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Loot Boxes That Caused An Uproar

Nowadays, playing online games likely means encountering a loot box system at some point. A loot box is a virtual container that, when opened, provides players with a random assortment of items. These items are oftentimes categorized by rarity. Generally, players are expected to want to open more loot boxes in search of rare items only obtainable through the randomness of the loot box system.


Mass Effect 3 is widely credited as having popularized loot box mechanics in big budget, AAA games. Its loot box system was described by its developers as feeling similar to opening a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards. In practice, however, the inclusion of desirable items that can only be gained through random chance has largely proven controversial among the video game playing public.

Loot boxes are, more likely than not, here to stay. That said, some loot box systems are more successful than others. At the very least, some of gaming history's certified loot box failures can guide developers on what not to do as the design trend inevitably continues. Here are the loot boxes that caused an uproar with gamers.


Star Wars Battlefront 2

Perhaps the most notorious loot box system of all time was the one utilized by Star Wars Battlefront 2 when it first launched. In fact, the original loot box system in Star Wars Battlefront 2 was so controversial, it immediately overshadowed the general excitement that might have otherwise accompanied a Star Wars game at the time of its release.


Essentially, unlike many other games that incorporate loot boxes, items obtained from those in Star Wars Battlefront 2 had an impact on gameplay. That meant that rarer items obtained from its loot boxes could give players an edge in multiplayer matches. Thus, players who opened a large number of loot boxes were most likely going to have access to more powerful characters and items than players who hadn't opened very many.

Initially, loot boxes were going to be sold for a currency purchasable with real money, but this feature was removed prior to the game's launch in response to accusations of "pay-to-win" mechanics. In response, though developer EA kept loot boxes in the game, they now only contain cosmetic upgrades and cannot be purchased with real money.


The FIFA franchise

In FIFA games, loot boxes appear as packs of cards. The cards obtained from these correspond to real-life soccer players, with whom players can build a team in its FIFA Ultimate Team (or FUT) mode. The long-running FIFA franchise ended up becoming the subject of a lawsuit in 2018 as a result of these card packs. The argument made was that these microtransactions are actually a type of gambling.


The lawsuit, filed by the Netherlands Gaming Authority, alleged that EA had violated a statute forbidding gambling without a government-issued license. EA argued that its card packs do not constitute gambling, since they provide players with items meant to be used in an otherwise skill-based virtual soccer game. The Netherlands Gaming Authority proposed that the card pack system within its FUT mode constitutes a game in and of itself, since cards can be collected and traded. Given that the system is driven by real-life currency, they argued that this should be considered gambling.

Though the District Court of the Hague ruled against EA, the company stated it would appeal the decision. The case remains unresolved.


Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Middle-earth: Shadow of War was the second title in developer Monolith Productions' Middle-earth series. However, whereas its first game, Shadow of Mordor, was generally well-received by critics and fans alike, Shadow of War found itself the subject of widespread disappointment over a loot box system not present in its predecessor. That ultimately impacted its reception among players, resulting in a 4.5 Metacritic user score for its PS4 release.


Players in Shadow of War control a protagonist capable of commanding orcs in battle. In the initial version of the game, orcs were obtainable through two methods. First, players could encounter them through routine gameplay. However, their strength was randomized, which meant that recruiting powerful orc allies was ultimately left up to chance.

The second method of obtaining orcs was, of course, through its loot boxes. While the game's main story could generally be completed sans loot boxes, its post-game required some of the most powerful orcs in the game. Paying money for loot boxes sped up the post-game considerably, assuming players purchased enough of them to acquire strong orcs.

Monolith Productions ultimately removed loot boxes altogether in response to the backlash.


Apex Legends' Iron Crown event

On the whole, the EA-published Apex Legends has incorporated loot boxes in a manner that managed to avoid drawing any sort of widespread ire. That said, widespread ire was exactly what the game's community expressed in response to a special, limited type of loot box introduced in an event called the Iron Crown.


The Iron Crown was a Collection event, one of three types of seasonal events in Apex Legends. Though each of these types generally introduces a number of new cosmetics, Collection events are unique in that they revolve around collecting 24 event-specific cosmetic items.

In general, cosmetics in Apex Legends are locked behind loot boxes, and the items players were compelled to collect during the Iron Crown event were no different. However, unlike regular loot boxes, Iron Crown loot boxes could only be obtained through a seven dollar purchase, save for a maximum of two awarded for simply playing the game.

In order to obtain all 24 cosmetic items, players had to spend at least $140. EA ultimately responded to fans' concerns by selling event skins directly, though at a price more than double that of a single loot box.


