Boycotting Lootbox Games: Put Up or Shut Up

EA is no stranger to facing boycotts from consumers, with the latest PR disaster being a prime example. But does the gaming giant have anything to fear? Or will the gaming community fall back after a couple weeks of enjoying the outrage?

Boycotting Lootbox Games: Put Up or Shut Up
There's been an awful lot of talk about loot boxes lately. Well, actually, it's not so much talk as it's vitriolic outcry against a perceived oppressor, the likes of which is usually only seen in countries with civil unrest and an unjust dictator. It's also not so much lately as it's been a long time coming, sparked by the one publisher we all knew, deep down, would be the ones to make things so much worse: EA.

For those not in the know, a brief summary of what happened is this: Star Wars Battlefront II (SWB2) released, fully priced and microtransactions and loot boxes aplenty. Though microtransactions had been something only tolerated in "free 2 play" (F2P) games in the past, the massive success of Overwatch showed the industry that the idle threat of "we won't tolerate microbuys anywhere but F2P" from the community was empty, at least by and large.

EA of course took things too far, going beyond the cosmetics-only model that Overwatch uses and including gameplay affecting items within those boxes. Moreover, players were quick to notice that SWB2's in-game pricing model was set up to encourage players to buy in-game currency to speed up their unlocking progress. What started out as a complaint about Darth Vader being locked from the start and some calculations showing that it would take 40 hours to unlock him, and every other hero, turned into a riot once EA tried to calm things down.

Boycotting Lootbox Games: Put Up or Shut Up - The boxes in SWB2 feature these cards that power up heroes, thereby allowing you to pay money for a quicker advantage over other players.
Truthfully, the community manager they sent was on a suicide mission. There was nothing he could say to persuade people to get on board; unfortunately he made things worse by coming off as condescending. Though EA has gone into damage-control since earning the most downvoted comment on Reddit, gamers are still yelling "boycott."

And that's what this article is truly about, not loot boxes. What has been said about loot boxes (or crates, engrams, etc.) has pretty much all been said. What hasn't really been looked at hard enough are these threats of boycotting either SWB2 or EA at large. There are some familiar terms thrown around whenever a gaming community gets mad, and "boycott" typically comes when the fires are burning hottest.

Boycotting is absolutely the right action to take when it comes to protesting a business practice (and not sending death threats like some Twitter users believed). Businesses, and make no mistake EA is first and foremost a business and primarily, arguably only, interested in money. If they lose projected sales, or there are mass returns, they'll take notice and pivot. So what's on trial is not so much the act of boycotting itself, but the follow through when someone says that's the action they'll take.

Boycotting Lootbox Games: Put Up or Shut Up - While Overwatch can arguably be blamed for the surge in loot boxes, companies aren't following their winning strategy closely enough.
Though it'd be impossible for me to get some data to confirm (though companies like EA likely have algorithms and user data up the wazoo to provide such quantifiable data), I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of those who are calling for a boycott of SWB2 and/or EA were never, or were unlikely, going to buy the game in the first place.

It's very easy to say you are following your moral and ethical codes by boycotting a game when you weren't going to buy it in the first place, or you were on the fence and this just provided the needed push to fall into the boycotting camp. Though many users are asking for refunds, thereby joining the boycott, they make up a staggeringly small percentage of total players. It's still a number that EA is not happy about, but there will be no CEOs watching moths fly out of their wallets this month.

Boycotting is supposed to be hard, sometimes having to sacrifice something you enjoy in order to stand up for a change in the system. If you were never going to buy the game in the first place, guess what: EA probably already knew that. They have entire departments devoted to studying user data and online conversations, coming up estimations of how many of their average consumer will sit a particular game out. They plan for your outrage, and their goal is never to avoid it, but to skirt juuust outside its edge so they can still do something scummy, while leaving most players relatively tolerant of it. The only way to really make a change is for players to be vocal and take action; especially those who were planning to buy SWB2 or already have it purchased. Those are the consumers that need to take a stance to most (assuming they are against these loot box systems in their game, of course).

Boycotting Lootbox Games: Put Up or Shut Up - Call of Duty World War II even awards you for watching other players opening boxes. [milhouse_win_things_by_watching.jpg]
What it boils down to is that consumers need to put up, or shut up. If the loot box system in SWB2 seems wrong to you (and it should), then you need to either not purchase that game or return it until a change is made.

So what about me? I'm one of those who had no intention of buying SWB2. From the moment I saw it had loot boxes, I tuned out. When I heard that the boxes wouldn't contain just cosmetics, but actual gameplay boosters, I got mad. The fear became that if SWB2 was successful, then EA, and thus other publishers, had found a new line, and it was one I was not comfortable with.

Other publishers are very interested in seeing how far they can take this in money-printing scheme. First it was pre-orders, then day 1 DLC, then season passes, and now this. Activision has had some disturbing patents leaked, detailing their plans to manipulate matchmaking to psychologically persuade players to buy more boxes. Take Two has expressed interest in including microtransactions in all their games moving forward. After the backlash at EA, other publishers will likely be more tightly lipped on their future tiny-buys plans.

Boycotting Lootbox Games: Put Up or Shut Up - Even if you never buy a loot box with real money, the sting is still there because content that would have before been unlockable through exploration or achievements are now locked behind time gates and luck.
What does the future hold? Assuming this backlash against SWB2 causes publishers to change direction, I predict that "will there be loot boxes?" will become a common question asked at next year's E3. However, gamers too often have a worse bark than bite, and I'd wager a lot of those saying that the loot box system in SWB2 is scummy are actively playing the game still. If we want to see actual, positive, change, then we as a community need to be stronger and more willing to pass up a highly-anticipated game when it has features that clash with our sense of right and wrong.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of KeenGamer.

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