Loot Box City: Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

The sensitive subject of loot boxes was reviewed last week in a post regarding Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, and it appears that their model might be the new standard for video games. One bizarre example of this is the unnecessary inclusion of loot in the upcoming Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor game, which has raised important discussion amongst gamers.

Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros., the sequel to Shadow of Mordor was eagerly anticipated by a number of fans, due to the unique ‘nemesis’ system the game employed. However, the sudden implementation of loot in a single-player game has rightfully agitated and confused players.

This time around, Monolith Productions will allow players to purchase loot boxes which can contain a variety of XP boosts, flashy gear and even orcs. It’s a surprise to see that they can somehow fit huge orcs into small little boxes, but regardless, these digital items can be purchased with real money without any guarantee of winning specific items.

The whole scheme stinks of greed, but it brings up an important question regarding this industry. Are some developers and publishers enabling gambling for gamers of all-ages with this new model? And is it a fair system if it allows developers to continue producing free downloadable content after release?

Unfortunately, there are a growing number of companies that have absolutely no issues with this new structure, and one of the most egregious examples of this is showcased in the multiplayer game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in which skins are gambled with players all around the world.

Video game developers Valve introduced this new program a few years back and countless players have wagered items on several third-party websites, where ridiculous amounts of money have been exchanged. There’s hardly any regulation from Valve, who are allowing players of any age to take part in this shady gambling scheme.

Thankfully, a few publications have already picked up on Valve’s new business model, and the sheer level of profit is currently unprecedented. Unsurprisingly, some of these third-party sites really abuse the system, which is addressed by popular Youtuber h3h3productions, in this informative and entertaining video below.

It certainly feels like Valve is mostly to blame for this recent surge of ‘gambling’ though, as they first introduced a similar arrangement in their multiplayer game Team Fortress 2. A game which was renowned for having some of the best balance for a shooter was abruptly tarnished by digital hats, crates and an assortment of new weapons.

For some, including myself, it was enough to stop playing a game I had engaged with almost every day. New weapons were effectively changing the way people played, and this new fascination with cosmetic items in Team Fortress 2 felt a little peculiar.

Whilst Team Fortress 2 opened the floodgates, it was Overwatch which really put a strong focus on loot boxes, thanks to their seasonal events. As has previously been addressed, their loot boxes haven’t been well-received by a number of players. However, Blizzard Entertainment is making some positive changes, so it’s not all terrible over there.

There are other games that attempt the same model of Overwatch, and that means we shift our focus towards the massively disappointing Gears of War 4. The Coalition provided gamers with the option to buy ‘Gear Packs’, which can help with progressing through Horde mode, whilst supplying fans with special skins.

Not content with people buying the game and the season pass, The Coalition even announced a $100 loot box package which gamers could purchase! In addition to this, they restricted exclusive content for some weekends only, because they still want money from the few people that still bother with the game.

You simply can’t justify the pricing of a loot crate package costing around $100, and thankfully the questionable actions of some of these developers have already caught the interest of government bodies, such as the UK’s Gambling Commission.

With new regulations coming into play, it’s clear that there’s a growing problem here. It seems to be raising eyebrows everywhere else too, with Chinese gaming regulations forcing Blizzard Entertainment to reveal the drop-rates of their loot in Overwatch. The country already has issues with gaming addiction, so adding gambling into the mix is one hell of a nasty concoction.

Sure, there might be some gamers who are not personally affected by this, but it doesn’t change the fact that gambling is wrong on a fundamental level. It can deeply affect people in different ways, where younger players are more susceptible to such habitual, nasty habits.

For instance, studies from a leading UK survey company in 2015 have shown that 11% of respondents aged 11 to 15 years have gambled in online games, with 2% of them having done so in the past week. The number seems to be slowly expanding, which is a worrying sign.

It’s normalising gambling, which can lead to problematic issues further on in life. Young people can often feel rewarded for betting their money on these digital items, and that can have a hugely negative impact, leading them to believe it’s a completely normal activity without any risk involved.

Loot boxes appear to be replacing season passes and paid downloadable content now, and Overwatch is clear proof of that. These crates have paid the way for free content since its release, and even EA are now adopting the same model for their upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront sequel.

It’s amusing because EA’s season passes for the first Star Wars: Battlefront completely split the user base in half once substantial content was eventually released. The price of the pass also felt extortionate for a game that wasn’t even finished. So, in all honesty, the idea of scrapping passes is a welcome one.

 

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Season passes need to be fine-tuned though, as gamers have been fooled into buying season passes by the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Gears of War 4, to name a few. For all the astounding work that CD Projekt RED has provided us with The Witcher 3, we’re still being supplied pathetic offerings from other companies.

