Loot, funding and better multiplayer design

I was glancing at Elonian Beasts Dye Kit and Istani Isles Mount Skins | GuildWars2.com, and was surprised to read you can spend 1,200 currency for a specific skin, or 400 for a random one.

GW2’s thing is they include a line like, “You’re always guaranteed to get a skin, and you’ll never receive a duplicate.”

Sure, but what is the point here? Personally, I’d rather pay more to get what I want, but that is because random pay-to-play loot tables trigger a warning in my head, and I don’t play games of chance that spend anything aside from a very small part of my time (so I’ll gamble in-character for a few minutes, but I won’t play a mini-game if it pays out based on chance).

Okay, so back to the point: GW2/ArenaNet is walking this fence between a business model and psychological manipulation, and we are even seeing regulators getting involved with other high-profile games that drain cash for random crap, seeing it as a form of gambling. But why are they doing this?

Money. So why aren’t folks doing new forms of capital support? I mean, these MMOs already have “virtual” and “digital” currencies, literally anything in the game. And it isn’t like my character is carrying around 3 tons of coins; if we are saying we can teleport around and transfer “gold” between users across geographic boundaries, why aren’t we hand-waving into existence some kind of player-cooperative support model?

A system I’d like to see involves converting real-world capital support (giving cash to a game company) into virtual resource allocation tokens, something a player or character can spend to activate parts of the game for themselves, but more importantly, for other players as well!

In GW2 specifically, we have things like guild banners and bonfires (I love bonfires! Everyone picks up wood and get bonuses! On the right track.). We also have all these triggers all over the place, to activate “real-time” events that make the world seem like it is living in the background, even when you aren’t around.

I imagine a game where you get your support gems or whatever, and spend it in different interfaces to affect the parts of the game you want: maybe you want extra XP for an hour, and it happens that everyone near you also gets that bonus. Or a guild is running a mission, and decide they entire map needs to run faster to achieve their goals.

I would love to see the balance and design challenges around that system, and to see a game being supported in a non-exploitive way. Because you know if we don’t think of alternatives, online games are going to become genuinely bad for humans to play, it will train millions of people to salivate at the wrong things. What if we instead taught millions to cooperate in order to lift everyone?

I’ve zero experience with the part of the universe this post describes, but noted recently some jurisdictions declaring loot boxes to be gambling and thus illegal. I guess those are for sports games, but I idly wonder what the overlap is? Obviously another option is taxation.

It hasn’t been just sports games, it is just they were the more glitzy target, but the reality is that MMOs have been straddling the fence on loot box gambling for years.

My anecdotal take is that MMOs had a considerable amount of eyes watching everything they did once we realized the horror that World of Warcraft can be on the human mind. Each time an MMO started interacting with real money they either fizzle out before making an impact, or they get a lot of attention like Second Life, and we see how that played out.

eSports on the other hand, they have been building up quietly in a few markets, and are now spilling into the US in a big way, which means huge swarms of new players, and a generation of developers used to mobile-addiction-gambling-cycles…

I like ArenaNet, and I think they are trying to make the most money they can, while straddling that fence. Of course I wish they could do something else, but that is the overlap: they are getting in front of this new wave of critique of “virtual goods”, sold via markets that use the same psychological hooks as casinos…

I sometimes bemoan being so into Guild Wars 2, because MMOs are generally a fool’s game, in terms of total cost. I justify it by saying their model isn’t that bad, and I genuinely want to know the story. And presuming I bought the deluxe version of every title and expansion release, I’ve still easily given more money to other narratives, most of which are owned by Disney… so I guess I am saying the loot box thing really bugs me, even as I avoid it, because everything is already built on such a clumsy stack, it seems like this should topple the whole thing, but will likely become a new normal unless the EU gets serious about this, too.

Whoo, tough to be a gamer in this time and place! :slight_smile:

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