Yesterday, the official Battlefield Twitter account published something interesting – a promise that not only will the makers of the upcoming Battlefield 5 refrain from charging for extra maps, they’re also going to avoid what has become the most toxic two-word phrase in gaming: Loot boxes.
“No loot boxes,” read the tweet, referring to the slot-machine-like randomised item drops that have become so popular in recent months:
— #Battlefield V (@Battlefield) May 28, 2018
We already knew that Battlefield 5 wouldn’t have any form of randomised loot boxes – publisher EA confirmed it to Kotaku shortly after the game’s reveal last week – but it’s still fascinating to see this particular developer, DICE, use it as part of the upcoming game’s marketing campaign.
DICE, you’ll remember, is the same Swedish studio that led development on last year’s disastrous Star Wars Battlefront 2. That game became the linchpin of the great loot box debate of 2017, provoking so much anger with its pay-to-win mechanics that EA made the unprecedented move to remove all of its microtransactions the night before it came out. (EA later re-added in-game payments to Battlefront 2, but they no longer affect gameplay.)
Since then, we’ve seen a lot of hullabaloo over microtransactions, with a particular focus on loot boxes. Pandering politicians have gotten involved and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has announced a new “In-Game Purchases” label that’s ostensibly designed to help inform parents but will in practice do very little because its scope is so broad.
Those were just distractions, though – what really matters is how game developers and publishers have reacted. And what I’ve heard over the past few months from people who work at various big companies is that Battlefront 2 got them nervous.
Along with Shadow of War, which also recently ditched its microtransactions, the newest Star Wars game turned “loot boxes” into a dirty phrase, one to avoid at all costs unless prefaced by a “no”. As I wrote on Twitter in February, in the wake of the ESRB’s disappointingly tepid announcement, what really mattered was that developers were aware that pushing too far with microtransactions will lead to widespread furore.
We’re starting to see the results of that trend. Last year at this time, publishers were drooling over the success of loot boxes in games such as Overwatch and piecing together their own shiny chest-opening animations. Now, one of the biggest publishers in games is using “no loot boxes” as a slogan to help sell its newest shooter.
Of course, publishers are still finding plenty of other ways to make extra revenue off their $80 games. The evolution of video games from buy-em-once products to play-em-forever services is not going to stop. But loot boxes, in all their predatory glory, might not be as popular as we all once feared.