Still, loot boxes just aren’t the answer to resolving this complicated problem with video games. Sure, some developers may vehemently disagree due to the sheer profit they’re making, but luckily gamers are beginning to stand up against loot. The exceptional PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has also recently introduced crates which have to be paid to open, and players are already showing their clear disdain for it.

It’s a massive shame that this is happening because PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has just become one of the most-played games on Steam, and despite this resounding success, the developers Bluehole still feel the need to slap loot crates into the game. Of course, servers are expensive and they need to be maintained for such a growing community of gamers, but there must be other ways to help finance further support for it.

So far, few games have managed to do it correctly. It’s possible, and that’s been proven with the original Mass Effect franchise and The Witcher 3. Significant downloadable content for those games has ultimately been worth the gamer’s time and money. Heck, even Nintendo, who are relatively new to the concept of DLC, have managed to set a decent standard with Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

There is a way to give gamers cosmetic items without having to find them in countless crates, and Titanfall 2 accomplishes just that. The game allows players to purchase specific skins and attributes for the entire roster, and so far it looks to be working. It’s all affordable, and obtaining unique animations keeps those Titanfall 2 devotees happy.

Loot boxes are soon becoming the new way to finance games after their release, and we’ll be seeing much more of it from the industry in years to come. If you don’t like it though, and you believe it’s supporting a form of gambling, then vote with your wallet.

Sure, your online character might not look as cool as the others, but then you’ll be happy with the knowledge that you didn’t waste your money on gambling for superficial items, so there’s that.

Top 8 Comics of 2016

This year showcased a wide variety of original graphic novels and comics for almost everyone, as the industry witnessed some brilliant storytelling and stunning artwork. There might have been a few blunders along the way, but cynicism towards the industry waned thanks to the release of some truly remarkable titles.

This short list is comprised of some of the best publications of the year, from a number of different publishers. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out some of these comics, then please support the creators by enveloping yourself in their carefully crafted universes. It’s not too late to hop on either, as a few of these titles will are continuing into 2017.

8. JUGHEAD

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Archie Comics successfully rebooted back in 2015, and since then the publisher has seen a plethora of new talent working on their beloved characters. One of those new creative teams that have achieved something special is the dynamic duo of Ryan North and Derek Charm.

Starting off with issue nine in September, North and Charm built upon the foundations laid by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson. To continue with a new direction for the title, North introduced everyone’s favourite teenage witch, Sabrina, into the equation.

Her first introduction into this new Riverdale, Sabrina helped take the comic to new heights. Jughead was suddenly funnier than ever before, and there was a new degree of charm to it. Falling head over heels for Sabrina, the burger-loving Jughead unsuccessfully begins to date the mysterious, quirky teen.

Of course, when Sabrina doesn’t get her way with Jughead, her dangerous magic comes into play. Jughead is a delightfully fun and hilarious read, and Charm’s artwork is the perfect choice for the story. It’s a late contender for the year, but it’s one to look out for in 2017.

7. DOOM PATROL

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Another late entry into the year, Gerard Way’s reimagining of Doom Patrol has proved to be successful, entertaining and most importantly, just as bizarre as previous entries. With splendid artwork from Nick Derington, Way has managed to create a title which is accessible to new readers, whilst welcoming the old ones back into the fold.

This new series is part of the Young Animal imprint, which is an attempt to replicate DC’s Vertigo for a new audience. So far, it’s proved to be a hit, and it doesn’t hurt that Way’s 1.5m followers on Twitter have been dedicated to following any of work post-My Chemical Romance.

Doom Patrol embraces the bizarre with fresh faces, in the form of ambulance driver Casey Brinke, and her eccentric singing roommate Terry None. Thrown into a world of weirdness, Casey gets to meet familiar Doom Patrol members, whilst discovering a mysterious past.

It’s a title that doesn’t follow standard storytelling structure, and it should be approached by those who want something wholly different to the usual superhero fare witnessed on the shelves. It’s early days yet, but Doom Patrol is set to be one hell of a ride.

6. MEGG & MOGG IN AMSTERDAM (AND OTHER STORIES)

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Written and illustrated entirely by Simon Hanselmann, Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam is the sequel to the funniest book of 2015, Megahex. However, despite being sold as a comedy to many, Hanselmann’s second graphic novel touches upon all too familiar subjects; anxiety, depression and cat’s anuses.

To escape the daily struggles of life and to fix their failing relationship, Megg and Mogg decide to travel to Amsterdam to enjoy its many vices. Of course, they can’t go anywhere without their friends, the insufferable Werewolf Jones and the empathetic Owl.

Hanselmann’s work has a beautiful, vibrant colour palette which really adds a nice dynamic to the many stories involving drug binges, sex, and mental health issues. There’s really nothing quite like Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam right now, and it’s almost criminal to miss out on one of the most unusual books of 2016.

