I used to play a lot of multiplayer when I was younger. I enjoyed playing Quake and its sequels, plenty of the X-Wing games, and even some Warcraft 3 and its friends. In recent years though, the amount of time I’ve spent competing with others online has dropped significantly. And it’s not just to do with that “time” thing that everyone seems to like so much.
It’s because I don’t trust online gaming anymore.
So those loot box things have been in the gaming news a lot this past year. From manipulating children through gambling websites to psychologically messing with people to convince them to part with their cash, loot boxes have become quite the whipping boy in the industry. And it’s not without good cause. They have gradually ramped up from the marginally irritating cosmetics to flat out selling power to players. DLC is small potatoes by comparison.
Just to put this out there: I don’t like cosmetic loot boxes (items that don’t effect the gameplay but make your character look cool) as it creates a divide between “haves” and “have-nots” in gaming, but I understand that they are not an issue in terms of gameplay. I also don’t fully object to them in Free-to-Play games. But I downright despise loot crates that provide more powerful items to players that open their wallets when they have already fully purchased the game.
This came to a head recently with the discovery of Activision’s loot crate matchmaking algorithm. This insidious system (that allegedly hasn’t been implemented yet) matches newer players with veteran ones, with the expectation that they will get destroyed by the experienced players. The new player may well spot the better player using a certain type of gun and associate their opponents success to using that weapon and feel as though they should open some crates to get this gun. Once they acquire it, matchmaking will match them with weaker players who they will dominate “thanks to their new weapon”.
This is a psychologically manipulative system, designed to trick players into thinking they are better or worse than they actually are to encourage them to part with more cash for a chance to get a better item. There’s not even the guarantee they’ll get the item they want.
Pardon my language, but fuck that system. How can I trust a matchmaking system that may well be trying to trick me into spending money? I know that multiplayer games have horrible people on sometimes, but I can ignore that to an extent. What I can’t ignore is that I may not be having a genuine experience online. I may be having an experience tailored to how much money I have or haven’t spent on the game already.
So I’m going to be avoiding a lot of multiplayer games that have a loot box component. I’m going to be avoiding single player games that do the same (how can I trust that the game isn’t artificially lengthened or “grindy”?) for the foreseeable future too. I don’t want to be party to a system that is trying to trick me into parting with more of my money.
Unless they’ve tricked me into thinking that. Are these my thoughts? Fetch me a tin foil hat someone.