Forza Motorsport 7

Forza Motorsport 7 served more-or-less as a chance for developer Turn 10 Studios to test the waters with regards to implementing a loot box system into a racing game. It didn't go so well. Loot boxes in Forza Motorsport 7 contained a combination of both cosmetic items and types of cars. Of course, a main draw for many fans of the racing game genre is the opportunity to simulate driving a variety of models of car. In the launch version of Forza Motorsport 7, some players thus had to rely on the random chance of a loot box to unlock and drive their vehicles of choice.


Roughly a year after its release, Turn 10 Studios made the decision to remove loot boxes from the game in response to negative feedback from fans. Furthermore, at that same point in time, the studio publicly announced that the then-upcoming Forza Horizon 4 would no longer include a type of in-game currency that could be purchased with real money.

Ultimately, according to Turn 10 Studios, player feedback described these systems as feeling out of place, hence their removal.

NBA 2K20

The NBA 2K games include a system wherein players can unlock new playable NBA pros through booster pack-like loot boxes. This feature has remained a staple of the NBA 2K games since 2K13. However, it wasn't until NBA 2K20 that the series drew some serious ire from fans and the media alike for transparently branding its loot box and microtransaction systems as gambling.


Criticism of NBA 2K20's gambling-like features came under fire in advance of the game's release due to a trailer that included multiple instances of full-on casino games. These included a prize wheel, a pachinko game, and a slot machine. Furthermore, popular 2K streamers were depicted winning at each of these. This is presumably not a common in-game occurrence, at least if their odds are anything like their real-life counterparts.

This criticism came on the heels of Karl Slatoff, the president of publisher Take-Two, sharing his belief that loot boxes are not gambling. Thus, critics of the NBA 2K20 trailer saw the blatant reproductions of casino games as not just potentially predatory, but hypocritical, too.


Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm

Unlike the numerous examples of loot boxes that ultimately failed and were removed by their by developers, loot boxes in Overwatch contain solely cosmetic items. It's likely due to their lack of impact whatsoever on gameplay that they have largely avoided becoming a subject of controversy within the Overwatch community, despite the capability to pay real money for them. That said, loot boxes in both Overwatch and the Blizzard-developed Heroes of the Storm are no longer purchasable with real-world money in Belgium due to a report released by the Belgian government.


The Belgian Gaming Commission, in a report that was ultimately endorsed by the Belgian Ministry of Justice, specifically declared loot boxes in Blizzard-developed games to be gambling. Blizzard shared its response to the Belgian government's decision in a post on the European Battle.net forums. Blizzard disagreed with the report, and stated that the company remained open to discussion with the Belgian government, likely in hopes of reversing the decision. While Belgian players can still earn loot boxes through in-game progression, the boxes cannot currently be purchased with real-life currency.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Though, like in Overwatch, loot boxes in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have remained uncontroversial at large, they nevertheless became the subject of two separate controversies in 2019.

First, CS:GO developer Valve announced that loot boxes in France and France only would require an additional item, called an X-ray scanner, to open. The X-ray scanner essentially shows players the items within a loot box prior to opening it, such that their rewards technically aren't random. The key word here is technically, since the revealed items within a given loot box must be claimed before the scanner can be used again. Thus, while the contents are indeed random, they're displayed before obtaining them rather than after. Players online theorized that this convoluted system was intended to avoid a legal decision similar to the one made in Belgium about Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm.


Furthermore, approximately one month later, Valve announced that container keys — purchasable items used to open its loot boxes – could no longer be traded or sold. This was not in response to fan backlash, but a money laundering scheme that made use of the ability for players to sell and exchange keys.

Sudden Attack

Sudden Attack may not be a household name in the U.S. However, a lack of Western ubiquity didn't stop its Korea-based developer Nexon from becoming the recipient of a 1,000,000 won (equivalent to roughly $945,200) fine for a loot box-based promotion within Sudden Attack. In fact, the controversy over Sudden Attack's loot boxes resembles a controversy well-known in the West: the large-scale scam that was revealed to be the basis for McDonalds' Monopoly tie-in promotion, recently immortalized in the HBO miniseries McMillions.


In McDonalds' case, customers collected Monopoly game-inspired pieces that, when combined with others in a set, awarded them with potentially valuable prizes. As McMillions explains, however, the contest was rigged. Sudden Attack's loot boxes too contained puzzle pieces that, when collected in their entirety, granted players a significant in-game reward. While the odds weren't exactly rigged, they were nevertheless stacked against obtaining certain rarer pieces. The Fair Trade Commission in Korea ruled that, because Sudden Attack failed to disclose the odds of obtaining each puzzle piece, Nexon was deserving of that very hefty fine.

