Saturday, June 15, 2013

Open The Box! Take The Money!

When I was a child one of my favorite treats was a trip to the fair. Not to ride the Dodgems or the Big Wheel, not even to lose another loose tooth to a toffee apple. All I wanted was a pocket full of pennies and a slot to stick them in. Penny Cascade was my favorite.

As a teenager I graduated to slot machines. Didn't need to wait for the Fair any more, nor a trip to the seaside and a long walk down a windy pier. City arcades were none too fussy about age checks so long as you kept pushing in the pennies.

By the time I was a student there were slot machines in pubs, chip shops, anywhere people stood around. It's a wonder they didn't think to build them into bus stops. They had heavy competition by then from Space Invaders, Galaxians, Frogger and the rest and I only had so much loose change but on a pub video game you always lose in the end. On a fruit machine you do occasionally win and if the coins going in were silver by then, so were the ones that came tumbling out.

So I've always gambled, yet I hate to lose money. Purely hate it. I was banned from playing poker in university because I'd play for hours and leave with the same cash I had when I arrived. Not the same amount. The very same notes and coins I came in with, near as dammit. I only like gambling when there's no gambling involved. I'm not really gambling at all. I'm buying amusement.

MMOs have always scratched this itch very well. All those Nameds in Everquest with their fair chance to drop something you didn't really want and their piddling little chance to drop something you really, really needed. What else were we doing when we camped the hill in Crushbone for hours on end, killing the Orc Trainer over and over again in the hope he'd finally drop the Shiny Brass Shield? Playing the slots, that's what. Pulling that arm one more time and hoping for a payout.

As time went on MMOs began to shuck the disguise. Why surrogate when you can simulate? And clearly there was demand. Players had been running games of chance inside MMOs for years. Some of them weren't even scams. Bringing the street operation into The House was not uncontroversial but in-game casinos fitted so smoothly into almost any milieu, once we had them we couldn't remember why we'd be making so much fuss. In EQ2 the Gigglegibbers set their slots up right there on the docks where the trade passes. In Fallen Earth the action's underground. Make it light and fluffy or dark and sleazy, it's all just good, clean fun.

Then came the Lockbox.

Hard to remember now they're so ubiquitous but I think I saw my first lockbox in Allods. The thing about a lockbox is it, it's not a game. You don't open it because it's fun to see the numbers spin. You open it for what might be inside. Might. And it costs. You don't just sidle up to it and slip a gold in the slot. You need a key and there are always more boxes than keys. You never have enough. But you can always buy more. That's a well that never runs dry.

Of course you need a motivator. If the boxes had stuff you could get elsewhere, why buy keys? So the boxes have strange allure stuffed inside. Pets, mounts, hats. Treasures craveworthy and rare. Did I say rare? There are hens walking round with toothfilled beaks more common.

Me, I quite like a lockbox, once in a while. But then, I can let a phone ring until it stops. My curiosity is malleable. I'm not uninterested in the contents of the scores of Black Lion Chests stacked in my bank but their mystery will keep until a Black Lion Key chances to appear, say when I complete a map now and again.

When I logged into Rift for the first time in months to see what presents F2P had brought it was no surprise to find lockboxes among them. Nice try Trion but Deeps is going to have a very long wait before he gets his dripping little claws on any of my money. The subscription was probably a better bet.

And it seems to have been a better bet for me than I thought, too. The substantial sum that Storm Legion and a year to play it cost had seemed wasted with barely a few hours logged in Telara since then. Now that it seems to have contributed to a very substantial stash of the new currencies, Loyalty and Credit both, I feel more sanguine. F2P seems to have made me money. Imaginary money, anyway.

There's plenty in the Store that catches my eye. All those Dimensions and the things to put in them. Mounts faster than most of my Level 50s ever rode. Extra bag slots and bigger bags than I was ever willing to craft to go in them. And I have 20k to spend. We seem to have moved an awfully long way from either adventure or roleplaying but hey, shopping with someone else's money is a kind of fantasy too.

Rift is up to speed with the new trends in a way GW2 isn't quite yet. In Tyria I'm farming coffers and shattering holograms that spawn in the world, for an event. These are the ones I love because they don't even need a key, not like the Southsun Supply Crates, but if I want them, crates or keys, I either have to fight stuff or buy from the Store. My Deeps' Lock Box Key in Rift I got just for logging in.

Daily and weekly log-in loyalty is where it's at now. We don't care what you do so long as you just turn up. If you ain't here we can't sell you anything. The past few weeks, other than when I was seeing real castles in Spain, I have logged into City of Steam and DinoStorm every day. Every. Single. Day. I don't play either much, not because they aren't good - they are - but because I have a lot to do and I can't fit in everything I'd like. But I sure make time for those two because every log-in is its own prize.

City of Steam presses buffs, currency and many lockboxes into my leather-gloved hands as I step onto The Nexus, slips in some keys as well. Never nearly enough to open the boxes. Clever that. DinoStorm is subtler still, loading me up each day with xp, potions and Gold Coins plus every few days a bandana, say, or a title. I got The Loyal last night. Smell the irony on that. Oh, and there's that once-a-day free spin on the Slot Machine that always pays out. Second spin uses those Gold Coins we just gave you so that's still sort of free, isn't it? All out of Gold Coins and you still didn't get the Big Win? Well hey, we can do something about that. Just step this way...

So as I say it doesn't bother me. Much. I have a decades-long history of gambling for fun without really spending any money. This is just another manifestation. Do I think it adds value to my fantasy adventure life? Not so you'd notice, no. I'd probably prefer that it went away. But it won't so I'm working with it. Fun is where you find it, after all.


  1. That is exactly the reason I don't want Guild Wars 2 to have log-in loyalty. It feels gimmicky. It rewards you for barely keeping in touch. It doesn't matter how good or not the gameplay is. I don't like that. It feels like the focus is on the wrong thing.

    1. I can't argue with that. I'm pretty good at finding what there is to like in most things that I can't alter but I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't rather go back to how it was when we just all logged in because we wanted to play the damned game.

  2. Heh. Whenever people "discuss" about how "immoral" or "wrong" lockboxes are, I just roll my eyes. I'm just used to it I guess.

    I really adore the way Anet deals with the Gemstore, how you can convert your in-game time spent into microtransaction currency, and how the exchange rate changes. Compared to the other Nexon games I've played like Maple Story. Ugh ugh ugh.


    1. What do you think of the actual pricing structure in the Gem Store? I was looking yet again at the Storage options yesterday and yet again in the end I just could not bring myself to spend £5.00 on a vault slot. It just seems like too much. Same with most things in there.

      I've spent a fair amount of money in SOE's SC store and I can give two reasons why: the individual items are cheaper and they run frequent promotions doubling and tripling the SC per Dollar rate. I'd much prefer deals like that to being able to trade Gold for Gems.

      If ANet had had a few Double Gem weekends I'd have spent plenty by now. AS it is they've had nothing from me for getting on for a year.

    2. Doesn't impact me in the least since I only spend Gold for Gems. Bought 3 character slots and a bank slot, all with Gold.

      Though a Double Gem weekend would certainly tempt me to spend some real money...Which is ultimately good for the developer.



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