Right Click to Zoom — What’s in the Box? A Discussion of Loot Boxes in Games

Welcome to last week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today, I’ll be looking at one of the more insidious trends that’s been creeping into video games of late, and explain why you should try to avoid them: loot boxes.

As the years have progressed, the cost of game development has increased dramatically for the top end companies. The quality of sound, music, animation and general graphical fidelity required for a game to keep up with modern technological trends is staggering when you compare what was ground breaking previously, and none of this comes cheap.

Each console generation sees the hardware release at a higher price than the last, and while there’s usually initial grumbling and outcry, it quiets down and is accepted by the time the next one rolls around. Individual new game releases started growing in price over time to match, and while that has since become more constant, publishers are starting to find new ways to get an extra dollar.

There’s a lot of ways this has gone about, and some are considerably less acceptable than others. I personally feel, however, that the loot boxes fad that has started to creep into numerous undeserving games since the success of Overwatch is quite possibly the worst for consumers to be subject to. But why is this? And how are other forms of this more acceptable?

The Internet, DLC and You

The year 2006 saw the release of a little game you might have heard about called The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. As much as the game receives a fair bit of playful mockery for shaky dialogue and ugly character models nowadays, Oblivion was a massive success at the time. What was not as successful was the public reception to one particular system: DLC.

Let’s go back a bit earlier for context. The early years of the new millenium saw the Internet go from relatively niche, to widespread but not powerful, all the way to increasingly available and fast. Trying to download even a single megabyte on a 56k modem could take quite some time, so regular patches to games were once upon a time distributed on discs (if they existed at all). As such, making further additions to already released games was relegated to large content batches in the form of expansion packs and sold as separate pieces of software.

While Oblivion would ultimately get an expansion pack of its own before the end of its lifespan, that was not the first addition that was shown off. Instead, Bethesda produced one of the first noteworthy DLC offerings: Horse Armour. For a nominal fee, you would be able to… well, give your horse armour, as the name suggests.

This announcement was not reacted to well by the general populace. Bethesda was charging for cosmetic upgrades that added almost nothing to the game! Why was this addition not just part of the base game? Shouldn’t it be something you unlock through play, as most cosmetic appearances were at the time? This and many more arguments were made, and the discussion was bandied back and forth across the gaming community.

Whatever the general argument for Oblivion may have stood, history made its choice clear. Fast forward to modern days, where download speeds and sizes are much less of a limiting factor. A game not having some form of DLC is arguably more an exception than the norm in modern times. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a game that is well received to have DLC requested of its developers, just so that there’s more to play.

While a lot of this DLC is still cosmetic or fairly minor, it can also include a wide range of additions to the game’s content. Traditionally sized expansion packs have become increasingly rare, as the availability of smaller pieces of content generally supersedes the need for a larger addition unless the game calls for it.

As a whole, the system generally works. Those who wish to pay extra for more content in a game they like can do so, and while it’s always nicer if optional cosmetics are accessible in the game without payment, it’s up to the player to decide if they want it. There are certainly valid complaints to be made, such as when DLC is included in a game on launch day rather than being part of the package, or if the content has clearly been removed or left unfinished during development solely to resell for extra later.

Overall though, many of the vocal criticisms of DLC have at least quietened down. It’s here to stay, in some form or another. But unfortunately, the gradual acceptance of what was originally seen as a horrible addition to the industry has set a precedent that other devs and publishers are attempting to capitalise on. I can’t completely fault them for this — it’s a business’ job to make money, after all — but the methods in which they are doing so come at the expense of the consumer.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — What’s in the Box? A Discussion of Loot Boxes in Games”


Right Click to Zoom — The Value Proposition Issue of ARPGs

Welcome to this week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today I’m going to be talking about the growing concept and issues of the value proposition of games, particularly how they relate to hack-and-slash action RPGs (referred to as ARPGs for the remainder of the article).

The idea of a value proposition is simple: it’s the idea that a product, in this case a video game, presents itself in its entirety and then asks the consumer for the purchase price. A user deciding that the game is too expensive or doesn’t offer enough gameplay, longevity, or some other criteria is saying that the proposition fails; it’s not worth the value they’re asking.

