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The Implications of Shadow Of War’s Microtransaction Removal

October 10th for Middle Earth Shadow of War

When Middle Earth: Shadow of War released last year, the conversation was, rightly, focused more on the microtransaction and loot box system (dubbed “War Chests” in-game) instead of the gameplay. In fact, one could successfully argue that the microtransaction (MTX) and loot box system implemented was so thoroughly integral to the gameplay itself, given that Monolith decided to publish a full-length blog post about it trying to convince players that it won’t, in fact, affect gameplay in Shadow of War.

As an aside, if you need to expend over 1000 words defending a system in a thinly veiled attempt to convince consumers that said system will not affect gameplay, then maybe — just maybe — it actually does affect gameplay. And maybe — just maybe — you should not implement such a system in the first place.

Fast forward to April 2018 and Monolith have announced in yet another blog post the removal of Gold, War Chests, and Market for Shadow of War on July 18, 2018. Of course, some looked to this announcement with happy thankful eyes. Others, myself included, saw this announcement with the cynicism and scrutiny that must be applied when discussing the so-called “AAA” industry.

What immediately struck me as I read the blog post was not the blatant contradictions and hypocrisy so unceremoniously synonymous with the “AAA” industry. Rather, it was the expectation of such contradictions that is the most damning and disappointing element of this whole affair. That such contradictions are not surprising and are, in fact, expected is a tragic reflection of the current state of our industry today.

The blog post starts off by saying,

“While purchasing Orcs in the Market is more immediate and provides additional player options, we have come to realize that providing this choice risked undermining the heart of our game, the Nemesis System.”

Immediately, the key thing to notice here is how they word this. It’s worded in such a way as if they only now came to some revelatory realization that the MTX and loot box system was undermining the core feature of Shadow of War, the Nemesis System.

To any discerning consumer and member of the media, this statement is patronizing at best, and a blatant lie at worst. Of course, Monolith and WB knew microtransactions and loot boxes undermined the Nemesis System. They knew this from Day Zero.

How do I know this? Again, if MTX and loot boxes did not undermine, or at the very least affect, the Nemesis System, they would not have had to expend over 1000 words in a blog post last year trying to convince gamers otherwise. Monolith and WB will never convince me that it took them until April 2018 to come to this seemingly incredible realization. From my perspective, this is nothing more than patronizing the consumer’s intelligence.

The blog post continues with,

“It allows you to miss out on the awesome player stories you would have otherwise created, and it compromises those same stories even if you don’t buy anything. Simply being aware that they are available for purchase reduces the immersion in the world and takes away from the challenge of building your personal army and your fortresses.”

This is in direct contradiction to what they claimed in the past these microtransactions and loot boxes would provide players. In an interview with Eurogamer, Shadow of War’s Design Director, Bob Roberts, said the following regarding MTX,

“It’s there, from my perspective, for people who are protective of their spare time and scared when a massive game comes along that they’re not getting to see the full experience.”

So which is it? Are MTX there for “people protective of their spare time” as Bob Roberts claimed, or do MTX and loot boxes allow people to “miss out on awesome player stories” as put forth by Monoliths recent blog post?

It is illogical to be seemingly concerned about people’s spare time, while also claiming that MTX allow people to miss out on content.

In the Eurogamer interview, Bob Roberts continues,

“It’s putting more control in people’s hands – saying, you know how you play best, you make that choice.”

Again, which is it? Do MTX and loot boxes “put more control in people’s hands,” as Bob claims, or, as Monolith’s recent blog post states, do they reduce the immersion by that fact that people are “simply aware that they are available to purchase,” forever tempting gamers to purchase them?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. MTX and loot boxes prey on and exploit the addictive tendencies of gamers. In that sense, such people actually do not have a choice, and consequently, control, when faced with such a predatory system.

So here again, you cannot claim that MTX and loot boxes “put more control in people’s” hands when also seemingly concerned about such temptation by being “simply aware that they are available to purchase.”

Like I mentioned above, such contradictions aren’t what’s damning. It’s the expectation of these contradictions that is most damning about this industry.

One thing I’d like to mention here is notice how many times in this blog post they mention that these updates will be free. In fact, I counted for you. There are no fewer than three instances where the word, “free” crops up. They mention it in their title, again in the intro to the post, and then finally at the conclusion.

This points back to what I said just one week ago on Monday’s Sea of Thieves editorial,

“The problem is, this works. People will see these updates as a supplement to what currently exists in the game, and the fact that they’re free will psychologically manipulate these consumers into thinking that Rare are the good guys, that they don’t have to be doing this but are doing so out of the goodness of their hearts. In other words, they’ll see Rare as their friends, their pals.”

It doesn’t matter that here it’s Monolith saying they’re providing free updates instead of Rare, the psychology is the same. The psychological manipulation at play here is no less abhorrent. Monolith wants to come across as your friends. They want to appear as if they’re releasing these updates out of the goodness of their hearts, that they don’t have to do this, but that they want to do this.

In truth, this is anything but benevolent. I suspect they must have looked at their data and seen some inflection point where Shadow of War isn’t generating the same revenue it was a few months ago.

And so, especially in the wake of Star Wars Battlefront 2 receiving MTX again, Monolith has calculated that now is the opportune time to announce the removal of such systems from Shadow of War.

The effect is two-fold. First, Monolith and WB will seem like the good guys (there’s the psychological manipulation at play) compared to DICE and EA. This is effectively free goodwill. Second, I fully expect the removal of these systems to take place right before the announcement of an inevitable Game of the Year Edition of Shadow of War.

In the end, it’s all about money. Greed is king in the “AAA” industry. It is incumbent on media and consumers to think critically and analyze everything uttered by the such developers and publishers.

I’m often accused of repeating myself, and I admit, I do genuinely smile when I read angy comments. But in reality, as discerning consumers and members of media, that anger should be directed at the “AAA” industry. They keep doing the same thing over and over again, and so I keep calling them out, over and over again. The announcement from Monolith declaring their removal of MTX and loot boxes in Shadow of War is, sadly, part of this cycle. I’ll change my tune when they change theirs.

Written by
A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.

1 Comment

  1. It’s more clear than ever that you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Did you even play it? Well I did, and I can tell you from experience that micro transactions and warchests don’t affect gameplay at all. I never felt the need to buy anything! I did ultimately buy quite a few things, but that’s because I loved the game so much that I wanted to support the developers and their art. Look, the pacing of the game is absolutely perf3ct. Buying the chests simply helped me reach my goals of beating the game sooner. But I could have easily spent another 75 hours grinding. It’s just that good. Warchests absolutely did not hurt this game. They enhanced a beautifully created world straight from Peter Jackson’s own imagination. You cannot claim that this evidence is damning, because really all it is is another win for gamers. Options options options. I LOVE BETHESDA!!!!!!!

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