It would appear that lockboxes are being discussed once again. Bhagpuss wrote a post over at Inventory Full yesterday, which subsequently got used as a talking point on Massively Overpowered today. What made the debate a little different this time around, was that Bhagpuss doesn’t object to lockboxses per se, merely that in most games that have them, the content is frequently lacklustre and uninspiring. A point I am compelled to concur with. I too have no major objection to lockboxes in principle and partake of them from time to time in various games. However, they seldom seem to contain anything that I consider to be of tangible benefit to me. I want pets, gear and weapons. But because of vocal complaints from certain quarters, we are more often than not saddled with inconsequential convenience items and minor cosmetics baubles and trinkets.
Lockboxes in Star Trek Online are themed and are only available in the game for a limited period of time. There is a nominal percentage chance to win gear, or even a ship if you are “lucky enough”. However, at the very least, each lockbox yields a quantity of Lobi crystals which are a barter currency. If one ever buys keys to open lockboxes it is best to consider the transaction as a means of buying currency that can be traded in for items. Winning a desirable item on top as that is then an added bonus. That is how I think of things on the occasions I purchase keys. Such an outlook then mitigates concerns over gambling although I have no major qualms about that subject either.
However, where STO handles lockboxes in a manner I like, many other MMOs do not. I have yet to find anything of note from one in LOTRO, Guild Wars 2 or Overwatch. The propensity to provided cosmetic or housing items means that lockboxes are often the prerogative of the role players or the game completists. I’m sure the developers target such a market because they pay dividends but if they could broaden their outlook and diversify the rewards there is scope for lockboxes to appeal to a wider number of consumers. Offering bag or bank space, or further character slots could potentially be attractive. Personally, I would like to see more game gear included but that would result in sabre rattling form the “pay to win crowd”. I certainly think that all lockbox rewards should be bind on equip and if not wanted available to sell via the game auction system.
Ultimately, lockboxes are symptomatic of game developers struggling to find a universally acceptable means to finance their game. The demise of the subscription model has left many MMOs in the thrall of an unsatisfactory hybrid F2P business models that have done precious little to improve the overall quality of the games. Monetisation of this kind impacts upon the conception and design of both content as well as game mechanics and seldom in a positive way. If this business model can be overturned for something better, then lockboxes may well go the way of the Dodo. However, that is not something that seems imminent at present so what can’t be cured must be endured. The current debate will more than likely have no effect on developers who have a propensity to repeat their mistakes and so the lockbox will continue as a gaming bête noire.