A number of these concepts can be applied to video games as a whole, but I’m going to relate them back to this one genre for the sake of the article today. This is largely because they are a kind of game that can fall into this discussion fairly quickly by the very nature of how they play. To demonstrate what I mean, let’s start with the poster child of the hack-and-slash ARPG genre: the Diablo series.

The original Diablo is one of the more iconic games of its time, releasing nearly a year before the first Fallout game and simplifying the oft convoluted RPG genre down to a more accessible format. The huge, complex and intricate worlds with fiddly systems of the Ultima series and its ilk were instead reduced to a single town. From this town, you would descend into the catacombs beneath the cathedral, diving deeper until you reached Hell itself to defeat titular demon Diablo.

While still gaining power through traditional level ups, much of your character’s strength came from the randomised loot that would drop as you explored. Some drops were guaranteed from quests that would appear within the dungeon, but they too were randomly assigned; not everyone would find the quest to kill the Butcher or the Skeleton King in their run. You could play through it multiple times and still discover something new, and the same character could become wildly skewed in power. This became the core of the hack-and-slash ARPG: the loot.

If Diablo popularised the concept and genre, Diablo 2 refined and polished it. More character classes, more intricate and variable skill trees, more in-depth storytelling and world building, a bigger world to explore and play with… but most importantly, more loot. Winning a whole slew of awards and quickly becoming the fastest selling video game in history at the time, Diablo 2 opened up the genre to more people than ever before.

The inclusion of additional difficulty levels encouraged repeat playthroughs with the one character. Combine this with a strong multiplayer aspect and options, and the game saw continual play for years afterwards. Arguably, that is where the problems inherent in the modern day perception of the genre began, and few points can highlight this better than the launch of the next game in the Diablo chain.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — The Value Proposition Issue of ARPGs”

Leaving Azeroth for parts unknown

World of Warcraft has been a staple in my gaming life for the better part of a decade… in fact, as of this month it officially has been a decade since I first set up my own account and properly dove into Azeroth. Prior to that, I’d sampled the game those trial CD accounts Blizzard were selling in most game stores, as well as made a character on a friend’s account briefly just to give it a whirl.

Since that time, it’s been a fairly frequent feature in my gaming hours. It hasn’t been constant – there have been a few times I’ve unsubbed, so the fact that I closed my subscription earlier this week isn’t a first. I can’t even say for sure that this is very definitely the last time I’ll do so, since my investment in the game has been so ongoing that I’ll always be inclined to just pop back in and see how things have progressed.

But, well, it’s a canceled subscription all the same. So what brought it on this time? You could reasonably guess the answer for it by citing the major reasons for my previous periods of absence from the game:

1- I no longer had any friends to play the game with and make it worthwhile to be part of a community.

2- I had run out of meaningful content that I was interested and able to partake in.

I quit for a two month period after Icecrown Citadel came out in Wrath of the Lich King, as most of my friends took a break and my guild fell apart, then came back when they did. I quit again for a time in the opening months of Cataclysm, only to come back a bit later when another group of friends expressed interest in playing the game. Once their interest fell and they started to quit, I did too, and that was my longest absence from the game since – a full 18 months. Not long in the grand scheme of things, but quite a substantial time to be away from a game and have it continue to flourish and grow without you, if you think about it.

When I returned during the later parts of the Mists of Pandaria patch cycle, it wasn’t for the usual reasons of having friends lure my back. This time, it was something I did on my own, diving headfirst into a server I wasn’t familiar with and rebuilding a new set of friendships from the ground up. The reason for that was actually personal – I was seeking escapism from personal problems and tragedies, and I was in such a depressed state that I felt like I needed to be anybody BUT myself for a while.

World of Warcraft was always good for that, simply because it had a thriving roleplaying community, and one that I’d usually been part of throughout my time. Many have mocked me or rolled their eyes at my decisions over the years, but it matters not – it was my investment in the world of Warcraft and the stories within that fueled such a constant interest, and roleplayers were usually the ones best suited to fueling that further. While I always played the game for the game, roleplaying helped connect me to it one step further.

