Are you really happy with the lootbox system? I’m not. At first I thought they were fun. I mean, who doesn’t like the feeling of opening what is essentially treasure chest? The thing is though, almost all of the fun in a lootbox is found in the opening. Once it’s done, it’s done, and hopefully you got something good out of it. There’s no lasting sense of achievement with lootboxes; not like the unlockables they replaced. This might just be the old crotchety gamer in me talking, but I can’t help but think that unlocking special armors and skins was far superior to the current system of slot-machine style lootboxes.
Before Destiny was released in 2014, I remember Bungie saying something along the lines of loot being a prestigious sort of thing. We were supposed to see a player with a “Gjallarhorn” or a “Mask of the Thrid Man” and be in awe that they had it. We were supposed to see those items and recognize what those players had to do in order to get it. Well, after three years of playing Destiny I don’t think I ever saw someone with a weapon and found myself thinking: “Wow, they actually did it!” Sure, I was jealous of people who had “Ice Breaker” or “Pocket Infinity”, but it was their luck I was jealous of, not their skill or their dedication to earning the weapon. They weren’t rewards for completing a difficult or special task, but instead the spoils of random chance. Even the handful of “exotic quests”, which were supposed to be the epic trials players needed to complete to earn the best weapons, were entirely based on chance. Destiny did get a little better as time went on though. They added more quests with special loot at the end, but they never could bring themselves to take random chance out of the equation. What’s more, they eventually added actual lootboxes which could be bought with premium currency. So in the end, much of the best equipment was still locked behind random chance rather than skillful play. What found I most strange about the whole situation was that Destiny was made by Bungie; a developer who, as recently as their last game, knew how to make skins and gear feel special.
Halo 3 knew how to make its gear feel special. I remember jumping into multiplayer games of Halo 3 and being genuinely impressed by all the cool armor I saw my teammates and opponents wearing. I’d look at their profiles, see the armor and then go find out what had to be done to earn it. Surprise, surprise, most of that gear required some combination of time, skill, and game knowledge. For example, I really wanted the “Scout Shoulders” for my spartan, and earning them required killing an opposing spartan with a “mongoose” (a type of ATV). If you haven’t played Halo 3 then you have no idea how hard that can be. A “mongoose” can only take out another player when it’s moving at top speed and only if it makes a solid connection. If it’s anything less than that, it won’t work. I don’t know how many games of driving around and getting blown up it took before I got it, but get it I did and I don’t think I ever took those shoulders off of my spartan once I got them.They were a real achievement; a badge of honor even. That’s just one example though. Other pieces required anything from getting all the achievements in Halo 3 to completing all manner of difficult tasks across two games to unlock. Unlockable gear was special in Halo 3, prestigious even, because it was difficult to get and everyone knew it. Even Halo: Reach and Halo 4 managed to make the gear feel special. They never did anything as involved as Halo 3 but the gear still had to be earned through hours of play and completing specific tasks. The recognition was still there too. Even today, if I saw someone in Halo 4 with a green visor I’d know that they were deadly on a “ghost” vehicle because that’s what it would take to earn it. Earning gear makes it special; it makes it memorable. Can the same really be said of stuff earned through random chance?
Modern multiplayer games are obsessed with keeping their players playing for as long as possible. It’s an understandable desire. If they can keep people playing and interested in the game, there’s a good chance that they’ll want to buy the sequel. The thing is though, they’re going about it the wrong way. People enjoy the rush of opening a treasure chest, but it’s an empty sort of rush that only lasts for an instant. Players will inevitably grow tired of it, and they may even resent the game for it. Instead of relying on random chance to keep people playing, why not give them real goals to strive for like before? Give them something to achieve, something to show their mastery of the game. Give them the opportunity to become respected veterans of your game and the chance to create stories that they’ll still want to share even 10 years later. Do that and your players will have no problem sticking around; they’ll even look back at your game fondly long after you finally have to shut it down.
What do you think of lootboxes vs. unlockables? Got any fond memories of striving for a weapon, item, or armor piece?