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Battlefront 2,lootboxes

7 possible alternatives to lootboxes in gaming

It seems like you can’t visit a gaming news website without hearing about lootboxes and the like. And for good reason, with Star Wars: Battlefront 2, Need for Speed: Payback and several other titles offering this feature.

Lootboxes, for the uninitiated, are in-game boxes that contain randomly generated items and perks, for the most part. But the big issue was that these boxes often required a ton of in-game experience/credits or, even worse, real money, to unlock. Then there are the games that allowed you to buy in-game credits with real cash, which in turn can be used to buy loot boxes.

There were at least two major issues with this, as far as I could see, in the form of game progression potentially being stifled, for one. Developers might feel (and have felt) tempted to artificially prolong the “grind” so to speak, effectively creating an issue that’s solved by spending cash on possible perks (they’re random, remember?).

The second major issue concerns lootboxes in a multiplayer game. Now, cosmetic items aren’t going to sway the tide of a multiplayer battle, but if rich players can merely pay for better guns and power-ups…

That doesn’t mean that paying to progress in-game is a bad thing. As a time-strapped FIFA 18 gamer points out in a Eurogamer article — some people just can’t spend dozens of hours playing a game to get their favourite goodies. But intentionally stifling/prolonging progression for customers who already bought the game or giving lootbox-owning users an actual gameplay advantage doesn’t make for great practice.

In any event, dodgy monetisation has been a thing for a long time, in traditional and mobile gaming arenas. But could we see alternative solutions to the lootbox? Here are a few that come to mind.

Ads

Advertisements wouldn’t be a new thing in games. Heck, we’ve even seen full-fledged advergames like Doritos Crash Course and Pepsi-Man.

But, looking at mobile games, it wouldn’t surprise us to see a bigger emphasis on video ads or even regular ads on loading screens and the like. Video ads have been a well-established part of mobile gaming, popping up between level retries or upon boot-up.

In fact, a long-held guideline for ethical mobile developers is to implement ads and allow people to pay for an ad-free version. Paying extra to remove ads on a US$60 game might sound like overkill to traditional gamers though. Which brings us to another possibility…

Paying extra for a game

The recent generation of games saw a US$10 spike in prices at the very least, with only the ageing Wii U sticking to a US$50 suggested price for games. It’s not uncommon to see new titles going for R900 to R1000 these days, but could we see R1000/US$70 or thereabouts being the new norm?

At least one analytics firm felt publishers should raise prices, given that the cost per hour is lower than other forms of entertainment, according to their calculations. Then again, using the cost per hour model might not be viable, as some people aren’t going to play a game for a long time and others might only be grinding.

And that figure doesn’t take into account single-player experiences, which are traditionally shorter anyway. Heck, a single player experience that costs R200 and lasts for two hours might be worth it for a lot of people, despite the R100 cost per hour (which far outweighs the cost per hour of movies).

Splitting single and multiplayer?

Another suggestion might be to split the single player and multiplayer components of popular titles (Call of Duty, Battlefield). If each mode costs US$35 or US$40 (you could still pay US$60 for both) and consumers bite, it might make for a viable strategy.

It’s a risky move though, especially as technical challenges (designing the game so that it can be split up) and the risk of people not buying into it could kill this strategy. In the case of the former, you only need to look at games like Borderlands and Destiny to see how intertwined the single and multiplayer aspects can get.

Free to play multiplayer

A departure from paying for both single and multiplayer content, free-to-play multiplayer might be another viable strategy for gaming revenue. And it wouldn’t be without precedent.

There are the prominent free-to-play examples like Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2, offering cosmetic items for purchase as a central part of its financial strategy. But even AAA titles have seen free-to-play multiplayer suites, such as Uncharted 3.

More product placement?

Product placement and gaming aren’t strange bedfellows at all. Remember Barack Obama’s election posters in Burnout Paradise? Hell, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater saw product placement since day one, as various skateboarding brands had their wares featured. It doesn’t hurt if done well enough and it’s an accepted method in many TV shows and movies.

Of course, there is a danger of overkill in this department, featuring so many products in an obvious fashion that it detracts from the experience. But would you rather have loot boxes in Call of Duty or the occasional Coca Cola street signs and Savlon-equipped medpacks?

Subscription-based progression

Look at the likes of WarThunder and World of Tanks for an example of subscription-based progression. In these games, players can opt to pay a daily, weekly or monthly fee for accelerated progression.

Your cash gets you much more earned experience, delivering greater in-game credits, for one. But games like WarThunder and World of Tanks are heavily reliant on unlocking new and better vehicles to play with. Fortunately (for the most part), newer and better vehicles don’t usually play against older vehicles, which means that skill is the differentiating factor when it comes to winning battles anyway.

An episodic approach

Another oft-seen strategy has been to divide the game into episodes, as popularised by TellTale and their licensed franchises. We’ve also seen Capcom’s Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Square Enix’s Hitman adopt this formula.

Results have been mixed though, as TellTale’s Walking Dead games did solid numbers. But the studio suffered significant layoffs recently. Meanwhile, Capcom initially noted “firm sales” of Resident Evil Revelations 2. As for Hitman? IO Interactive’s Christian Elverdam told TechCrunch a year ago that they were “pretty happy” with sales. But Square-Enix got rid of the franchise, allowing developers IO to regain the rights and go independent again.

Much like splitting single and multiplayer modes, it could prove a real challenge to design an episodic game. Sandbox titles, for example, seem like a near-impossible fit for the formula.

Are there any other alternatives to lootboxes that you have in mind? Let us know below!

Author Bio

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More