I've spoken at considerable length - perhaps a bit too much length - over how much I hate loot boxes. The whole concept is just repulsive to me, and as more and more games come to utilize and rely on them, it's only made my hatred become more and more passionate. I rally against them at every opportunity, and even games that do loot boxes well - such as Overwatch (some would argue) and Battlerite - aren't off my hit list. It's predatory, it's gross, and it's way, way worse than that day-one DLC people used to get all up in arms over.
...Which is why I found it a funny thought when I was skinning a Jyuratodus for the third time looking for one of those dang Aqua Sacs, that for some reason I didn't find this particularly offensive.
Let me explain: Loot Boxes are basically paying in-game or real-world money to get a crate full of unknown goodies. Crack one open, and anything from the most common trite and something super extraordinary will pop out - it all depends on your luck (or the tier of the Loot box you got, if you're playing one of THOSE games). Some games, like Orcs Must Die Unchained, Shadow of War, and Star Wars Battlefront 2 focus the whole game around that premise, with your loot crate box having a very real impact on how well you play and perform. Other games, like the aforementioned Overwatch and Battlerite, only let cosmetics drop out of loot boxes, which means you're never buying power, but you're also never buying exactly what you want: just a chance to get it, and possibly some kind of scrap that can go towards buying what you are hunting for.
Some argue that the first example is unforgivable and the second is more acceptable. I would disagree, but that's not actually the important part of this article. And to elaborate, let's talk about what Monster Hunter World - and many games like it - have been doing for years and years.
See, in games like Monster Hunter World, you're actually working with a very similar premise. You designate a monster to hunt down, you kill or capture them, then you receive a bunch of monster parts. You then use those monster parts to make yourself better armor and weapons, which you can then use to hunt more powerful monsters, and make better parts, looped nearly infinitely.
But since certain equipment needs certain parts, and you only get a few with every kill, it's very possible, if not overwhelmingly likely, you won't get all the parts you need. It's random, which means you have to kill a monster up to two or three times in order to get everything you need. Its very similar to, say, an MMORPG, where bosses drop some random loot and you may or may not qualify to use it. And if a boss drops a weapon you really want, you might have to kill them multiple times over countless sessions until you get the loot drop you're specifically looking for.
The monsters, in effect, are living, breathing loot boxes. Their randomized loot has a direct impact on how well you can play the game. We've had loot-box like systems, the random loot drops, for as long as we've had video games. So why, now, are Loot Boxes such a big deal? Even the free, cosmetic ones seem to annoy people, so why is it Monster Hunter World gets away with making you grind stuff for power but Star Wars Battlefront doesn't?
It's not an argument made often on the subject of loot boxes, and in retrospect, I actually find that quite surprising. You'd think the defenders would have leaped on that defense sooner or, perhaps they did, and I simply didn't notice. Regardless of the reason, I'm here to address the issue with two arguments against the case I myself made in favor of loot boxes: and make some amends to my previous, broad condemnation to the system in earlier articles.
First of all, it's true that loot boxes and animal corpses function the same way between Monster Hunter and, say, Overwatch. The difference isn't what they deliver; it's how it's delivered. In Monster Hunter World, opening the loot crate is the whole thrust of the gameplay. You have to track the monster down (not always easy), fight it (which is NEVER easy), follow it when it tries to run away while fending off smaller monsters and larger predators who might not be thrilled you're invading their hunting ground, and eventually slay it. This long, exciting series of events culminates in the moment when you plunge your dagger into the creatures still-warm corpse, your body aching for a ridgebone when you know you're just gonna get another scale. You can even fight the monster in a particular way, attacking certain limbs and body parts, which if broken, will supply you with specific body parts that you might know you need perhaps most noticeably, cutting off the tail will usually get you one. While it's certainly exciting to start cutting it open, that's the reward for a job well-done. It's both cathartic and satisfying.
For a loot box, you pay money and you get a chance at a thing.
Yes, you can level up and get a chance at a thing, too. Sometimes you can get a free chance for a thing if the company is feeling generous. But that doesn't matter: the primary way to get lots of boxes, and lots of things, is paying for it. And it must work if Blizzard was able to make over $2 billion USD last year even without releasing a single new game. In both games, seeing what you get is fun, but while in Monster Hunter, it's fun to earn the box, but in Overwatch, you'll typically have to pay money to BUY that fun and excitement. It takes advantage of your natural curiosity and hunger and turns it against you.
By its very nature, it's predatory and takes advantage of people who are predisposed to that feeling of risk-reward... That's why the law is involved.
The second reason this specific randomized loot system is more palatable in games like Monster Hunter is that it's far more focused. In Overwatch, if you want a certain skin, you just have to keep getting boxes until you get the skin you want. There are no Mercy-specific boxes that ensure you only get Mercy-themed loot. And there's a lot of worthless stuff like tags and voice lines that just exist to pad out the loot and ensure you earn the in-game scrap currency at a snail's pace.
In Monster Hunter, if you want that sword and you're missing a certain monsters fin, there's only one way to get it: kill that monster. Your odds of getting it might not be great, heck, in end-game monsters' gemstones are quite the rarities, but at least you know what you have to do. And you can try again and again and again to get it, as long as you have the investigation or side quest needed to fight the beast as many times as you'd like.
Same principle in an MMO or many RPGs (for example, Final Fantasy IV). It sucks to kill the same boss over and over for some weapon or mount, but you know that's the only place to do it. Back when I played World of Warcraft (pray for me), I spent countless hours grinding one particular boss, the Big Bad Wolf, for a certain gun that looked cool. And that guy was especially tough because I had to solo him AND because he had a chance to not even show up in the boss fight. So I was playing a lot of odds, but when I finally got that gun, hoo boy it was underwhelming.
But I did it.
So here's the thing. I'm actually not going to argue that grinding is fun or feels good. I love Monster Hunter World, but it can be really frustrating to find yourself stuck on a certain monster because you have to grind it for a certain part. And it also sucked in MMOs, because no one wants to be stuck doing the same dungeon over and over again (even if, again, I largely volunteered for the task at the time). But at least the randomized loot was earned in-game, doing in-game things, spending in-game time and investing my hard work and skill into it. I play the game to get the loot, and I get the loot to play the game better.
With Loot Boxes, it's me paying for something I might get. And that's not fun. It's a distraction. A distraction I'm reminded of every time I cue up and I see a Mercy with a cool skin and I'm all well crap I really want that. If it were Monster Hunter, I could look up the recipe and start hunting down all the parts I need. But since it's Overwatch, there's only one way to try to get it: crack open that wallet.
So yeah. Randomized loot is fine, so to speak. But when the only way to get it is to hand over real money that's where my ire lies.
So again, games industry, stop it.