Saturday, June 4, 2016

In-Game Booster Packs

The 2 Second High And The Long Disappointment

A rising trend in video games lately has been offering some sort of blind box or booster pack-esque prize. These unlock in-game items, weapons, skins, icons, character, etc for players when they level up, complete challenges, or simply pay hard cash. Halo 5 has REQ Packs, Overwatch has Loot Crates, Hearthstone has packs you open to get virtual cards.

Other games that include unlocks are Titanfall, Mass Effect, and Paragon.

Beyond games, there has been a rise in toys and collectibles being sold in blind boxes in real life. It's basically just another way to sell more by making people have to buy blindly in hopes of getting the things they really want. Sounds broken, but people eat them up enough that more companies are getting in on it. I'd say I'm better than that but I have also bought way more booster packs for Magic and Pokemon than I'll ever admit before I quit. The thrill of opening a new pack, of hoping for a legendary card or item, of sorting through the spoils is a gamer high like no other!

The most exciting 1.5 seconds of your life (after sex) is waiting for the opening animation to finish.

So why does it suck so much in video games?

A pet peeve of mine is when video games forget that they are virtual worlds will near limitless possibilities. In improv (follow me here), you can pretend your character is at work, trying to get a raise, but just as easily you can pretend your character is fighting a race of cat-aliens on another planet while using a laser pointer and a bag of catnip! Why limit yourself to the mundane settings of the real world counterparts?

As reference, this pose was a duplicate and I was given +15 C for getting it a second time. The cheapest items are +25 C and this pose is listed at +75 C if I tried to buy it.
Almost all of these in-game booster packs function the same as real world booster packs. You open them up, get a random set of items, and they are added to your inventory. That's it. There are usually options to buy more packs or better packs with higher rates for better items, but a lot of these are still laughably sad what they offer.

In Hearthstone, you open booster packs to unlock cards to use in decks. Cards are limited to a max of 2 of the same card in a deck and are pulled from your collection to be used in any deck you design. This means that having a 3rd or 4th copy of a card is entirely pointless, just taking up virtual space! In Overwatch, if you get a duplicate item it gives you a minuscule amount of credits in return. The game Dirty Bomb actually lets you unlock items for characters you don't even have access to yet! In Halo 5 I'm always opening packs and getting guns/vehicles I never use and my only option is to sell them back for a few more REQ points to buy another pack later.

I don't care how many Scout Warthogs you give me, I will never be caught dead in one in Halo 5! (because if I did ever use one, I would be dead 10 seconds out the gate)
This is a video game for crying out loud! I understand with a real life booster pack the cards were pre-packaged together long before I laid hands on them, but with in-game packs there is so much room for making this system better! What I want to know is, why none of these games have done anything to really improve the booster pack experience?

Hearthstone the best of the bunch in that at least they let you break cards down for material to make the cards you actually want. Compared to in real life where I have to sell crappy Magic cards on ebay at 25 cents for four cards.

Why can't I mark certain cards I want to get less of in a pack? Why not remove the chance of me getting a duplicate? How about giving me the option to re-open a pack, scrubbing the contents and trying again at the sacrifice of 1 less card or credits? Or the option to pay some credits to beef up a pack before I open it, raising the chance of me getting a rarer item? How about having the packs more likely to drop items for characters I use more?

We're basically already gambling here, so let's push it further! Give me themed packs, give me ways to increase my odds, give me the feeling of some control of the outcome, even if it's just in my head!

I get that the companies are just trying to move virtual items, cash in on micro-transactions, and generally make money. But there must be something that can be added to spice up this mechanic. Most of them have colorful lights and explosions, special animations and sounds that play up the reveal upon opening a pack. Why not take it a step further and add another layer of gamification here? At the very least, don't leave me raging at my screen because I've opened yet another pack with lackluster to down right terrible draws!

Keep the fun rolling, make opening in game packs great every time!