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.
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.
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.