If you have kids, video games are probably on their Christmas list! Scratch that, actually I know a few adults who have that on their list too. So many of the year's most anticipated games are released during the holiday shopping frenzy. There's always debate about whether or not certain games are too violent, or how appropriate some game content may be, but there is a new debate following the gaming industry this year.
Watch out this season when you are shopping for some of the newest video games. The industry's latest trend could end up costing you much more than you expect. Many of the industry's leading game developers are under fire, on an issue that many call a scam directed at children.
Some lawmakers have even threatened to sue over this new practice.
The anxiety is referring to the practice of "loot boxes" or as many in the gaming scene would call them, "pay-to-win mechanics."
For years games have produced additional downloadable content or "DLC" after a game has already been released (aka you'll be dishing out more cash). This type of thing is widely enjoyed by gamers, after all, who wouldn't want to spend another few hours playing a newly developed side-story with their favorite game, or race on 10 new tracks that were developed and released a year after the launch of a game. It can keep games fresh, and most gamers have no problem paying $10-20 for additional content for some of their favorite games, there is nothing wrong with that.
Today's "loot box" trend, however, is a different story entirely.
The reason those familiar with the practice often refer to it as "Pay-to-win" is because that is exactly what it does to any game it infects. Games like the new Star Wars Battlefront are great, until you realize how much it will cost you to even have a competitive shot.
The problem is that these "loot-boxes" that are usually purchased from an in-game shop for a small price of $1-$2 contain most of the gear, equipment, and abilities that players need in order to stand a fighting chance. On top of that, each box contains random rewards, and since you never know what you will get, it is like rolling the dice with each dollar you spend...sound like another familiar concept?
The companies that make them will argue that all of this equipment is available through in-game means and that players are not forced to buy them. But this can be misleading, as one Star Wars Battlefront player on Reddit did the math on what it would take to earn all of the gear without spending money on buying loot boxes. It amounted to 6,490 hours of playtime. That's 270 days of solid playtime in game, assuming EA (the developer) does not add any additional content (which they already have).
"Well, so what? I don't need ALL the content to have fun," many players will say. And that is true, many critics have overblown this issue overlooking that precise argument. But play some of these games for a few hours, it will not take you long before someone with a far stronger character wipes you out in seconds, because they happen to have gotten lucky with the loot crates they bought, or they spent more money than you did. It is a very frustrating feeling. The fix? Go spend more money and hope you get lucky too.
There is a silver lining here of course, in the case of EA's Star Wars Battlefront, the community backlash was swift players were quick to take up arms against this practice. Their voices were heard and the company removed the pay-to-win functionality from the game citing the community's criticism as the cause. This reaction to such a predatory gaming practice sparked similar outrage on other games like Call of Duty, Destiny 2 and Assassin's Creed.
Lastly, it deserves mentioning that this sort of practice is not always done in such a predatory way. Sometimes the purchasable rewards are mere cosmetics. Blizzard Entertainment, in particular, seems to understand this and implement it well.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Blizzard created an in-game-pet that appeared as a small cat that would follow your character in the popular World of Warcraft franchise. All proceeds from that purchase went toward funding the relief effort, and that tiny cat "Cinder" earned $2.3 million for the Red Cross relief effort. A similar in-game pet is available now to help with the relief effort with this season's massive hurricanes. Meet "Shadow the Fox" here.
So parents beware of which games you buy for your kids this season. Do some quick research beforehand and use the keywords "in-game purchases" to find out what type of content may or may not be available. One extra useful feature on most modern systems is the ability to set up a monthly spending allowance on your online gaming account (available through parental controls). This will at least let them learn to control their spending on games at a limit that you set.
But, honestly, do you really want them spending it gambling on in-game digital "loot-crates"?
Old-school cool: 5 classic video games that got a new life on mobile
Remember some of your old favorite games before the 3d revolution of Nintendo 64 and Playstation? A lot of those old games are so small and easily coded from today's standards that they can be easily ported over to mobile devices. Check out some of the classics that you can now play on your mobile phone. A Bluetooth controller is recommended.