By: Martin Stadtner
Back in my day of video gaming, in the late 1990’s through the late 2000’s, I never once encountered a loot mechanic in a game. Most material was accessible through standard gameplay within a reasonable amount of time. Game studios like Westwood, Blizzard, Rare, and Nintendo came out with games like Command and Conquer, Starcraft, GoldenEye, and Mario Kart 64. While some of these titles, more likely to be the PC releases, had additional content in the form of expansion packs to purchase, most were standalone, fully functional, games.
This is odd because there were definitely unlockables in these games. In GoldenEye, characters for multiplayer and a few arenas could only be accessed by either completing the game or entering in a cheat code, and the only noticeable gameplay difference was that one of the multiplayer characters was shorter than the others... it was almost entirely unnoticed by any gaming crew that house-ruled that no one could play as Oddjob.
These additional features could have been sold by the companies, and those companies probably could have made a nice profit on that practice. But they were not. I also never had to worry about skins for my space marines in Starcraft, different outfits for my racers in Mario Kart 64, or any other superficial nonsense because I was so busy enjoying the game itself for its gameplay.
Then things began to change…
I started noticing close to the end of my early 20’s gaming career that more and more small, superficial features were being sold as one-shot purchases to add to games. The first title I noticed this on was Napoleon: Total War. The core game of Napoleon: Total War had everything I wanted and expected from the title, but then I start seeing that I could pay $4.99 for a series of special cavalry units that I could use in the game. Why would I do this?!?! The game already includes cavalry units! Oh, but if I wanted to be uber-historical, I would have to buy another DLC so that I could use these period accurate Scottish brigades or some other such unnecessary chrome that doesn’t seriously contribute to the game in any way.
Now I’m used to buying expansions. I have no problems with those. The first expansion I bought was for the original Starcraft, Brood War. Now there are some new units in Brood War for each of the three factions, but what justified that purchase was the three additional, full-length campaigns that moved the story forward and further developed the characters and gameplay into the franchise that we all now know and love.
I should note, Napoleon: Total War was the first game that I purchased on Steam, entirely digital. Once technology, ie the internet, got to the point that these game companies could reliably turn a profit on these much smaller transactions, we began to see them in games.
But whatever, if someone wants to pay $4.99 to enlist the Polish House Guard cavalry in their NTW game, more power to them.
Loot Boxes are different.
When I spend my money, I want to know that what I am paying for is something that I want. When I wanted to play Starcraft: Brood War, I bought it. If I wanted the elite units of the Napoleonic Wars, I would have bought them. With loot boxes, I am paying for a mere chance at getting these things of value, i.e gambling. And that really gets my goat.