With Game Update 1.5 and the F2P conversion upon us, many people have spent the last few weeks dissecting and analyzing all of BioWare’s decisions regarding how they have structured the conversion and the new Cartel Shop. Some have been received positively, others with disdain and dislike. However, there is one aspect that immediately gets my blood boiling -- Cartel Packs. Read on after the jump as I lay out just why I think these lottery boxes are possibly the worst thing to happen to The Old Republic, and MMOs in general.
For those unfamiliar with them, Cartel Packs are items purchasable from the Cartel Store. They contain a random assortment of items, some of which players can only obtain through Cartel Packs. The kicker is that they do not now know which items they will receive, and there is absolutely no guarantee that they will get something that they want. If you have ever had the experience of opening up a pile of generic item lockboxes in The Old Republic and getting nothing but undesirable greens and blues, you will have some basic idea of what trying to get something good out of a lottery box is like.
Why it is Wrong
Now, you might ask, “What’s wrong with people spending a little extra on these packs if they want to?” It is a question that inevitably surfaces in some form when the topic of Lottery Boxes comes up, and there is no single answer. First and foremost is the diversion of resources. In the past, some titles have gone to absurd lengths to bury advanced, cool and desirable things inside their lottery boxes. Look at Star Trek Online for example. The team at Cryptic have made an art form of coming up with incredibly powerful ships, desirable weapons and cosmetic items, and then burying them inside the game’s lockboxes. All the while, the title stagnated with barely any meaningful content additions. Why did this happen? Because lockboxes made Crytpic an incredible amount of money. Why spend time coming up with complicated, difficult expansions and new content when you can simply slap together a handful of items and suck the player-base dry for massive streams of revenue as they try to get said items?
That leads directly into my second major point of contention with lockboxes -- compulsive gambling. I have no intention of getting political here, but when a business model changes from “Let’s get compensated for putting out good content” to “How can we suck the maximum amount of profit from our customers with the least amount of investment” the first casualty is always going to be the player-base. This happened in Star Wars Galaxies with the addition of the Customizable Card Game addon that sold players a chance of getting their hands on swag. At the same time, they put out practically no new content out over several years (yes there was a flurry of addons near the end of the games life cycle, but that doesn’t make up for years of neglect). It is happening repeatedly in STO, as each new lockbox adds to the list of things Cryptic and PWE have buried behind a second pay wall. Even my beloved Mass Effect 3 fell into this trap with their multiplayer store, unlocking weapons, upgrades and classes not based on progression or player wants, but by the ruthless calculus of the random number generator. Unfortunately, it is about to happen in The Old Republic as well.
The final major issue I have with lottery boxes is the concept of accessibility. Perhaps I am still slightly naive (which is hard to believe after more than a decade playing MMOs), but there is something to be said for the idea that a player ought to have a fair opportunity to achieve a reward. That is not to say that I want things handed out to folks on silver platters, by all means put some challenges in the way of players. However, the idea of leaving players who refuse to gamble with their hard-earned money out in the cold simply because they do not want to pad the corporate bottom line above and beyond paying for actual content, is just flat out wrong.
How to fix them
Ironically, there is a singular, simple solution to all of the above issues that I have never seen implemented -- allow players to purchase lottery box items via the cash shop. Practically every single person I have interacted with over the years has been amenable to paying a bit more for lottery box items if they were available for direct sale. Go ahead and leave in the boxes for those who want to drop a few Cartel Coins and maybe get lucky, or who do not care what they get. Let the players who know what they want, and are willing to support the publishers and developers by spending real money to do so for a guaranteed reward. Unfortunately, this solution is unlikely to happen because I am sure it would cut into the huge payday that is the Lottery Box. And at the end of the day, that’s what these Cartel Packs are all about.
Maybe I am overreacting. Maybe I am overestimating the effect an easy payday will have on corporate and developer resource allocation. Maybe I am just so jaded from previous titles that the mere mention of a lottery box makes me immune to any form of rational argument about the subject. But maybe, just maybe, I’m right, and Cartel Packs are the harbinger of a focus on monetizable fluff, rather than actual digestible content.
What do you, dear reader, think? Have your say in the comments section.