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Opinion – Overwatch Needs A Loot-Box Overhaul

by Brian Shea on Mar 26, 2017 at 01:13 PM

Overwatch was my favorite game from 2016. Even as the huge slate of massive games like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Mass Effect: Andromeda hit my library in 2017, Overwatch has remained a game I play nearly every day. The terrific gunplay, a colorful cast of characters, and stellar map design has kept me coming back for more month after month. Another component that once drew me in has lost much of its luster, however: the loot-box system.

Each time you level up in Overwatch, you are awarded a loot box. Within these loot boxes, you unlock cosmetic items like skins, voice lines, emotes, and victory poses. It's always a blast watching the loot box reveal a new legendary skin for your main character to the point that I have gone through stints of prioritizing arcade mode over preferred quickplay matches just to accelerate how fast I earn loot boxes. Unfortunately, outside of events that introduce new cosmetics to unlock, I no longer get that same rush from earning a loot box.

As I've gotten higher in rank and popped open well over 200 loot boxes, the field of obtainable items has dwindled significantly. I get that I own a lot of loot and that the smaller pool of available cosmetics means that duplicates will become more and more commonplace - I've played multiple collectible card games in the past, so I get how booster packs become more redundant as your collection grows. However, I am still missing the majority of the items for most characters (particularly newer heroes like Ana, Sombra, and Orisa).

Despite this, it's common for me to open a loot box and find that every single item inside of it is a duplicate. This not only kills my enthusiasm for opening loot boxes, but it takes away the loose sense of progression these boxes provide. Instead of feeling like I'm inching closer toward rounding out my collection of skins and other collectibles in the hero gallery, I'm left incrementally accumulating coins, which are doled out at much too slow a pace to compensate for a box full of duplicates.

There are a few different ways that Blizzard could address this issue. The easiest way would be to increase the number of coins you're awarded for duplicates. That way, even if you go on a run of getting duplicates, you feel as though you're making decent enough progress toward getting enough coins to buy the skin or highlight intro you really want. Blizzard could even let you reroll one duplicate item per loot box to see if that improves your luck at obtaining a non-duplicate item.

Another remedy Blizzard could explore would be to increase the drop-rate for non-duplicate unlockables with each prestige level. There's no way for physical collectible card manufacturers to know how vast your collection is and adapt the pull-rate, but with a video game, that's entirely possible. It would require a lot of fine-tuning to get the improved rates just right, but it would mean that someone who's on level 43 of his fourth prestige wouldn't need to open five loot boxes just to get one new item.

Of course, times like the recent Year of the Rooster event or the previous Winter Wonderland event roll around, I'm sucked right back into the cycle of earning as many boxes as possible. It's during these events that I'm reminded of the sense of wonder that getting new items in every loot box brings. It makes the loot-box loop outside of special occasions seem dull and uneventful.

This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy Overwatch anymore. That the standard loot-box system loses much of its appeal after several months doesn't take away from the fact that this is one of the best multiplayer shooters I've ever played. Jeff Kaplan and his team at Blizzard have demonstrated that they not only listen to the community, but they also take action based on the feedback provided. I hope that somewhere in the roadmap for Overwatch, the loot-box system gets a refresh to make it more rewarding for veteran players.