2017 TECH IN REVIEW: Games

Backlash over loot boxes ignites debate

Loot boxes, more often found in "free-to-play" games, have crept into full-priced titles.
Loot boxes, more often found in "free-to-play" games, have crept into full-priced titles.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

What went down in 2017

The hot-button issue among gamers this year was loot boxes, which are virtual goodie bags that cost real money in exchange for random, in-game rewards like a cool suit of armour or a digital pet.

Such micro-transactions have been around for years, though they are more often implemented in "free-to-play" games. But this mechanism is creeping into big-budget, full-priced titles.

Things came to a boil this year with Star Wars Battlefront II. Advancing in the game's online multiplayer mode was found to be heavily dependent on rewards from loot boxes. This is unlike games where loot boxes provide only items that are cosmetic in nature, not game-changing ones.

As the game itself costs over $60, it seems that the developers want to have their cake and eat it too. The resulting backlash forced the developers to temporarily disable all micro-transactions in the game, but the uproar brought the issue of loot boxes and whether the practice is considered gambling to the attention of government regulators.

While no regulator hasyet to rule definitively on the issue, this is just the beginning of the debate over micro-transactions in games. Should there be industry self-regulation or government intervention? It could go either way.

This year, gamers also went gaga over gaming console Nintendo Switch, which has sold over 10 million units in just under nine months after its launch - not including year-end holiday sales. In comparison, PlayStation 4 took 10 months to achieve this. Microsoft, meanwhile, launched Xbox One X, which lived up to its billing as the most powerful console ever.

What to look out for in 2018:

Red Dead Redemption 2, the sequel to one of the best games of all time, will be out in the second quarter.

Vincent Chang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Backlash over loot boxes ignites debate '. Print Edition | Subscribe