Middle Earth: Shadow of War goes full Gollum with Exploitative Lootboxes

Clearly not satisfied with the dank cave dwellings and raw fish for dinner that comes with being a corporate board member of a huge entertainment conglomerate, WB Games have decided to ask players exactly what else they’ve got in their pocketses, going full Gollum with lootboxes in Monolith Productions’ Middle Earth: Shadow of War.

Prices for the gold needed to buy the lootboxes, which contain otherwise rare orcs, range from a second breakfast sized £3.99 to a Mines of Moria busting £79.99, with more bonus gold the more you spend. Because of course there is. Because it’s costing WB games nothing.

Tricksy Publishers…

While early reviews insist the microtransactions aren’t necessary to have fun with the game, and I’m sure most of us have the ability to ignore the lootboxes entirely, the target market here is plain to see: younger gamers with access to their guardians’ credit cards, and the vulnerable adults that the industry refers to as ‘whales’ – the minority of consumers that provide over 50% of the revenue gained from this sort of practice. Now it seems that late sections of the game have actually been designed as intentionally grind heavy to encourage spending. Employing psychology to make games more compelling is nothing new, and doesn’t have to be manipulative,  but when mechanics are made intentionally boring to encourage spending, the art suffers, and so do the players.

In case all the cheesy references didn’t clue you in, I love me some Middle Earth, and I really dug Shadow of Mordor, but I’m going to have to vote with my wallet here and give this one a miss. So thanks, WB. There’s no curse in Elvish, Entish or the tongues of men for this treachery.

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Nic Reuben

Nic Reuben likes to pause games every five minutes to ponder the thematic implications of explosive barrel placement. When he’s not having an existential crisis over CAPTCHA verifications that ask him to prove he’s not a robot, he’s reading sci-fi and fantasy short stories, watching cartoons, and mourning the writing standards in Game of Thrones.


6 responses to “Middle Earth: Shadow of War goes full Gollum with Exploitative Lootboxes”

  1. Gizensha Avatar

    Jim Sterling’s take on the integration of loot boxes, and his frustrations with how reviewers have treated them – That since they’re not over the top about their presence the inclusion is low key and fine – is particularly interesting, since it being low key bread crumbing is to a certain extent how it works. When you get them in game, the place you need to go to to open them (and this is the same as in Destiny 2, I think? Just a menu in this rather than a kiosk in the game world in that) is the same as the place you can buy them for real world money. And then the orc selling them is disappointed if you don’t buy any. But there’s never a prompt saying you can buy them, so it looks subtle if you don’t have the psychological traits that this sort of thing is designed to prey on (Well, the buying micro transactions part. I think there’s been studies showing that loot boxes purchased for real world cash function on the exact same psychology that regular gambling does, with all the potential gambling addiction exploitation that implies but none of the regulation, but I’m not certain about that sine I don’t have access to the journals the studies I’m thinking of were published in.)

    1. NicTheHumanBoy Avatar

      I agree, Jim’s a great consumer advocate, and passionate. It’s not even that I have a problem with alternate ways of pricing content, but there’s no value proposition here. They’re punching you in the face then selling you bandages. The orc looking dissapointed…I noticed that in Gwent. There’s an adorable troll that breaks open barrels of cards for you and sparkly confetti fills the screen along with a satisfying pop..I felt all my reward centers firing at once then shut down the game immediately. Sadly, I think it’s going to be a problem as long as people who have absolutely no interest in games are the ones funding the publishing. These people don’t think in terms of enjoyment, artistic integrity, or social conscience..they think in charts, percentages and figures. That’s why I found it so unfortunately fitting with a Tolkien game, I guess, life imitating art in the worst possible way. This a great article on the subject btw: https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/the-whales-of-microtransactions-and-the-elephant-in-the-room. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      1. Bluesdealer Avatar

        “That’s why I found it so unfortunately fitting with a Tolkien game…” Agreed. You also mentioned Gwent. Heck, I was disappointed to see it in a CDProjekt Red game! After the masterpiece of the Witcher 3, which managed to be arguably the best game decade, was made strictly old school: one complete game, then two full expansions at a later date, and zero microtransactions or zero-day BS.

        1. Nic Reuben Avatar
          Nic Reuben

          For all the talk about ‘games as services’, I would have happily ‘subscribed’ to Witcher story content forever…I can’t remember gushing so much over RPG expansions since playing Throne of Bhaal. Gwent was free, so I can understand to an extent why monetisation was needed, but it left a bad taste in my mouth still. I think the Living Card Game format would be a good balance for stuff like Gwent, where you buy packs of 60 cards or so, but you know exactly what the pack contains, puts everyone on an even playing field then, but does get rid of the ‘randomised rewards’ that Skinner Box psych relies on. ..

  2. BenjaMan64 Avatar

    I haven’t spent a single cent on a single Loot Box (I haven’t even opened the one I got for free with the Gold Edition), and I’ve enjoyed the game immensely. After I finish and post this comment, I’ll play more before going to bed.

    I’ve recruited many strong orcs, collected powerful gear and gems for Talion, gotten many upgrades, found many collectibles that allude to LOTR lore, plus there are different ways to get Mirian, which can be used for, among other things, upgrading your army for attacking and defending, all of that without spending a single extra real life dollar.

    After I finish the main story and upcoming DLCs, even if I get the Platinum trophy, I’m sure I’ll still play Online Conquest, to fight other players’ customized fortresses and unique captains, as well as hunt down new powerful enemies in the single player mode.

    TL;DR “mechanics are made intentionally boring to encourage spending”? Yes, that’s a shame… lucky for all that such isn’t the case for the amazing Middle-Earth: Shadow of War.

    1. NicTheHumanBoy Avatar

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I’ve got to say, the game looks great. I’ve encountered some pretty strong evidence to suggest that certain late game sections have been designed as grind heavy though, and since I’ve experienced the same thing myself in ‘AAA’ titles, I have no problem believing this is the case. It’s good to read you haven’t spend anything, it just means you’re not susceptible to this sort of monetisation. A quick google search, or a browse through forums with dozens of stories by concerned family members of people who have literally bankrupted themselves through microtransactions, will let you know that a lot of people are vulnerable to this sort of thing. This isn’t an attack on Monolith, they clearly make amazing games, but publishers aren’t on our side as gamers, and I feel voting with our wallets is the only way to have a voice, since money is the only thing they care about. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your view though, it’s important not to take articles on face value if you don’t agree.

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