Rocket League

At launch, Rocket League included a loot box system through which players could obtain purely cosmetic items used to customize their controllable vehicles. Given that the contents of its loot boxes were entirely cosmetic, they never became the subject of controversy to the extent that loot box systems in some similar games ultimately did. Nevertheless, in 2019, developer Psyonix removed loot boxes and made the same items obtainable through an in-game shop.


Much of the Rocket League community responded to this change positively. After all, players could now feely access the exact customization items they wanted, provided they had enough in-game currency to do so. The decision, however, upset a particular subsection of its player base that sold items through a secondhand market.

Equal access to all of its cosmetic items meant that the value of an item was no longer determined by randomness, and thus equivalent market demand. As a result, the once-thriving Rocket League black market was shut down entirely, since its contributors no longer had the ability to sell an item for any more than its in-game cost.

Fortnite: Save the World

Though Fortnite Battle Royale will forever remain mode most associated with the Fortnite name, it was preceded by Fortnite: Save the World. Whereas Battle Royale pits large numbers of players against one another, Save the World places players onto teams in cooperative player-versus-environment scenarios. In Battle Royale, cosmetic upgrades are only obtainable piecemeal, whether through an in-game shop or the game's battle pass. Save the World, however, launched with a traditional loot box system.


It was Fortnite: Save the World's loot box system that became the subject of a lawsuit. The suit was filed by the parents of a young player who ultimately argued that the random draw element of the loot boxes was predatory.

In all fairness, Fortnite: Save the World's loot boxes were exactly as predatory as any other random loot box system. In fact, at the time the lawsuit was filed, developer Epic Games had revamped Save the World's loot boxes to show their contents prior to purchase. The plaintiff, however, was arguing that their prior form was predatory. In early 2020, that lawsuit was reportedly tossed out of court.

WWE 2K20

Just as in the NBA 2K franchise by developer 2K Sports, WWE 2K20 includes a wide variety of items and upgrades that can only be unlocked through a loot box system. Unlike in NBA 2K games, however, players can't spend real money on loot boxes. While WWE 2K20's loot boxes may be less predatory compared to other games for this reason, they nevertheless became the subject of widespread disappointment among its player base for entirely separate reasons.


Controversy over WWE 2K20's loot boxes came due to the fact that unlocking a substantial number of the items that could be found within them was largely tedious. WWE 2K20 was already considered by many to be a substandard gaming experience in the first place. Therefore, unlocking a desired item could require a player to grind out hours of its poorly-received gameplay. Such a situation might otherwise have been avoided by its items being directly purchasable, or obtainable through virtually any other sort of unlock system not driven by random chance.


H1Z1's path to becoming a stand-alone battle royale game mimicked Fortnite's. In the development of both titles, an early version of the game was spun off into a separate battle royale mode. Each of those once-stand-alone battle royale modes eventually became known by the game's name, sans subtitle, on the basis of its popularity. Unlike Fortnite, however, H1Z1 launched with a system that many players found to be not just a sort of a random loot box, but a pay-to-win mechanic


H1Z1's pseudo-loot boxes were crates obtainable through airdrops. Calling in an airdrop required a player to expend an airdrop ticket, which was an expendable item purchasable with real money. Within each crate was a random assortment of weapons, ammo and upgrades.

One of the game's developers, John Smedley, defended the system in a Reddit post, arguing that, while an airdropped crate may have functioned like a loot box, the scenario in which one could be called in allowed other players to access it, as well. In that same post, however, Smedley outlined some immediate changes to airdrops intended to split the difference between player complaints and the developers' vision of the game. Judging by the comments on the post, Smedley's ideas weren't that well received.


Need for Speed Payback

In its post-launch state, the EA-published Need for Speed Payback attempted to incorporate loot boxes into its racing game ecosystem just as Forza Motorsport 7 did shortly before it. By now, it should hardly come as a surprise that loot boxes quickly became a feature Need for Speed Payback's player base didn't take kindly to.


Updates to Need for Speed Payback's progression system, of which loot boxes were a part, were shared to the Need for Speed subreddit by an EA community manager on Nov. 17, 2017. This was only a week after the game came out. The community manager explained that the changes were in response to both in-game data and feedback gathered from the game's community, though Star Wars Battlefront 2 – also published by EA — had received its loot box makeover less than one month prior. It's possible that, while the changes were driven in part backlash from its players, EA wanted to get ahead of a Battlefront 2-like controversy in its latest Need for Speed game.