One of the most despised aspects of modern gaming is, unquestionably, the proliferation of microtransactions. Like an infestation of cockroaches, microtransactions are everywhere, taking every form imaginable in almost every genre imaginable. Things like loot boxes, in-game premium currencies, special cosmetic item purchases, and who knows what else are slowly but surely becoming the norm rather than the exception, driven by the rising costs of game development and sustained by the people that keep buying such things. Perhaps one of the most concerning signs of this theory becoming a reality is the fact that a primarily single player game, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, has loot boxes in it when, traditionally, loot boxes were more or less limited to multiplayer-centric games as a means of giving players random cosmetic rewards.
That’s not all though, Shadow of War’s loot boxes contain things like Orcs and gear, or in other words, items that have a direct effect on the gameplay. Soon, Star Wars Battlefront II will also give you a chance to buy loot boxes that contain random Star Cards (which are mostly perks, but they can also be weapons or abilities) that affect both singleplayer and multiplayer. Activison even patented some kind of matchmaking system that can theoretically put you in situations where you’re likely going to lose to encourage you to buy fake items for real money so that you can perform better in future matches. You don’t need to be much of a fortune teller to figure out which way the winds are blowing: developers and publishers are testing the waters with non-cosmetic microtransactions, and we may soon be facing a full-blown evolution of microtransactions that would put the phrase “nickel and dime” to shame.
Needless to say, some people have had enough of all these increasingly distasteful microtransactions in their games, and they are taking some rather drastic steps to try and combat these terrifying trends that developers are adopting. A few Shadow of War players ,for instance, found a deceptively simple way to avoid loot boxes and whatnot by playing the game in a pseudo-offline mode. As it turns out, if you didn’t accept the game’s terms of service when you started your first playthrough, then the game will disable all of its online features, including the multiplayer and the loot box store. Alternatively, you could simply just disconnect your console or PC from the Internet, but that’s presumably slightly too inconvenient to do every single time you want to play. Either way, people are willingly giving up the ability to access “content” in their game to avoid the lure of loot boxes, which is a bit like smashing your car’s radio to protest horrible music industry practices or something, but that’s beside the point.
Other Shadow of War players have taken to using cheats (or scripts, depending on your point of view) to give themselves an endless supply of normal currency in the game, thus letting them buy as many standard loot boxes as they want. The premium loot boxes with the high-end gear and such are going to remain out of their grasp as premium loot boxes can only be purchased with premium currency, but it doesn’t really matter when you can have an infinite supply of the more basic gear and Orcs. In the grand scheme of things, this amounts to little more than an action born out of pure spite, but it goes to show that people will resort to less savory measures to avoid microtransactions.
Things don’t stop there, however, as people find ever more creative, and possibly desperate, means to try to stem what they perceive to be a new age of corporate greed. Public calls to boycott a game or company, petitions, carpet bombing a forum with a virtual list of grievances—these are all things that have happened and will continue to happen whenever a developer or publisher dares to push the boundaries of microtransactions. Some have tried to get the ESRB to classify loot boxes as a gambling mechanic; despite the apparent futility of such a plea, at least it captured the attention of the Internet for a day or two. The issue has even made its way to the British Parliament as things like loot boxes continue to toe the line between being an annoying feature and outright gambling. Perhaps it is a little naive to think that such things will sway developers and publishers (Shadow of War didn’t change a thing about their loot boxes despite all the outrage that they generated), but people have legitimate concerns over the potential for abuse that comes with aggressive monetization schemes, and it is equally as naive to completely dismiss their fears.
After all, there have already been some complaints over how Shadow of War’s endgame is a bit too grindy, which would absolutely “incentivize” people to buy a couple of loot boxes to speed things up. That being said, the way that Shadow of War handled loot boxes isn’t even that morally questionable, at least compared to some of the things that other developers have done. They’re certainly distasteful to a degree, but at least you can avoid them, unlike some other games where microtransactions are shoehorned into the lore (Destiny 2 has a fully fleshed character who only exists to sell you emotes and vanity items for real money) or shoved into your face every time you load the game (look at almost any mobile game). It is clear that neither side is willing to budge on the issue of microtransactions though, and it may soon come to pass that tensions between developers, publishers, and their audience will reach a boiling point, much to the detriment of everyone.