Gaining Loot at the Cost of Gameplay

Online multiplayer has been feeling a little lacking lately, hasn’t it? It’s just as big as it’s always been, if not bigger, but for some reason it’s seemed as if there was just less being offered in the major multiplayer releases these past couple of years. That shouldn’t be the case, right? Surely our current generation should have as much or more than its predecessors. That just isn’t the case, though. Several of the big multiplayer games currently out there only offer a handful of modes to their players. In the past, such paltry offerings would quickly land a game in trouble. However, it doesn’t seem to have hurt the likes of Destiny, Overwatch and Halo 5: Guardians at all. They’re using something else to keep their fans playing and that something is “loot.”

It used to be that a multiplayer game had to hook its players with a more enjoyable experience in order to keep them and stay ahead of their competition. More often than not, that meant creating a versatile game that could offer many variations on its core gameplay. After all, ensuring that players’ gameplay experience stayed fresh and engaging for as long as possible was the only means they had of keeping fans coming back for more. Some games such as Titanfall 2 and even Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare still focus on this to varying degrees of success. Those that don’t make it a focus do so at least partly because they have found an easier way to keep their players online. Instead of trying to be purely entertaining, Destiny, Overwatch and even Halo 5 all depend on some sort of loot system and the thrill one gets from receiving their desired digital treasure. There’s no need for varied game modes; they just have to dangle these so-called rewards in front of their players and sit back as their fans occupy themselves with the grind. Who needs a robust multiplayer experience when there’s loot to earn, right?

Simply introducing loot into a game is enough to radically change its landscape and one of the best examples can be seen in Halo 5: Guardians. It’s the first in the series to incorporate loot and it also happens to be the weakest in terms of the amount of game types it offer. Halo 5 sports five standard modes outside of Warzone. That’s five fewer than Halo 4 and six fewer than Halo 3 and that’s not even counting duplicates shared between Halo 3’s ranked and social playlists. In fact, Halo 5 doesn’t even have a set of social playlist. Its social or casual sector is “Warzone,” a mode with two sub-gametypes and a heavy reliance upon its “Requisitions” system. For those unfamiliar with it, the “Requisitions” or “REQ” system is the system in the game that players use to unlock everything from one-time-use weapons and vehicles to permanent Spartan skins and nameplates. This shouldn’t have anything to do with the number of game modes available, but unfortunately that’s not necessarily the case.

A member of the Halo 5 forums pointed out a possible connection between REQ and the lack of unique modes.  The user in question makes it obvious that they’re not a fan of 343, but they still have a point.  Warzone is the mode wherein players can both earn and use the bulk of their REQ items. Since REQ items are so desirable, the player base is immediately split in favor off Warzone. Warzone matches typically last for a long time too, averaging 20-25 minutes each. This compounds the issue by keeping more players engaged longer and freeing up fewer players for the other game types. It also doesn’t help that the other modes are made less appealing by being gathered under the ranked “Arena” banner. It’s just much more beneficial for most Halo 5 players to spend their time in Warzone. It’s more casual, better populated and superior for earning loot than anything else on offer. This all amounts to fewer players partaking in the various Arena game types and ultimately gives its developer little reason to add/support additional game modes. If most of their player base is content to grind it out in Warzone, then why should they worry about it? If this is the case, then it’s unsurprising that games like Overwatch and Destiny are so comparatively bare-boned. The hook for these games isn’t a fully featured multiplayer experience; it’s all about the loot!

Basing a game around loot does more than potentially introduce grind and micro-transactions. It changes everything about it. It introduces different priorities to both player and developer. For players, it becomes less about enjoying the actual game and more about getting the next digital reward. For developers, it becomes a more about keeping players on the grind than it is about ensuring that the cool and versatile game they built is enjoyed to its fullest. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with loot in and of itself, it’s important that we all recognize all the overt and subtle influences it can have on any game it’s incorporated into. Otherwise we might very well start seeing more games that would have been better off without it.