Extra Credits – Picking at the Lockbox Thing Some More

The whole lockbox thing continues to meander down the road, hoving in and out of view as various politicians try to hitch their name to some aspect of this debacle.  Again, you can thank EA and their gross mishandling of Star Wars Battlefront II for this being in the public eye.

And while those seeking government intervention were buoyed by the Don Quixote-like tilting at lockboxes via bad legislation of a single Hawaiian legislator, they seem to have missed the part where an actual US Senator reached out to the ESRB in order to get the industry to self-police the whole lockbox thing.  The ESRB itself is a creation of the ESA, the video game lobbying group, who will no doubt be throwing money at key politicians to make sure any legislation goes nowhere.  Like the sign in the background in Thank You for Smoking said, “The best damn government money can buy!” and asking the ESRB to self-police is essentially a politician with their hand out looking for campaign donations.  I have seen nothing so far to make me waver from my prediction at the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile the team at Extra Credits devoted some time to the lockbox thing, taking what I would guess is a more industry insider view.

Building on their previous two episodes about why video games should cost more than $60 and why video games are so expensive to make, which I previously referenced, they espouse the view that lockboxes are, at their heart, a good thing.

They take the stance that lockboxes are not gambling, echoing my own past statements, that under the laws, as currently written, they do not meet the requirements to be considered as such lacking, as they do, a real world payout mechanism.

But they move a step farther by declaring the lack of a real world payout makes lockboxes completely unlike gambling in any emotional or psychological sense, not something at all that would feed on the compulsive nature weakness that some people have.  They back this up by mentioning a study that says it is totally not a thing, failing to link to or otherwise reference the study so you can’t check up on it.  And then they hedge a hell of a lot even after that, undermining their belief in this alleged study, by saying that more work needs to be done on the topic and that should it come to pass that lockboxes are similar to gambling psychologically, then that would be a red warning light for the industry or something.

It struck me a bit like somebody speaking about addiction without having any experience with somebody in its grip, with a bit of denial sprinkled on top.  Grandpa’s not an alcoholic, he just likes a drink or six in the evening to help shed the stress of the day.

Or perhaps it is the view of somebody with a vested interest in lockboxes.  You cannot watch that video and not think they see lockboxes as good for the industry, a way to get past the pricing barrier of $60 via the time honored tradition of making whales do the monetary heavy lifting.

They will allow that, if lockboxes were being marketed to children, that would be “evil.”  That is one of the aspects around lockboxes that the legislator in Hawaii is going after.  However, they don’t seem to think that is really a thing.

I suppose the value of the video is the industry insider aspect of it.  Lockboxes are pretty much a necessity in that mind set, a requirement to sustain their otherwise untenable business model.  They don’t think companies should be unleashing every trick in the book to make players feel the MUST buy in to play, but admit that some companies will go to far and that the industry should self-regulate.

Of course, with yet another school shooting in the US, the industry has a bigger issue as a predictable demographic seeks to blame violence in movies and video games for the tragedy.  Our president even suggested that perhaps a rating system for such entertainment would be appropriate.  Such are the times in which we live.


They have done a lockboxes part II video covering the legislation things:

This goes down the gambling path, decided that if they are gambling then virtual goods have real world value and so you could, in that world, never ban an abusive user who spent money on your game or close down a server because that would separate people from their legally obtain virtual goods with real world worth.  They also try to hold out an olive branch to the legislator in Hawaii who, in the mean time, proposed legislation that made them throw their hands in the air at the end.

They do, however, rightly call out EA for ruining things for other devs with Star Wars Battlefront II. 

5 thoughts on “Extra Credits – Picking at the Lockbox Thing Some More

  1. bhagpuss

    I agree with you that lockboxes aren’t gambling either in the strict legal definition or in the sense that most people use when they decry them. They are a “gamble” but when you open one you are “taking a gamble” not “gambling”, which is an entirely different thing.

    Semantics, grammar and the law notwithstanding, however, I think it is mighty rich for Extra Credits to attempt to parlay the legal status of lockboxes into a blanket denial of the psychological levers that drive their sales. It’s about as distasteful as the growing number of smug PR releases from developers crowing about how their game doesn’t use lockboxes because they’re better than that or that perhaps they do but their lockboxes are the special, good kind.

    I just posted again today about how much I like lockboxes. I bloody love them. I can’t figure out why anyone wouldn’t. It’s a b ox with a present inside! What’s not to like? What I don’t like is *paying* for lockboxes but even there my objection is mainly to the price not the concept. If lockboxes cost 1 cent each I’d go for a dollar’s worth every once in a while.

    Where all this is going to end I shudder to think. If it means we can all see the potential contents of a lockbox and the percentage chance of each item dropping out of it then fine – GW2 does that already and I simply ignore it. If the final curtain is the removal of randomization altogether then that’s game over – literally.

    I’m gambling on apathy winning the day though. It usually does. In a few months we’ll all have moved on to some new existential crisis and in a few years there’ll be nostalgia for the Golden Age of Lockboxes and DBG will start a True Lockbox Nostalgia Server even though they never really did lockboxes to begin with…


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Indeed, there are lockboxes and there are lockboxes. I wouldn’t sneer at something like the daily log-in treat, except for the expectation that it will actually make me log in daily. And there is some in-between ground that is tenable. But when the offer is for something really, really cool… and doubly so if it is game affecting… I start to get cross, and when the game starts to punish you for being a cheapskate, well I’m off then.

    Another point I like in the video is where they blandly comment how the fact that you can get duplicates increases revenue, like “I spent money and got the same damn item yet again!” isn’t among life’s great annoyances.

    And yes, legislation is hard, enforcement is hard, so “Can’t you just all promise to be good and we’ll call it a day?” seems the most likely outcome, at least once we get past the fever to ban video games wholesale.


  3. anypo8

    “If the final curtain is the removal of randomization altogether then that’s game over – literally.”

    *Almost* literally, I guess. People still play chess against computers. The Talos Principle wouldn’t change significantly, nor would The Stanley Parable.

    It would be an epic effort, but I can imagine large parts of EVE being made playable with no online RNG. The combat system could be derandomized with some some large development and performance cost without really hurting it too much. The explo minigame would probably have to completely change to some puzzle game, with new puzzle instances created offline and manually installed in the game via an “update” as folks solved the existing instances. (That would be kind of cool, actually.) I don’t think PI would change much? Missioning could be set to give the missions in rotation without any randomization, which wouldn’t actually change it much. Deterministic loot drops might actually be an improvement. The market would need no change. And so forth.

    I guess what we could say about removing all online randomization from games is that it would be “a game changer.” It would be fun to see a “no randomization” Game Jam play out sometime.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @anypo8 – In the context of the current discussion, which is about trading money or an intermediate RMT currency for a random prize box, having them bring up the idea that somehow RNG will be outlawed completely seems to stray well into fear mongering. I don’t think we’re going to be driven underground in order to explore the forbidden delights of THAC0.

    And, as you say, even that wouldn’t leave games completely bereft of viability. We can just have quick time events for combat! Hah!


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