I've been wanting to do a regular email newsletter, and loot boxes have never been more relevant, so I started a new one called Loot Box Hell. It is still a work in progress and I'm not sure what needs improving. The good people at Game Informer Online have always been amazing critics, so I would love to know what you guys think should be changed. I've included today's email below. If this is something you'd like it would mean the world to me to have even one subscriber so sign up!

Like the title says, there was a surprising amount of loot box news this week. Battlefront II, Need For Speed: Payback and Hearthstone are all in the news for their random crates. Unfortunately, not a lot of the news is good. Anyway, check it out below.

Battlefront II still has pay-to-win loot boxes

Despite EA removing Epic Star Cards from Crates, Battlefront II still appears pay-to-win. According to Robert Purchese recapping an XfactorGaming video for Eurogamer:

As you can see, EA might have removed the top tier of Star Card from loot crates but you are still at an obvious advantage decked out in blues or even greens - or simply by having more cards in your collection.

Battlefront II uses credits and premium Crystals. Crystal prices are:

  • 500: $5/£4

  • 1000: $10/£8

  • 2100: $20/£16

  • 4400: $40/£32

  • 12,000: $100/£80

There are three types of loot box:

  • Hero, 110 Crystals or 2200 credits
  • Starfighter, 120 Crystals or 2400 credits
  • Trooper, 200 Crystals or 4000 credits

Gets more complicated. Crates deliver one-, two- and three-point Star Cards. Higher point value indicates increased rarity and in-game power. Four-point Star Cards can only be crafted by level 20 players.

Real money may not buy you the best gear any more, but it seems to still buy a lot.

Heather Alexandra concurred in a great breakdown at Kotaku.

Let’s say someone spends $99.99 for a ton of crystals and opens all of their crates. By the end of that process, they will likely have acquired a few rare cards that grant noticeable bonuses and give them a competitive edge at launch. They will also increase their card levels for their classes, removing one barrier for crafting upgrades. Throughout that process, they will also get countless crafting parts to stockpile. The only thing that prevents them from crafting the best cards is their player rank. They will spend a handful of hours in multiplayer matches, already equipped with better cards than other players, and quickly increase their rank. If they’ve planned ahead and have enough crafting parts, they will immediately be able to craft the best cards in the game.

In other words, you can quite literally pay money for statistical advantages in Star Wars Battlefront II.

XfactorGaming was even less subtle in their assessment - their video was titled "STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT II IS STILL PAY TO WIN."

If I wanted to launch a years-long game-as-a-service, I'd try not making everyone mad. Star Wars Battlefront II releases Nov. 17. The 10-hour trial is live on Origin Access.

Need for Speed: Payback has "the worst loot box implementation I've seen in a full-price game"

Hayden Dingman reviewed Need for Speed: Payback for PC World and called it "the first game to be ruined by loot boxes."

I’m talking ruined. In Need for Speed: Payback, we have a totally decent arcade racer undermined at every turn by rampant and predatory monetization. It should be a cautionary tale for the rest of the industry. [...]

What did it benefit Need for Speed to get rid of under-the-hood customization? What did it benefit Need for Speed to tie your car’s top speed, its braking power, and so on to a Collectible Card Game, then dole those cards out so painfully slowly that you’re forced to either pay up or waste your time running old races? And then to tie the cards you’re not using to a specific car? [...]

It’s garbage. It’s the worst system I’ve ever seen in a singleplayer racing game, or any full-price singleplayer game.

The worst part? The story sounds amazing in a schlocky, so-bad-it's-good way:

Get this: The first person you betray in the game? He’s a man everyone just refers to as “The Gambler,” and he speaks exclusively in gambling metaphors. Later you'll meet “Shift Lock,” the anarcho-communist group of drifters, run by a man named “The Underground Soldier.” Sample dialogue: “We are the last stand against corporate tyranny. We are the drifting freedom fighters of the misinformation age. We are...Shift Lock.”

Hearthstone is getting too expensive even for its whales

Paul Tassi, writing as a Forbes Contributor:

Another expansion, another window of time to talk about how expensive Hearthstone continues to feel, but this time, something’s different. For me personally, I feel like I’m running into a wall. Even getting a few hundred free packs from Blizzard over the years as press, even spending probably $1500 or more on packs myself, even still enjoying playing the game, it really does feel like it’s becoming unsustainable.

This sentiment appears frequently on /r/hearthstone, and I can't argue with it. More cards improves metagame variety, but how many players can keep up?

Publishers euphemize in financial statements

Meant to put this in the last email, but that message was already too long. Jason Schreier had a fun post at Kotaku called "Video Game Publishers Have Come Up With Fun New Ways To Say 'Microtransaction'":

What do you call it when a video game is full of items or services that you can buy with real money? Is it “games as a service”? “Recurrent consumer spending opportunities”? Or maybe PRI (Player Recurring Investment)?

Yesterday, publishers Ubisoft and Take-Two held quarterly financial earnings calls, which gives us a good opportunity to peek into the minds of the folks in charge of both companies. It may not surprise you to hear that their priority, like other big publishers, is to get people spending more than $60 per video game.

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