5. DARK KNIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY

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DC has offered Batfans plenty of material to read this year, but it was this year’s original graphic novel that really took the spotlight. A True Batman Story is an autobiographical tale, written by Paul Dini with artwork from the hugely talented Eduardo Risso.

During his career as writer and producer of the hugely successful Batman: The Animated Series, Paul Dini’s life was dramatically altered after suffering a brutal assault one evening in Hollywood. This book recounts his recovery process and how his life was changed, with the visual aids of Batman and his loved villains.

A True Batman Story takes a completely different approach to telling a story which fans are used to, but that’s what makes it stand out from the rest. Dini’s narration of this horrible event in his life is an insightful look into his personality, and Risso’s art really helps bring that era of Batman back to life. For fans of the best animated series ever, this is essential reading.

4. KAIJUMAX: SEASON TWO

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The first season of Kaijumax surprised a few readers last year with its vibrant colour palette, its cutesy monsters and shockingly adult themes. Set up as a serious prison drama involving kaiju, writer and illustrator Zander Cannon continued to impress and astound his readers with Season Two.

The comic continues its focus on the main fugitive Electrogor, who is stuck in a world that doesn’t want anything to do with kaiju. After his escape from prison, Electrogor plans to the cross the Pacific rim in hope of reuniting with his children. However, during his journey, he encounters kaiju parolees, drug addicts and Lovecraftian monstrosities.

It’s a must-read for kaiju lovers, as Zander Cannon infuses his sheer wealth of kaiju knowledge into this book, whilst maintaining a fine balance of humanity within. Readers will be rooting for Electrogor to reach his kids, whilst being fascinated with some of the weird subplots supplied throughout.

Kaijumax is a grand achievement, where Cannon has managed to take a successful first season into entirely new territory. It’s action packed, dramatic and even upsetting in parts. Kaijumax is not to be missed.

3. HEAD LOPPER

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Imagine Adventure Time’s colourful visuals, mixed in with some of the elements of the Hellboy universe. Sprinkle some solid storytelling on top, with a side of beheadings, and you have Andrew MacLean’s breakout hit of 2016, Head Lopper.

Fantastical, colourful and downright entertaining from the first page, Head Lopper surprised loads of readers this year. It quickly turned into a critically acclaimed title, and within four issues, MacLean had established a universe that was here to stay.

The story follows the fearless warrior Norgal and the incessant, nagging severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch. Hired to slay the sorcerer that wreaks havoc on the Isle of Barra, Norgal faces a number of dangerous, blood-thirsty beasts.

Head Lopper is unarguably Image’s best title of the year. It’s tight, focused and enjoyable throughout. MacLean’s art is a visual treat for the eyes, all perfectly framed with every page. The graphic novel collecting the first four issues boasts a grand collection of extras, including a new story, sketches and notes from the talented creator.

2. TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

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IDW’s greatest publication to date, Transformers MTMTE wrapped up this year to reboot with the Lost Light. Written by James Roberts with artwork from series regular Alex Milne, More Than Meets the Eye is a title that has never faltered once in telling a rich, compelling and emotional story.

More Than Meets the Eye follows the crew of the Lost Light, a space vessel in search for the legendary ‘Knights of Cybertron’, a mythical group that once existed on the Transformers home planet. Led by the cocksure Rodimus, his merry team of odd, dangerous and sometimes drunk Transformers get involved in madcap adventures in space.

Writer James Roberts throws his characters of MTMTE into uncharted territory throughout, and with his innovative writing and Milne’s highly detailed artwork, the title succeeds where every other Transformers comic has failed.

For some, the prospect of reading a Transformers comic may be daunting, especially considering how meaty Roberts’ dialogue can be, but once that effort is put in, new readers are rewarded with some of the best writing seen in the industry today.

The comic tackles several themes, such as politics, relationships, religion and most importantly for the Transformers, identity. It’s given birth to the first ever gay relationship in the franchise, whilst simultaneously creating a community of fans that like to take the characters into their very own, r-rated adventure…

More Than Meets the Eye is a masterpiece within the comic book industry, and James Roberts should be applauded for his ability to craft such an interesting, thought-provoking and exciting read. Comic book readers, roll out and read it already.

1. GIANT DAYS

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Having established himself as the king of slice-of-life comic books, British creator John Allison treated his devoted readers to BOOM! Studios publication, Giant Days, way back in March 2015. Since then, alongside artists Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin, the series has evolved into one of the best comics on the shelves right now.

The setup is delightfully simple; Esther, Daisy and Susan are three women who are beginning to start the rest of their lives. During their time at university, the three main characters are faced with mystery moulds, complicated relationships, soggy festivals and a surprising amount of carpentry.

Despite not sounding like the most intriguing plot, Giant Days is brought to life with Allison’s technique for sharp, snappy dialogue and perfect characterisation. Every single character in Giant Days feels real, and they’re brought to life with some absolutely solid artwork.

