The Pros and Cons of MMO Lockboxes
For us old timers, it can be quite startling to see how much online gaming has changed over the last decade. Many of the changes have been positive ones, while others have not been so well received. Probably the biggest change to mmorpg games is the massive rise and dominance of free-to-play games. Where once subscriptions were king, the f2p model seems destined to be here to stay. Yet no game is ever truly f2p as game companies do need to make money in order to survive. One way of generating revenue has become front and center in many mmos in the last couple of years: the lockbox. Some players hate them, others love them, and some just don't care either way. However, it does seem that they're here to stay so let's look at the pros and cons of mmo lockboxes.
Our first order of business is to properly define what exactly an mmo lockbox is. Put simply, they are chests (or some other appropriately named box) that are obtained through loot drops within an mmorpg. The catch is that they can only be opened through the use of a special key that needs to be purchased from the game's cash shop. The essence is that players will need to spend real money in order to open these mmo lockboxes acquired through questing and defeating enemies.
The need to spend real money on buying keys is the largest item in the con column for this feature. Keys are not necessarily cheap, especially when you want to open lots of lockboxes. In Neverwinter, an enchanted key costs an average of $1.25 in real money to purchase. You get a slight discount if you buy keys in bulk, such as ten at a time. Some games allow players to convert in-game gold to cash shop currency, such as Guild Wars 2. The catch here is that inflation is always going on, and the amount of cash shop currency in exchange for your hard-earned gold gets less with every passing week. However, this real money cost to open mmo lockboxes is a pro for the game company as they're getting revenue from the players. On the surface, I can agree with people that spending $1.25 to open a lockbox isn't that expensive. But then we have to remember something else called luck.
Opening an mmo lockbox is a total crapshoot. You can open dozens of them and gain nothing of value for your wasted money. On the other hand, you can get an incredibly rare or powerful item with your first mmo lockbox. This is both a pro and a con. Let's be totally honest, lockboxes in mmo games are a form of gambling. I consider them on the par of buying collectible trading cards, such as Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon. In every pack, there's the potential of an awesome card that you've been hunting for, or you can get stuck with a bunch of junk that you don't really want. The same is true for lockboxes. You can get something really good, nothing but trash items, or something in between. Some games put a minimum amount of crafting components in these lockboxes just so that players feel like they're at least getting something useful out of them.
The mmo lockbox pros and cons boils down to whether you feel the urge to open them up. To be honest, you don't need to open them to play the game at all. The kicker is that sometimes the game has items that can only be found in lockboxes. When Champions Online did an in-game convention celebrating a fictional tv superhero, they had costume pieces and a special vehicle in a lockbox. I splurged and bought a number of keys to open some but got nothing for my trouble. This is nothing new for me as I have always had abysmal luck in matters of chance.
The truth of the matter is that mmo lockboxes are here to stay. They scratch that gambling itch that gamers get, and the games make sure that you're aware if someone gets something special by opening one. Perfect World Entertainment is probably the biggest purveyor of lockboxes, using them in Neverwinter, Champions Online, and Star Trek Online. When someone opens one up in STO and gets an incredibly rare ship, a message is broadcast throughout the game telling you so. I have to admit that it does give me the urge to buy some keys and open some lockboxes up as I'm always on the lookout for another cool starship.
There are other games that have a version of mmo lockboxes as well. Star Wars: The Old Republic offers packs for sale in their cash shop that function in a similar manner to lockboxes. The only real difference is that you don't get the lockbox as loot and then have to purchase a key. Instead, you just buy the pack directly. This is a good approach as well as you can either use the feature or ignore it, depending upon your wishes.
Personally, I have no issues with mmo lockboxes in the games that I play. You really don't need them to play the game and have fun, but you can get some really cool items from them. On the other hand, you can also get nothing for your troubles, depending upon how your luck is holding that day. There is, though, always that special thrill when you open one and get an awesome mount, ship, companion, pet, or gear. The very last lockbox I opened in Guild Wars 2 gave me a rare miniature holographic Scarlet Briar that's my new favorite miniature to have run around with me.