Locked gear and lootboxes

A combination of some gaming experiences and recent blog posts brought me around to thinking about gear drops and lootboxes this weekend. Since the widespread adoption of Free to Play as a business model in the MMORPGs genre there has been a proliferation of locked lootboxes and in some cases locked gear. The former is often a means to encourage cash shop purchases, whether to buy the keys to unlock the boxes or extra inventory or bank space to store the stacks of lootboxes that are usually not easy to dispose off.  I’m very happy to ignore or destroy lootboxes rather than clutter my characters bags. If I happen to get a key on occasion through random fortune then sure I’ll open one but I have no great interest in gambling for the chance of a gear upgrade.

Of the games that I’ve played Neverwinter was an early experience and one where lootboxes featured heavily in everyday gameplay. The developers changed the lootbox type with great frequency and they dropped fairly often. My various characters have stacks of the things in their banks. They were worth less than the transaction charge (in Astral Diamonds) on the Auction House and not sellable for in-game gold. In LOTRO the equivalent boxes seem very rare, I have actually found more keys than boxes over the sessions that I’ve played since the F2P conversion. Since I seem to get gear at random from the daily login rewards, the Hobbit presents, I see no great need to buy or trade for lootboxes in that game either.

An unusual quandry, more keys than lockboxes...

An unusual quandry – more keys than lockboxes…

Locked gear is another matter entirely though. Unlike lootboxes I find it more difficult to ignore gear that could be an upgrade but that you cannot judge without first using a key, an identify scroll or some similar mechanism. It strikes me as particularly miserly to make players pay just to upgrade their character’s equipment.

Neverwinter again provides an example of this with the identify scrolls system. All gear above low-level non-magical (grey) items require a scroll to reveal their stats and to allow you to equip them. That’s the case whether the item is for your character’s class or not. To even get the real vendor price for an item you should, in theory, identify it first. Naturally we never bothered, we would usually sell green items unidentified to the vendors for a pittance just to free up bag space. Blue or better items we would probably identify since they could be a good upgrade for one character or another.

But other MMOs seem to have adopted some variation of locking gear. Bhagpuss notes in his recent post on Blade & Soul that gear is sealed until you unlock it with a key. I’ve read that Archeage requires you to use the precious Labor Point resource to identify gear. We’ve even encountered issues with gear in SWTOR – either because a lot of early class mission weapon rewards are bizarrely marked as requiring the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion or because purple gear drops are not equippable as a non-subscriber unless you pay to unlock the ability to equip it.

Permission to wear über loot denied

Permission to wear über loot denied

I’m aware of the need for development studios to make money to keep these expensive games going and lockboxes seem to be popular with some players at least. They do not interest me in the slightest but I can happily ignore them in games. The need to identify loot using an item that you buy with real money, or to pay before you can equip it, however is pushing at some boundry that I’m not so comfortable with.

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4 Responses to Locked gear and lootboxes

  1. bhagpuss says:

    The really weird thing about Blade and Soul’s system is that, yes, all the dropped gear needs to be unlocked if you want to use it, but as far as I can tell, with the exception a few specific items required for “Breakthrough”, you never *would* want to use any of it. The only function the gear seems to have is as a raw material to upgrade your permanent gear and to do that you can use it just as it drops, locked.

    I don’t see that it offers an income stream for the company and it makes absolutely no sense in game. Why they didn’t just have mobs drop an actual upgrade resource is beyond me – someone had to design icons for and do itemization on all these weapons and rings and so on that no-one will ever use.

    Of course I may be completely misunderstanding some subtleties that turn up at higher levels. We shall see.

  2. Shintar says:

    Hm, I can’t make out the text in that SWTOR screenshot, but that looks like a bug to me – when I played KotFE chapter one for the first time (as a sub) it did the same thing of telling me that I was somehow not eligible to wear most of the armour I had already equipped, but fortunately that fixed itself after a while.

    I used to just discard my Neverwinter lockboxes, but these days I sell them on the AH. Once a set goes out of circulation, the prices on the AH tend to go up as collectors snatch them up while hunting for that last elusive drop, though the AH fee is only ever 10% of your selling price as far as I’m aware, so you can’t make a loss even if you sell your boxes for 1 AD each.

    It’s funny to me that you mention the identification requirement, because that has never bothered me – because having to identify magic items before knowing what they do is very D&D. These days there are also additional uses for IDed greens, as you can feed them to your artefact (upgradable) gear or to the guild stronghold’s coffers.

  3. For the record, Neverwinter started letting you vendor lockboxes quite a long time ago. I just treated them like any other vendor trash.

  4. Sylow says:

    “We’ve even encountered issues with gear in SWTOR – either because a lot of early class mission weapon rewards are bizarrely marked as requiring the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion or because purple gear drops are not equippable as a non-subscriber unless you pay to unlock the ability to equip it.”

    One of the several reasons why SWtoR lost its last chance with me. While it didn’t manage to captivate me enough for its subscription, I play several F2P games very casually, but also casually spend money on them. When I decided to give SWtoR another try, though, the first thing I had to see was that I couldn’t use my equipment any more.

    So It was a case of download/update, log in, find out that the game really hates returning players, logging out and uninstalling for good. What a shameful waste of perfectly good electrons. With a less punishing business model, they could make money of me, but the levels of hate they display for the non-subscriber goes far beyond my tolerance limit.

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