Taking over from Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin has managed to perfectly match the writing talents of Allison. His style is unique, providing exaggerated expressions and dynamic posing throughout the book. Panels are carefully constructed, and it appears that Sarin improves with every issue.

Allison allows a great deal of development for Giant Days, and hopefully the series lasts for many years to come. The artistic goth Esther, the quiet Daisy and the abrasive Susan all go through the motions in the comic, and it would be absolutely criminal to leave their life story after graduation.

It’s a real treat to see a UK based comic thrive, as Giant Days appears to be amassing more readers with every new issue. If you haven’t treated yourself to 2016’s best comic of the year, then do so already. You deserve it.

I Find Your Lack of Women Disturbing, Disney Store.

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Around this time last year, Disney Store came under fire due to the severe lack of Gamora merchandise in the Guardians of the Galaxy range. All of their clothing featured most of the members of Marvel’s superhero team, but Zoe Saldana’s ass-kicking alien was nowhere to be seen.

Despite complaints, Disney hardly bothered to handle the situation. They made no changes to their existing range, and they failed to listen yet again when Marvel’s Age of Ultron hit cinemas. The Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, was lost in the shuffle of muscled men and robots.

A recent campaign sparked interest online in regards to this issue, with the focus shifting towards the confusing lack of Princess Leia products in store. With Leia being regarded as one of the strongest female characters in sci-fi, her absence from Disney Stores seemed baffling.

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Due to this backlash spreading like wildfire over social media, Disney had no option but to respond to this criticism. They vowed to produce more products featuring Leia, hoping to diversify their selection of ‘boy’ toys, such as Jedi dress-up costumes, toys and various other items.

Whether or not this change will happen remains to be seen, but this problem has infringed on the recent television series, Star Wars: Rebels. Set before the events of A New Hope, Rebels has been a pure treat for SW fans. Viewers of all ages have engaged with the varied selection of individuals, and Disney has yet again stifled customers with what’s on offer.

Rebels’ range of goods in Disney Store varies from articulated figures to beach towels, and yet, Disney’s blatant ignorance means that two of the best female characters in the show – the adept pilot Twi’lek Hera and weapons expert Sabine – are nowhere to be found.

It’s inexcusable really, as to why a beach towel would consist of three males and a droid, completely disregarding two females who have their own separate identities. On a beach towel, of all things.

A beach towel.

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Fans of collectible figurines don’t fare too well either, with Sabine and Hera only found in a two-pack range of figures. In a line consisting of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (who isn’t even in the first season), it’s really confusing to see why Sabine and Hera have been lumped in with a Stormtrooper each. Are they not important enough to have their own toy?

Perhaps Disney bought Marvel and Star Wars to cater towards the young male audience, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of females in their Star Wars and Marvel lines. In doing so, Disney Stores are potentially losing business from boys and girls, and collectors themselves. Here’s a surprising fact for Disney and Hasbro; boys can desire characters such as Black Widow and Princess Leia to play with, and girls shouldn’t be stuck with such a pitiful amount.

Investigating further into the Star Wars franchise and the representation of women (or lack thereof) is another discussion entirely, but why is it that girls are stuck with Princess Leia in her slave costume too? A quick search online supports this issue for parents, when their child is confused as to why they can’t have the original Princess Leia in stores. Perhaps if more female figures were available, there wouldn’t be this problem.

In a world which has come to embrace geek culture, more and more children are being brought up as comic book readers and fans of sci-fi. A change needs to happen now to cater towards this lost audience, and Disney/Hasbro are not helping effect this change in a positive way whatsoever.

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To put it one way, it isn’t really hard to design products that could appeal to any gender. SW: Rebels has a plethora of new characters and vehicles, mostly inspired by Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars concepts from the 70s. Hera is the main pilot of the Ghost in Rebels, and Disney and Hasbro could easily produce that vehicle with Hera included. Toys aren’t rocket science.

The shelves of Disney Stores have an assortment of Disney Princess costumes, but where is Sabine’s Mandalorian armour? Not all girls want to be a damsel in distress, and hell, boys could even armour up as Sabine. Boba Fett was a Mandalorian, after all.

This may seem like the small complaints of a random animated television series, but there’s a much bigger problem here. Star Wars: Rebels garners at least a million viewers per episode worldwide, with the one-hour special reaching 6.5 million people alone. It’s not as if Rebels is unheard of, and it’s not just Rebels which has been effected by Disney’s poor judgement.

Disney needs to shape up with their merchandising, because after the criticisms regarding Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron and Star Wars, they’ll soon lose out in more potential purchases from fans. There’s more to life than princesses and handsome men, and once in a while someone might want to be the fiercest woman ever seen in the Star Wars universe.