Big Game Companies Are *Not* Our “Friends” in This. They’re About Money.

Yeah, the current loot- box-ification of the gaming industry can definitely lead to lame circumstances. But I still personally think, like I said above, that smaller-scale actions are going to get us much further than waiting for big companies or government to do something, if we want to change it.

We, as people, should absolutely care about that exploited minority. But it’s nigh-impossible for big companies to do that. And that’s something I try to be as blunt and realistic about in my life as I can.

Do I think that companies are full of humans that can make responsible decisions? Yes, absolutely! Do I think that small companies can create responsible consumer products? Yes! Do I think big ones can? No, not really!

At least, not in the economic system as currently designed.

Big game companies, and big corporations in general, are beholden entirely to their investors and shareholders. The ol’ bottom line. Most of the gaming companies that people consider “evil,” like EA, Activision Blizzard, etc, are publicly traded. Most of their shareholders see them as another blip on a page full of numbers, and not as a company full of people with a moral responsibility to their customers.

Even if they were to try something considered “more morally responsible” to the cheers of the public…wouldn’t that just lead to the customers spending more money with them? Yes. Yes it would.

And then we’re right back here again talking about dollars.

I know that’s a cynical viewpoint, but every time I expect a big corporation to behave in any way detached from money-making, I’m disappointed. So I try to have realistic expectations.

Smaller game studios are great. They are the lifeblood of innovation. I love indie games and I own a pile of them on Steam and my consoles.

But the creators of small games are also still burdened by being humans that need money to buy food.

As long as a game’s success is measured by how many units it sold, and as long as success in life is inextricably tied to money, these types of issues will exist.

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And I hear you on the loot box thing. Just because I have fun with them and have the ability to not buy a million doesn’t mean it’s that way for everyone.

I’m not at all saying that we should viciously exploit the vulnerable. But I’m saying that we as game consumers have already accepted that world for years and only now is there a sudden movement to change that. And that hypocrisy is frustrating and weird in so many ways.

Investing in mental health support for those with gaming/gambling addiction would be a far better use of resources and a more realistic road forward than waiting for corporations to change things up, at least in today’s world and political climate.

It was interesting when EA “postponed” microtransactions in Battlefront II. Ah, I thought…maybe now something is finally happening! Customers have voted with their dollar and things are changing!

But then it turned out that they only missed their sales targets by a million units(which nets them only around $30 million in profit after licensing and marketing costs, a pittance to EA)…and that they’d still sold a gargantuan 7 million + copies of the game.

Now, that’s still a dip compared to the previous release…but not the BIG dip needed for real change. And they got a ton of news coverage on that whole saga in the meantime. And still sold lots of exclusive PS4 system bundles.

No one managed to get the game or the systems pulled from shelves, in spite of the outrage.

You’ve no doubt seen the ESRB’s recent half-hearted attempt to placate the few legal challenges they’re facing with the addition of the new “In- Game Purchases” sticker for retail boxes. I don’t think this will have a big impact on sales. If it does, that’ll be interesting…but if they really wanted to make an impact, they’d have mandated that all games with loot boxes will now get an M-rating. That would use the current system to restrict the access of kids to loot boxes, at least.

And I think that’s probably a fair move.

But I don’t expect the ESRB to make big waves any more than I’d expect EA to. That’s because they’re run by the ESA, which is essentially a giant lobbying firm…and one that’s very into corporate interests.

I also don’t think that any of the current legislative pushes will get anywhere, because the modern political climate and US administration aren’t exactly super excited about consumer protection laws.

So it’s up to the grassroots then in my opinion, as I said in the article, if we truly want things to be different. Mental health donations, positive awareness, public discussions like this one, more monetary support for smaller games without loot boxes, etc.

Pay-to-play has gone hand-in-hand with gaming since it started.

Arcades were much more cynical than today’s loot boxes in so many ways. But I still had fun in them.

I have a pretty libertarian viewpoint about this stuff when it comes to government regulation, and I’m a little personally hesitant for loot boxes to be re-classified as gambling because I think that’s a weird slippery slope. I’d be much more in favor of a stronger ratings classification, if we have to do anything in that department.

Right now, “gambling” means that there’s a possible money payout on the table. If we start to throw paid loot boxes in there, suddenly now any game with a digital reward of any kind is possibly subject to government regulation.

Is the government going to be eyeing me when I open a chest in Zelda, because I got a random sword out of it?

And taking the absurdity even further, is it now gambling if I pay for any kind of potential non-monetary reward in any sort of setting? What if I buy a random box of cereal and I don’t like it? Is that cause for legal action against the store that sold it?

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I don’t really think that outlandish example would happen. But I don’t want to live anywhere near that slope.

I’m glad that people are so passionate about loot boxes. I just wish we’d properly had the conversation back when it all started in earnest in mobile and PC games years ago because now it’s a bit of a mess.

We have to be responsible for ourselves in a world designed around money like this, so let me tell you a story you can judge me harshly on if you’d like. I like/love Koei’s games, and I think of them as a smaller company. They have a small dedicated following in the US, and a tight-knit community on Twitter that’s much smaller than those for other game publishers.

So it makes me feel good to support their games, which are also lower budget than average.

But… they do just as much of this weird nonsense as other companies, sometimes. While they don’t fill their games with paid loot boxes, they are filled with thousands of dollars of paid DLC items across their whole catalog.

Costumes, music tracks, levels, etc are all just a click and a couple of bucks away.

And because this stuff seems like it has more value than a random loot box, I have totally bought some of it.

And then the other punchline: Koei is actually a BIG corporation, we just don’t see much of that here in the US since most of their success is in Japan. Look at this quarterly earnings statement from last year. In 2016, they made $160 million in profit, and in Q3 of 2017 alone they made $103 million in profit.

Oof. So much for feeling good about my purchases supporting a “small company”. $100 million is small change for a gaming company, but way more money than I’ll ever likely see in a hundred lifetimes. And then there’s those lawsuits filed against Koei Tecmo for bad working conditions by former employees back at the end of last decade.

Oh boy.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and if you made it this far, for reading my ramble, haha. I appreciate it!

I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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