Anyone who has heard me talk about the AAA industry in any capacity knows that I have no problem with taking jabs at them whenever I see fit. I mean, they are constantly trying to push gamers further and further just to see how far they can go for a few extra cents. The latest controversy sees Take Two‘s 2K19 in trouble for ads during the loading screens. If you’ll remember, this is something that was already demonized when Street Fighter V did it so…egregiously. One would think that after that game got chewed out for it, no other publisher would dare to do such a thing. Yet, here we are with 2K having full on ads in their loading screens. Honestly, that’s the industry’s biggest problem: They do not learn! If the act will give investors even more $1 , then they’ll do it.
However, the one thing I think many people can agree on to some degree is that we never wanted government intervention. Government intervention could mean a whole host of things; some good such as the end of loot boxes, some bad such as the regulating of video game violence. Point is, we didn’t want the industry to shine a light on itself that would attract the attention of legislators. But here we are, the industry’s misdeeds laid bare with a beacon for the world to see and scrutinize. For now, this isn’t so bad. Some pushback with power is always good when it’s pro-consumer. Belgium cracking down on loot boxes? Good. The U.S. looking into the loot box situation? Probably good. UK Parliament grilling EA so hard that they had to pull out something as stupid as the term “surprise mechanics”? Amazing.
But how did we get here? What in the world happened that put the industry in this position? It’s as if this has been ramping up ever since the first DLC’s were being put out for people to enjoy. What once started off as expansions to games was now becoming things like alternate endings or just the rest of the game in the case of “live services.” From there came the season pass, which was basically lending money to a developer and hoping you got it back in some form. The problem being that you rarely ever know what you’re going to get or if you’re even going to get it. Microtransactions are their own kind of insidious hell and cosmetic or not deserve to die off. Remember that horse armor we all had a laugh about? Were that to release today, there would be some who would complain that we laughed at it because “they need the money.” I don’t need to crunch the numbers to tell you why that’s bs. The executives of the worst companies make more money than we will ever see in our lifetimes. But companies need more money. I need not go into loot boxes. They suck and we know they suck.
But it begs the question, if these practices are so bad then how have they been so successful? Honestly? That’s an easy question to answer. Consider this: a game comes out and it sells 5 million copies. Typically, that means worldwide, approximately 5 million people bought that game. Of that 5 million, how many of them keep up with gaming news? Let’s be generous and say 2 million of them do. Within that other 3 million sits parents who are uninformed, people who could care less and just want to play the game, and people who’ve been swept up by the hype. Let’s say then that of those 3 million, just 1 million participate in buying microtransactions. For the sake of it, let’s say they’ve all put down $5 each. That’s 5 million dollars alone. However, we know it isn’t that simplified. Some will put down literal thousands of dollars because of their uncontrollable spending habits. For those like myself, we sit and wonder “who would buy this?” and “how do they make so much money off this?” Well there it is. Even if a small fraction of the install base of a game spends money on it, there is plenty of money to be made. That’s just considering microtransaction that you know about. This isn’t considering lootboxes or season passes or consumable microtransactions. Which, if we did, would show a grander picture of how mucn money these practices make.
Thankfully, not every practice they tried to pull worked. Remmeber the “Augment Your Preorder” crap SquareEnix tried to put out there? It was basically pre-orders with tiered goals for the uninitiated. The more preorders Deus Ex got, the more stuff you’d get because of it, including getting the game earlier. While pre-orders are a scummy practice themselves, at least it never went that far. Oh, and remember Metal Gear Survive for trying to make you pay for extra save slots? That was a dumpster fire that I’m glad stayed right in that dumpster. And how could we forget Battlefront 2 and how hard EA was slammed for their pay to win “surprise mechanics”? Beautiful. Now it seems that the live service practice is starting to see some backlash as well. Anthem, obviously, is a clear example but also consider Fallout 76. Before the game was even released, you could hear the groans of gamers annoyed that it would be just another live service. Even Square’s Avengers game is garnering some ire for following the live service model of making the framework now and roadmapping in the rest later.
So now, here we are, at the cusp of goverment regulation around the world. As stated previously, Belgium has already deemed loot boxes to be gambling. The U.S. has already pushed an anti-loot box bill forward that may not pass, but the fact that they’re moving ahead so quickly alone should be alarming. The industry should be glad that THIS is where things started to go south. I think a case could have been made ages ago for some sort of regulation. Preorders not delivering on promises, season passes that were unfulfilled, addictive and manipulative microtransactions (despite knowing what you got), and even just having a game so clearly unfinished that the DLC seems insulting. A case could be made for how anti consumer the games industry has been, but if loot boxes is the catalyst, then so be it.
Personally, I wish it didn’t have to come to this, but what choice is there? Those who don’t buy it don’t understand why anyone would, so they shrug it off. Those who casually buy into them don’t see the big deal and buy into the lie that these companies need money. Those most affected probably either need help or have parents that have no idea where their money is going. The idea of “voting with our wallets” doesn’t work here. The informed are already not buying this stuff. It wasn’t for us and it never has been. This is for everyone else who has no idea how this game industry stuff works. Thus, the last resort is here: the government.
Now, my biggest worry about regulation is how far it’ll go. Outside of loot boxes, we’ve already seen the call multiple times for looking into the link between video games and violence. Not to mention that just the threat of legislation has caused some companies to censor their games already. The unfortunate situation is that while government regulation has become necessary for this situation, it’s the least ideal solution. So much could change from their hands being in the industry, and while that seems extremist, I ask that you look into all of the latest news surrounding the government and video games. Hell, go look at that montage the Trump administration put together about video game violence and see if legislators aren’t out to get their hands into gaming.
All in all, this seems like the worst case scenario coming true. I could care less about what it does to the companies. I hope they get hit hard and never so much as utter the word “loot box” or “surprise mechanic” ever again. But for the end user, the consumer, I hope things don’t spiral out. I want to be optimistic, but the AAA industry gives me little to be optimistic about. So here’s to hoping things don’t spiral. Where do you guys stand on this? Think the government is overstepping? No big deal? Or are you glad to see it happening? Let us know in the comments.