So yesterday Massively did what they should have done instead of their pseudo-news post regarding STO developer Borticus’ comments on lock boxes, and published an editorial in their regular Perfect Ten column and that focused on lock boxes. While I’m not a fan of lock boxes myself, I can see where market realities make them a necessary evil, but it’s most definitely a slippery slope.
Anyway, as Justin says in his article, lock boxes are gambling. You are paying real and/or in-game (varying by MMO) money for a chance to win a prize. That’s no different from a slot machine in Vegas, buying a state lottery ticket, or buying a raffle ticket at a school fundraiser. But like many other activities, gambling itself isn’t wrong, it’s that it can be abused.
I take issue with Justin’s second point though, where he mentions that the house always wins. This is the point where I think lock boxes diverge from other examples of gambling, since it’s not costing the developer anything to “pay out” like it is a casino. I also don’t see any sinister intentions behind not publishing odds. Truthfully, I don’t think developers know with any certainty what the odds are on winning a particular item from a lock box. Random number generators can be a little goofy at times, and I guarantee if they did post odds that there would be lot’s of players double checking those odds and raising a ruckus if their results were at all different.
I also disagree with his comment about feeling like deleting a lock box was a waste. I have the opposite reaction. I enjoy deleting lock boxes in Star Trek Online because I know I won’t be opening them, the Exchange is saturated with them so they don’t sell, and they take up valuable inventory space.
I do agree that the legality issue is in its early days, and hopefully the practice doesn’t get any games banned from some countries. Like F2P itself, I think lock boxes are a trend that’s going to be around for a while and if you can’t ignore or tolerate them, then you’ll need to take a break and wait for the direction of the industry to shift again.
Lock boxes are tacky, but in my opinion they are more jarring to see in Lord of the Rings Online than STO. Fair or not, Middle-earth is a more serious setting in my mind and I have less tolerance for commercialism in it than I do with STO or any other MMO. But even as tacky as they are, I don’t see lock boxes as tarnishing the F2P model. Personally, I find Turbine’s habit of putting items in their store to fix not-fun gameplay mechanics rather than actually fixing them much more tarnishing than lock box keys. I can ignore and delete boxes after all, but it’s much harder to ignore the progressively ridiculous number X of monsters I have to slay for deed Y.
As far as public sentiment and private actions, I think it’s really a wash. It’s the same reason why no one can really gauge the overall reaction to the end of Mass Effect 3. Unhappy people are motivated to be vocal, and happy people have moved on. Lot’s of MMO players claim to hate lock boxes and post daily on forums about how much they hate them. But forum goers are a small percentage of players in any game, and I would bet money that a size-able number of those haters still buy keys and open boxes. In the end, all a developer has to go on is their metrics. They know how many accounts they have, how many players that have on a nightly basis, how many boxes are dropping, how many keys are being purchased, and how many boxes are being opened. Apparently those numbers point to lock boxes being worthwhile, otherwise they’d be gone.
Honestly, I’ve gotten bored with the entire topic and its surrounding drama. It’s been beaten to death and nothing new’s been added to the conversation recently except for one thing. Lock boxes are only one step removed from RMT. So far MMO developers have been pretty careful to make sure that money only flows into the system, and I assume that’s to avoid government regulation and taxation (not/never been/don’t want to be a lawyer so I could be wrong). Blizzard though has started to experiment with that in Diablo 3, and I’m sure if that goes well then we’ll see the practice tried out in MMOs as well.