It wasn’t long ago that Gamers Classified chronicled the historic rise of loot boxes over the past eight years. Indeed, the ‘random goodies’ system of monetising games has seen some incredible financial success in some very popular games. However, as the system has gotten older, criticism of it has gotten more vocal. 2018 has started off discussion on the loot box controversy with a bang. As the stringency and stigma surrounding loot boxes piles up, it’s beginning to look like the system may be on the downward spiral.

Star Wars Battlefront II: Negative Loot Box Reception Peaks

Battlefront II’s gameplay was vastly overshadowed by the loot box controversy it brought with it. Source: BagoGames.

If anything can be pinpointed as a landmark for when loot boxes went “too far”, it’s Star Wars Battlefront II. On the game’s release last year, an overwhelming majority of customers were dissatisfied with the blockades on in-game content, which could only be circumvented through either absurd amounts of playtime or purchasing loot boxes with real money. EA’s response to this criticism famously netted them the record for most downvoted comment in Reddit history.

EA went into defensive mode after this, attempting to remedy the situation by disabling all in-game purchases until a later date. However, the damage had already been done simply by including the loot box system at such an integral, ‘pay-to-win’ level in the first place. In fact, the Wall Street Journal just recently reported that Battlefront II sales have fallen short of EA’s expectations by around 1 million copies, even though in-game currency for loot boxes is not currently purchasable. Loot boxes have always been grumbled about in the past to some degree, but this was the first case in which their very inclusion caused irreparable damage to game sales — possibly marking the beginning of a decline in loot box popularity.

Valve Releases CSGO Case Odds in China

The chances of unboxing a knife were revealed to be low. Very low. Source: Counter-Strike Wiki.

Valve have always kept a tight leash on information surrounding the drop chances of items in CSGO cases. However, late last year their hand was forced. Valve wanted to release CSGO in China through game publisher Perfect World, but China’s Ministry of Culture has strict laws requiring transparency of droprate chances in loot crates. With little to no other options, Valve succumbed, and their drop rates were were published on CSGO’s Chinese website — causing the internet to draw comparisons in search of original CSGO’s droprates.

These stringent demands from the Chinese government showed us two important things about loot boxes. One is that they’re starting to be met with resistance, a reminder that loot boxes aren’t on-track to take over the entire world in gaming payment models. The other is that game companies aren’t prepared to defend the payment model until the bitter end; Valve decided they would rather forfeit the ‘mystery value’ of cases than simply not expand into China. In this case, a Reddit user pointed out that Valve’s numbers showed a measly 0.25% chance of getting the best quality of item. Perhaps greater public access to these sort of odds will deter customers from spending money on loot box systems in future.

Germany Considers Banning Loot Boxes

A loot box ban in Germany would see huge drops in sales for games like Overwatch.

The most recent, and probably the most damning, example of the fall of loot boxes is that of the German Youth Protection Commission considering a ban on loot boxes in video games. A study to be published by the University of Hamburg indicates that gambling is increasingly prevalent in video games, and that this gambling aspect is potentially very addictive. The Youth Protection Commission of the State Media Authorities has taken this information to heart, according to German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag, and is considering a ban on loot boxes with the threat of fines against game companies that incorporate them.

While the Commission isn’t due to reach a decision until March, the mere fact that this is being considered by state authorities is a big deal. The idea that loot boxes encourage gambling for kids has been heavily discussed already; however, a study published by university researchers is a different beast entirely. We’ll see the outcome in March, but speaking purely in present terms, this is a bad sign for loot boxes. If more countries follow suit after Germany, even if only in considering a ban, the payment model could be catastrophically damaged and even abandoned by some big companies.

 


 

For now, loot boxes haven’t gone anywhere. The Lunar New Year event for Overwatch kicks off sometime in the next day, and will undoubtedly bring with it a new loot box with a host of new skins to roll for. Still, looking at just the past few months, trouble is brewing in a few places for the loot box system. With Germany’s ban consideration emerging at the very start of the year, maybe 2018 will spell the end for the success of the payment model. We’ll just have to wait and find out.

A huge video game fan, studying Journalism and International Studies at UNSW. I love to chill out with friends and play League of Legends or CS:GO just as much as I love to watch Twitch streamers or follow whatever big tournaments are currently going. Beyond that, I enjoy anime (so the JRPG has a special place in my heart), nights out with friends, and a good meme or two.