Middle-earth: Shadow of War devs admit loot boxes messed with the "core premise" but they'll be gone soon

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Pushing loot boxes seems to be a bad look for basically anyone but Blizzard these days. First, EA temporarily took randomized crates out of Star Wars Battlefront 2 after player uproar (before putting them back in for awhile, then finally removing them permanently), and now Warner Bros. has declared that it will also be removing microtransactions which rely on real-world money from its game, Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

"The core promise of the Nemesis System is the ability to build relationships with your personal allies and enemies in a dynamic open world," reads a post on the WB Games forums. "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. 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. In order to fully restore the core promise of the Nemesis System, we’ll be permanently removing Gold, War Chests and the Market from Shadow of War. This means the option to purchase Gold with real-world money and the ability to gain Orc Followers from War Chests will be removed."

Over the next several months, WB will roll out updates that remove War Chests from the game, and will rebalance the endgame Shadow Wars (which players previously criticized as being too grind-heavy if you didn't sink some extra cash into the game, and too easy to circumvent if you did plunk down real-world money). Note that this will not remove loot chests entirely - you just won't get Orc Followers, and you'll be restricted to in-game currencies.

Too little, too late?

Of course, this is all well and good. Loot boxes are generally reviled, unless they're restricted to purely cosmetic items (and even that's not a satisfactory situation for some players), and there's currently debate across multiple countries as to whether such microtransactions should be regulated as gambling. Getting rid of a bemoaned feature such as the ability to instantly buy Orc Followers is definitely a Good Thing.

But I have to admit, I find the justification here a bit flimsy. It's stated that the developers "have come to realize" that the microtransaction system runs the risk of reducing player immersion, yet I find it hard to believe that this was never a major concern before now, six months post-release. The wording here makes it seem like this is all a surprise no one saw coming, but both Battlefront 2 and Shadow of War received quite their fair share of criticism in 2017 for their business models. Though, admittedly, Shadow of War's loot boxes were technically avoidable, while Battlefront 2's were not.

The cynical part of me sees this as a blatant PR move meant to generate goodwill before the inevitable "Deluxe" or "GOTY" edition re-release. Most players who would've made a loot box purchase with actual moneydollars would have already done so, and it's not like WB is offering refunds. That said, the removal of loot boxes is the removal of loot boxes, and WB's decision to cut them shows that even the biggest of publishers are susceptible to pressure from players.

Even if it does take half a year for said pressure to affect change.

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