How Star Wars Battlefront Could Make 'Loot Boxes' the Last Jedi of Video Games

By Langille, Aaron; Mathematics et al. | The Canadian Press, December 15, 2017 | Go to article overview

How Star Wars Battlefront Could Make 'Loot Boxes' the Last Jedi of Video Games


Langille, Aaron, Mathematics, Science, Computer, Science, Engineering, Architecture, Laurentian University and Charles Daviau, Master Lecturer Economics and Labour relations, University, Laurentian, The Canadian Press


How Star Wars battlefront could make 'loot boxes' the last Jedi of video games

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Aaron Langille, Mathematics, Computer Science, Science, Engineering, Architecture, Laurentian University and Charles Daviau, Master Lecturer Economics and Labour relations, Laurentian University

When Star Wars fans bought the latest video game in the franchise, many hoped to immerse themselves in discovering events across the saga's eras -- perhaps particularly between the original film trilogy and the latest instalment, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

Star Wars Battlefront II, the newest game, has sparked a heated debate among players and industry, but not because of the storylines, fast-paced action, cutting-edge graphics or online play that enables people to pit their skills online against dozens of friends and strangers at a time.

Instead, many are questioning the methods through which game publishers make money from their players by selling features and upgrades to games. The debate is likely to have repercussions throughout the video game industry and beyond.

As academics who research and teach video game design and economics, respectively, we are already seeing a significant impact on the experience of playing video games. Perhaps more importantly, we foresee this debate -- particularly the strong push-back from players -- sparking a shift in game revenue generation and the value placed on players' time.

At the centre of the Star Wars Battlefront II debate are so-called "loot boxes," a substantial revenue generator for game publishers. They give players a different set of incentives than traditional downloadable content (DLC), such as new game levels or missions for standalone and subscription-based games. They also enable publishers to make money, especially on major productions whose costs can rival those of Hollywood blockbuster movies like the Star Wars series.

Advantages and style

Loot-box rewards typically fall into two categories: In-game advantages or strictly cosmetic upgrades. In the case of advantages, players pay to improve character abilities, speed up tedious tasks or unlock advanced features or items that are designed to propel them ahead of players who don't buy in.

Cosmetic upgrades, in contrast, let players pay to customize visuals that have no impact on play or game outcomes, but often act as a status marker of their commitment to the game, such as the colour, design or style of their character's clothes, vehicles and other possessions.

The network economy of massively multi-player games -- online video games that connect hundreds of thousands of people in a shared digital world -- drives competition between individuals and teams.

At the same time, the relatively low cost of loot boxes compared to traditional DLC enables more players from a broad range of economic circumstances to buy and benefit from them.

What has made loot boxes controversial is their element of randomness -- they're digital grab-bags whose specific contents are unknown until opened. Rather than paying for a guaranteed item, players are buying an inexpensive chance to receive a reward, which may turn out to be a desired item, an undesired one or one they already own.

Recognizing that this method of delivery can lead to frustration -- particularly when paid loot boxes produce undesired items -- many games include a limited number of loot boxes or other progression methods that don't require paying real-world money.

Players who don't pay extra can collect the same items, but typically over a much longer period of time, often through a process called "grinding" -- racking up rewards through repetitive, tedious game play.

Revenue generators and enjoyment

There are many examples of successful revenue generation through in-game transactions, including loot boxes. …

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