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The SOPA Box: Lootboxes, a festering plaster over a gaping wound


"Games cost so much more to make these days" goes out the cry of AAA Publishers defending lootboxes. You know the same AAA publishers who get lots of tax breaks, even then exploit a number of tax loopholes to allow them to build up huge amounts of cash in tax haven countries round the world; while not having to pay residuals to developers and also often denying bonuses based on meta critic score. AAA publishing is becoming more of a dick waving contest to see who can acquire and not spend the most money at present. The reason for the claims of it being "so expensive" is because AAA publishers are making huge promises offering amazing returns to investors and then are having to try and meet those expectations or alienate those investors. The reason there are investors involved in many AAA companies is simple, why risk your own money when you can risk other peoples? Without Investors the AAA industry wouldn't come crashing down right away but it would take a serious hit.

However just for a minute let's pretend that these giant multinational companies in the largest entertainment industry in the world, in terms of revenue, actually are struggling to fund productions that so far are only just approaching the cost of films. Let's pretend they can't cover these costs by just selling games at $60 + multiple often more expensive versions + A season pass. If lootboxes are so needed to sustain development (they're not but we're in the make believe world PR people keep trying to pretend we live in), what next?

I mean it what's next? The cost of video games is going up exponentially from previously seeing AAA games have the budget of that of many indie films to now AAA games starting to approach the budget of blockbuster films and this has happened in only a short span of time. AAA games are getting more and more expensive with bloated marketing budgets and a push for ever higher resolution graphics and effects. I mean did we really need a system put in to give physics and individually animate every strand of Lara Croft's hair for example? Do we really need big name screen actors doing the voices of characters in games?

(Pinched from a change.org petition)

Lootboxes are just the latest way companies are trying to patch over what they claim is an industry struggling (which is bullshit but as I said entertaining the idea). So we have pre-orders and overpriced pre-order bonuses. We have season passes that are basically pre-order systems for DLC now; then there's DLC on top of that like skins and re-colours not included in the main  season pass ; then there's stuff like microtransactions to buy currency boosters and exp boosters on top of all that and now they're trying to turn some of those systems into lootboxes with no fixed spending limit. If AAA games are so expensive as companies whine then why do they keep making them more expensive? Companies seem intent upon trying to get the consumer to pay for their failure to keep their budgets and expectations in check. In the past we had the push for digital only, we had the online passes which AAA companies claimed "Helped support the developer", by meaning they still got revenue from 2nd have sales (forgetting that most other companies outside of gaming don't get anything when their products are sold on). It's funny that the online pass died the death when AAA publishers realised the jig was up after, despite having the best selling game that month world wide, Kaos studios was forced to shut down due to financial difficulties. Homefront their title had an online pass and THQ at the time were very much on about how it was "to support the developers" but with Kaos studio going under the questions started to be asked, is it really supporting the developers? When Kaos studios were gone would the online pass be stopped or would THQ just keep collecting the money themselves?

At some stage AAA companies have to realise there's a limit to how much people can take. We saw that with the backlash to Star WarsTM Battlefront TM II EA. Customers can't keep carrying the costs for the industry and lootboxes were just the latest attempt to put a plaster over the gaping wound that is the fact the industry can't control it's spending. Almost every project now for many AAA companies is a case of a boom or bust, because AAA companies aren't happy with a smaller project that could make some money, no they want a big project that will make them all the money.

Someone pointed out to me before on twitter that video games are almost using antiquated business practices which probably don't help costs. You see in film outside of a few directors and stars signed into multi picture contracts with studios few people in film are employed permanently with a studio. The film industry works as a pool of freelancers who are picked up for a project then have to find another after it. Some crews and groups tend to move round together from project to project but it's quite mercenary. By comparison game studios hire people and they can be there project after project  after finishing one project they're straight onto the next one. This is expensive because if studios don't have a project going they're paying people to do nothing. It's one of the big reasons that we get a lot of cosmetic DLC, because companies need something for the art departments to do if they don't immediately have other projects to move them to. Otherwise the art department is sitting there idle being paid to do nothing and costing the company money. The hope is the cosmetic DLC  being made brings in enough money to cover the artists being paid to make stuff not in the main game. If AAA games are becoming too expensive it might end up being time to examine the model the industry works with as a starting point. And yes that means possibly less job stability but we're seeing already the job stability aspect of the industry slowly eroded away with certain roles such as writers and musicians.

I get that pushing the envelope is expensive. I get some-one has to be on the cutting edge but AAA companies seem to want to live on that edge constantly trying to push graphic to higher and higher qualities while the best selling game in the entire industry looks like this:

Oh and on Steam one of the highest selling games was at one point

Yet this failed to meet expectations in terms of sales targets.

The AAA industry is broken and it needs to realise that the audience can't always be the ones to keep it patched together and stop it crumbling. Lootboxes aren't a disease on their own, they're a symptom of one of the bigger problems of the video game industry.

Thank you for reading and if this has somehow landed on the desk of some AAA publishing executive. The time is coming where you will have to change and when that time comes THE REVOLUTION WILL BE LIVESTREAMED.

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About Dwarvenhobbleone of us since 8:33 AM on 06.19.2012

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