It was roleplaying that kept me sometime active for some of the absolute worst stretches of WoW’s lifespan. The fourteen month break without content after the final patch of Mists of Pandaria? I remained subscribed the entire time. Warlords of Draenor? A couple of brief times unsubscribed, but never for more than a couple of months. Until this point, I’ve been subbed for all of Legion. Those long stretches without update and with awful, uninteresting and uninspiring content I was still playing not for the game, but the stories and characters… and not the ones Blizzard was providing either, but those that my friends and I worked on.

Sometime during Warlords of Draenor, I realised that my investment in the game was no longer anything to do with World of Warcraft. Once upon a time I cared for the stories and setting of Azeroth, but honestly? Not anymore. To be blunt, the writing of Blizzard has gotten bad. Quite frankly, that’s an understatement – atrocious would be closer to accurate.

For whatever reason, the little details that I grew to love were largely absent from Warlords onward. The primary plot and the relevant characters had been full of cliches and tropes and poor writing since Cataclysm. And honestly, even the main plot of Wrath of the Lich King starts to look shaky when you realise that the entire conclusion of Icecrown Citadel is lifted almost verbatim from the conclusion of the original Diablo, just with a few flavour differences.

While Blizzard is trying to make their world more concise with books like Chronicle, the overall details are just… not good. The characters that they want me to care about are bland, boring, insipid, or otherwise delivered in such a way as to sour them entirely. I cared about Illidan once, but the push to suddenly redeem him and make him some fated saviour of the Light is written atrociously, completely kills the character, and looks strikingly like the ending of Starcraft 2… which, I might add, is one of the worst video game endings that I’ve ever played through, perhaps rivaled only by Mass Effect 3.

Simply put, I’ve stopped caring. I find myself no longer attached to Azeroth. I don’t care what happens to it or the residents of it anymore. Given that there were huge stretches of game time where it felt like I cared more about the details and consistency of the world and writing than Blizzard did, this is quite a conclusion to come to. But alas, it’s not the World of Warcraft that I care about, it’s the characters I’ve built within it… and frankly, since they’re all the creations of mine or my friends, it’s not too hard to lift them up and take them to a more interesting setting or even stories of our own in order to preserve them.

Let me make it clear: I enjoyed playing Legion. It was all I did for a good chunk of time after it came out, constantly working through the content, diving into the quests, and generally having fun with the game. It wasn’t perfect, and I had some complaints both major and minor, but overall it was a fun experience and a relative return to form. But all throughout, this nagging feeling of disinterest and apathy continued to claw at me, and it’s only now when I’ve been actively avoiding playing World of Warcraft that it occurred to me why it was.

I still have friends playing. I still have meaningful content I would like to do and have the means to do so. I still log in when I can to attend my guild’s raids. But I just don’t care about the game anymore, overall. Turns out, there was a third condition – interest and attachment to the world of Azeroth, and it was that which called me from any lapses in playing WoW over these years back into its folds.

Alas, now it’s gone. It probably happened in Warlords of Draenor, which very nearly completely killed the game in itself, but now it’s finally set in that I just don’t have that attachment anymore. I’ve stopped RPing in the game for various reasons, but mostly because I got tired of repetitive and cliched plots among the playerbase that were barely any better than (or worse, were actively encouraged by) Blizzard’s poor writing. There’s also a lot of politics and drama when dealing with RP servers for too long, and I think I’ve just gotten so tired of all the pettiness that I was driven away from it. All in all, that was yet another nail in the coffin encircling Azeroth.

So it’s time to put WoW behind me and play some other games. I’ve played FF14 in the past to scratch the MMO itch when WoW wasn’t sufficing, and I’ve started doing that again. There’s a huge amount of games I’m slowly working on beating, and a few big titles that I’m actively awaiting in the next few months. I’ll be fine without WoW, and I suspect it’ll be fine without me.

I enjoyed my time on Azeroth, but there are other worlds calling my attention… worlds with considerably more interesting narratives and characters to discover, no less. Maybe I’ll return, maybe I won’t. All I know is that this is the first time ever where attachment to the world and characters of Warcraft is not staying my hand in departing, and isn’t threatening to call me back instantly.

If anything… I feel delightfully free.