Loot boxes… probably one of the most controversial gaming mechanics of 2017. Criticism sharply rose for the reward system, popularized by Blizzard Activision’s shooter magnate Overwatch in the latter half of last year (as well as countless other games) and made infamous this year by Electronic Arts and Star Wars Battlefront II. From reddit users, to mainstream game publications, to YouTube critics like Jim Sterling, few games have been talked about as widely as the Star Wars sequel; drawing the ire of Disney’s Board of Directors and bringing enough attention so that the Belgium Gambling Committee began looking into it. Loot boxes garnered more buzz than the latest leaks or console war dramas.
Most fighting games don’t have much of a place for the system (notably exception being Injustice 2, which has a whole RPG system behind it), but in today’s era of skins, customizables, and companies seeking additional revenue, we might see the system crop up in more titles in the future. Though certainly, randomized loot in a fighting game just doesn’t make as much sense as other games that feature significant types of RPG elements.
That’s why, when recently discussing Fantasy Strike‘s Lum and checking out the game’s website, I was surprised to see a section about loot boxes. The leveling system in Fantasy Strike in Ranked Mode was set to enable loot boxes as rewards, with cosmetic items and currency to buy specific ones. But, because there were no additional details about drop rates, what kind of items would be possible to find, and whether some of them could affect gameplay, I reached out to Sirlin Games for confirmation.
David Sirlin, Game Designer and President of Sirlin Games, responded to a breadth of questions I posed: when will this feature be added; what kind of things can we expect to find; will any affect actual gameplay; will there be spendable XP boosts; will there be an option to buy them with real money; and finally, what is the design philosophy behind implementing the loox boxes?
Firstly, it appears that Fantasy Strike actually won’t have loot boxes after all (though since reaching out with the inquiry over a month ago, the mention of loot boxes is still on the game’s website). Due to budget restrictions, the team now lacks the budget to implement loot boxes and their contents. Sirlin Games has always planned to use loot boxes, and this information has been on the site since its reveal.
When it comes to the actual contents, Sirlin categorically assures that there would be only cosmetics, nothing that affects gameplay in any way. It makes sense, since Fantasy Strike is supposed to emphasize fighting game fundamentals.
“There is a wide range of implementation about what ‘loot box’ means. I’d like to make it clear that at no point ever, not even for one millisecond, were we ever planning to implement any kind of pay-to-win thing. In my opinion, any supposedly competitive game that allows players to pay for power or grind for power is doing a great disservice to fairness in competition, which I think is an important value,” David Sirlin said, via email. “I don’t play or support any such games. To me, that is what the real controversy should be, as it includes business models from big games out there, often not even using loot boxes, that ruin the concept of an even playfield in competition.”
Their intended system feels close to Overwatch, which regularly adds loads of customizable items to unlock (but never anything gameplay-affecting) and indeed, Sirlin points out that he intensely studied reactions to Blizzard’s implementation: “So I read everything I could from players. And I do mean quite literally that I read multiple thousands of comments directly from players. Every thread on every gaming site I could find, even some hundreds of pages long.
“The reaction was quite clear. I found something like 3 posts that were upset, in total. And thousands all in favor. It really was that overwhelmingly one-sided.” What gamers generally praised was the ability to get cosmetic goodies for free — it’s not like there was a downside to loot boxes. You could only gain, not lose.
“The positives don’t stop there. Another thing true of Overwatch’s system, which is like a 100 times more true for us than them, is that this ongoing revenue stream is something that raises all boats for the playerbase,” Sirlin continued. “Every player benefits because the ongoing revenue stream allows the developer to pay for continued development, more free features and free gameplay content for all players.”
Unsurprisingly, Sirlin points to Battlefront II as a bad example of loot boxes; he doesn’t villify them for using them, but for using them incorrectly — name-dropping how difficult it was to unlock Darth Vader, for example.
As mentioned earlier, currently, loot boxes are not coming to Fantasy Strike at this time. It looks like the game hasn’t garnered enough funds or support to make it possible. We’ll see if this changes in the future. The game is set to sail from Steam Early Access at some point in Fall 2018, or earlier.
Sources: interview; Fantasy Strike