When Good Games Go Low-Rent

There's a tendency for games to start strong and make a powerful first
impression, but then peter out when company avarice starts to trump the
game's design.

The other day, I was clicking through the ad links on Ten Ton Hammer -
something I recommend for everybody - when I happened across a particular
"news" site that shall go nameless. This "news" site had lots of articles
that were clearly targeting a very specific market, with articles about
video games, sci-fi movies, hot girls and zombie stuff, and about 80% of
the articles had titles like "10 Things About (X) That You Probably Didn't
Know," "5 Things That (Y) Doesn't Want You To Know About," or "The 20
(X)-est (Y) Scenes Ever." These articles were clearly written to generate
pageviews, rather than to express an opinion or inform the reader of an
issue of personal relevance to the writer. Low-value, lucrative trash.

Normally, this sort of thing would kind of disgust me, and I would simply
close the browser tab and do something else instead. But I've grown
accustomed to this kind of low-rent marketing, because that's how they do
things in MMO's these days. In fact, this "news" site reminded me of a
couple of games in particular, and of how they would be a lot better if it
weren't for aggressive, spammy marketing taking place inside the game -
low-value items being pushed too hard, making the whole rest of the game
suffer for it.

Low-Rent Marketing - Enchanted Keys for Nightmare Lockboxes

The tooltip shows
more purple items than green ones, but guess which is more likely to be
in the box you paid to open.


PerfectWorld/Cryptic are, unfortunately, pretty bad for this. In both

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/sto">Star Trek Online

their low-value, hard-push item is keys for lock-boxes. These lock-boxes
drop quite often, can't be sold to vendors, usually contain items of
marginal worth, and can only be opened by spending money on them. To make
matters worse, in both of these games, anytime someone lucks out and finds
a very rare, high-value item in one of them (in STO it's Tal Shiar ships,
in Neverwinter it's the fiery Heavy Inferno Nightmare mount), a message
pops up on the screen informing everyone on the server.

This system creates an artificial demand for items of very little actual
value. The keys usually don't get you much; they're essentially digital
slot machine tokens, and the loot boxes are the one-armed bandits.
Certainly, these gambles have some kind of payout every time, but that
payout is usually low-value junk that you wouldn't normally pay real money

Even this wouldn't be so terrible if the boxes dropped far more rarely
than they do. In the Lord
of the Rings Online
, there is a similar system in place, with
leveled loot boxes requiring store-bought keys to open. In LotRO, I have
personally found maybe three of these boxes since they were first
introduced a couple years ago. They're rare drops, and players can sell
the high-level ones for a good chunk of gold. I have no problem buying
keys for these, even though they often contain little more than vendor

In STO and Neverwinter, however, I find a dozen of the damned loot boxes
every time I play, and I am in no way tempted to buy all the keys I would
need to open all of them. It would end up costing too much money, even if
I did get one of the purple-quality items. They are so common that you can
barely give them away - sometimes they can be sold at auction if the
buyout price is ultra-low, but more often they get returned unsold.
Furthermore, I would be embarrassed if I actually did end up getting a
Nightmare mount or Tal Shiar ship, because it would be announced to the
whole server, and everyone would know I'm a key-buying sucker. No thanks.

Low-Rent Marketing - STO Banner Announcement

Congratz, Skippy... but
why should I care? I'm busy fighting Orions!


Though I cite LotRO as a better system for their rare loot-box drops,
that's not to say that they aren't fumbling into low-rent marketing these
days. The introduction of the catch-all currency, Mithril Coins, to their
cash shop gave Turbine a whole new way to sell "convenience," as these
coins can be used to bypass some travel restrictions and reset cooldowns.
But that convenience has become sort of intrusive lately - Mithril Coins
are used to speed up just about everything, and they're even used as a
cash-type currency in the new clothing store in Bree. But that little
button shows up plastered all over the UI - you're encouraged to spend
your coins every time you ride a horse out of a stable, every time you
complete quest objectives, and for a hundred other little things. The hard
sell doesn't even let up when you die; you can buy another instant-revive
if you fall in battle and already used your hourly freebie.  It's
just as bad for subscribers and VIPs as it is for F2P players - Turbine is
selling the living hell out of those coins.

Low-Rent Marketing - Mithril Coins Everywhere

Broken gear? Burn a
coin. Need a ride? Burn a coin. Finished a quest? Burn a coin. Run out
of co
ins? Burn your cash.

It's becoming enough to make a fella want to run some kind of ad-block
software in-game. I get that the studios need customers to use their
stores, but the pushy sales tactics can be exhausting. Neverwinter isn't
out of open beta yet, and I'm already kind of burnt out on it. It feels to
me like the monetization of the game is more important than the player
experience - as if they don't care whether or not we're enjoying the game,
as long as we're spending money on it.

Low-Rent Marketing - Rez Items

Shop 'til
you drop... and then keep on shopping!


These are all good games. There are things about all of them that I
adore, and they're not the only games or game developers doing these sorts
of things. But this pushy, aggressive marketing of low-value junk is
making these good games suffer. It's the same kind of marketing that
inspired the development of spam filters for our email. The next logical
step is in-game telemarketing - customer service reps sending us tells
trying to sell us limited-time account upgrades and character unlock
bundles. Y'know... the kind of tells we get from gold-seller drones.

There has to be some kind of middle-ground here, something less than
spamming players with loot-boxes and irrelevant banner announcements. By
all means, make the cash shop visible and accessible. But we don't need to
be urged to reach for our credit cards with every single interaction we
make in the game.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016