This isn't exactly a rant, but this post is about a trend I'm not too happy about. Apologies to regular readers for the shift from my usual tone.
Way back in December Star Trek Online experimented with a lottery system where players could buy red gift boxes from the item shop, and each box had a really small chance of containing a very nice star ship. Apparently some players spent excessive amounts of money trying to get the ship, and as a result Cryptic made gobs of money while the boxes were active. The trial was such a success that this month Cryptic added a similar option permanently, in the form of Cardassian Lock Boxes. These drop in game, but can only be opened using keys that to all intents are impossible to obtain outside of the STO item shop (Tipa has a great and more detailed write up on all this). Reactions to this move were less than than enthused. Even the normally cheerful Blue Kae got a bit upset about it (though he did later soften his stance on the issue).
Apparently Cryptic wasn't the only one paying attention in December. Recently Turbine announced that pretty much the exact same system is coming to Lord of the Rings Online. The keys will be a bit easier to come by in game (compared to STO), but the basic mechanic where you'll find a locked box you likely can't open without hitting the cash shop is essentially the same. Paragon Studios also announced that "super packs" with random items are going on sale in the item shop of City of Heroes Online. It seems that letting players gamble away vast sums of real world cash in an online lottery for rare items is simply too profitable for Turbine and Paragon to pass up. This galls me particularly because these are two studios I would have pointed to as examples of "not evil" until now.
I can't comment in much depth on the moves in STO and CoH because I don't play those games currently. However I'm still active in LoTRO and feel more qualified to editorialize about it. I hate to be a Negative Nancy, but I feel like I keep waiting for Turbine to up their game when it comes to LoTRO. Turbine keeps bragging about how much money they have been making since LoTRO went free to play, and yet the pace of new content really hasn't changed at all from what we were seeing in the post Mines of Moria sub-based era. The Rise of Isengaurd was great, but I was done with it around a month after it went live. Since then Turbine has started selling armor in their item shop that's better than what can be crafted at similar levels, and now is pushing forward a cash shop driven lottery system. This is where all that money they are raking in from the FtP conversion is going? Are these really the same guys that gave us more free content than any MMO I've ever played in the first year after LoTRO launched in 2007?
More broadly, how long will it be before similar systems spread to other high profile FtP MMOs like Dungeons and Dragons Online, Everquest II, and Age of Conan? I fully realize that these treasure box systems are optional. You don't have to buy keys to open boxes you find or buy boxes from item shops. You can still play and prosper without using the boxes in the games they've been implemented in so far. However the trend really disturbs me. It seems more like the baldfaced greed I expect from a facebook game developer than something I expect in a full featured MMO.
[An aside: Syp was kind enough to allow me to participate in a recent retrospective on Phantasy Star Online. If you aren't a regular reader of the excellent MMO news site Massively, you can find the article here]
[Edit: Blue Kae came by and clarified the situation with Cardassian lock boxes (see comments, thanks man!). They will only be available until late March, though boxes of some sort will likely be available from here on out.]