that’s the thing. I’ve never really experienced that – but imagine if, say, the Spyro Reignited Trilogy (it’s realllll!!!!!!) had Gems as a real currency you buy with actual money. Would you boycott and not buy it? It’s hard when you like a property, like for Star Wars Battlefront II and the massive amount of fans that property has…
AH: I wouldn’t boycott it, but there is zero chance that I’d even think about purchasing gems. I guess that’d make me complicit in the crime, but I couldn’t miss out on a Spyro remaster.
WR: Do you have a general take for how you think the next few years will work out for microtransactions, loot crates and everything? Give us the hottest of hot takes.
AH: Microtransactions, DLC, lootboxes, etc. all die out. Paid DLC is replaced by free content updates. Everything is good again.
WR: That’s a surprisingly optimistic take on this. Are you OK?
AH: I might be slightly drunk, but hey, a guy can dream of a scenario as good as that, right?
WR: Maybe the utter cynicism of the topic has somehow counteracted your cynicism and made you positive?
AH: Could be. Or I’m just being absolutely ridiculous and of course not only will they never go away, but this situation where people are getting onto developers/publishers will blow over, and we’ll be back to having games riddled with them again.
WR: Theeeeere’s the Ash I know! Look, the consumers pushed back the onslaught of shady monetisation once. They can do it again. Meanwhile, smart companies like Rare (with the just-released Sea of Thieves) are using this as an opportunity to garner goodwill, by speaking against this stuff. The Witcher 3, for example, was all about the gamers – when it did get DLC, it was so big people said it could be anther game. That’s DLC done right.
AH: Is it just simply a case of delaying the inevitable though? We might be rallying against them now, but we both know people will buy games, microtransactions or not, and that’s reason enough to believe it might just be a wave in the ocean issue. The Witcher 3 was definitely a case of DLC done right, though. Not only were the DLC packs essentially two new games, but they were ridiculously cheaply priced, too!
WR: I think we can at least help shape the way they’re implemented through our responses. Loot crates and microtransactions, to me, aren’t inherently bad ideas – they’re just exploited in bad ways in some cases.
AH: I’m going to have to disagree with you there. I think they’re ridiculously bad ideas, and as has hopefully come off during this article, belong nowhere near video games.
WR: This debate will likely go on for many years, so we’ll have to revisit it again in some time to see how it has progressed. For now, though, we have companies having to be much more careful, and that’s something I think we can agree on being a good thing.
AH: We’re taking steps in the right direction, I just hope we continue walking this path rather than making a 180 and getting back to this very same point.
WR: That’s the worry with this industry; publishers are always pushing to make practices such as this acceptable (often by doing even worse things to make those prior look better). We shall remain positive for now. In other news; this is the week. I’m gonna play Super Mario Odyssey. I’m committing!
AH: It’s about damn time! Now that’s a game I wouldn’t mind DLC for…
WR: You mean, more than some balloons?
AH: Give me more worlds with more moons, and I’ll be happy.
WR: $99 a Moon, sorry Ash.
AH: Well, RIP.
WR: To be serious, Nintendo has been pretty fantastic in their handling of DLC and other add-on content. Hopefully they keep that up, as they start to experiment with season passes and the like.
AH: I can’t say I’ve purchased any Nintendo DLC, so I’m not qualified to comment on that, sadly.
WR: Right, your drunk, and I need to play Odyssey. Signing off, so see ya next week!
AH: In a bit!
The conclusion of that was, well, that we can’t be sure how the acceptance of loot boxes and microtransactions will develop, but we have hope that things are getting better. How do you feel about the topic? You can let us know in the comments!