Some of you may have recently heard of a flap involving Electronic Arts’ new game, Star Wars Battlefront II, or more specifically, the flap involving the “loot boxes” in the game.
A loot box is a consumable virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomized selection of further virtual items. Because the prizes are randomized, there are no guarantees you will be able to get the items you want to use from them. In the case of Battlefront, the best items in the game are in these loot boxes.
The problem comes when players can use real-world currency to buy in-game loot boxes. There is an incentive for people, who have already spent a lot of money just buying the video game, to keep paying until they are strong enough to easily win the game. This model is often derided by critics as “Pay to Win.”
Quite correctly, critics pointed out that this was a form of gambling, and since video games are often played by children, the critics also expressed concern this had the potential to addict children to gambling.
The controversy has been expanding for a couple of weeks now, and several governments are talking about an outright ban on loot boxes (or possibly all gambling) in video games. A US representative in Hawaii is calling for it here in the US.
In the midst of this controversy comes the news that Destiny 2, a popular video game, has been secretly throttling players’ experience point games to force them to spend more real-world money on loot boxes, which in-game are called “Bright Engrams”:
There have always been questions about how earning Bright Engram XP works in Destiny 2, the bar that fills up after you hit the max level of 20, and are able to earn the Engrams sold in the Eververse store for free. For a while the big question was whether or not there was a per-level XP cap or if it just kept increasing forever (I still don’t know the answer to this), but more recently, a new question has been a bit more pressing.
Is Bungie reducing XP gains for some activities?
Turns out, the answer is yes. A number of redditors did exhaustive tests to prove this, showing that enormous piles of XP would result in only tiny increases of the XP bar, and things only seemed to normalize when you would wait longer in between activities before earning more XP. But that makes little sense, as you would imagine that if you earn (X) XP that your XP bar would increase by (X) XP. That is not what was happening, as repeated tests showed the faster you earned XP, the less you would receive for the same activities/kills. Ultimately, one tester concluded that this added up to 1.5 lost Bright Engrams every three hours.
This is…a pretty big deal. If Bungie was doing this by accident, that’s still bad, as testing should have caught this and it should not have taken an army of redditors and journalists to figure this out, as it has been happening since launch day. But if Bungie implemented this system on purpose, which is what this statement seems to say, that means they were consciously reducing the XP given for some of the most farmable activities in the game (ie. Public Events), which in turn makes earning Bright Engrams take longer, and would seem to encourage more instant-purchases of Bright Engrams.
This is yet another artificial cap that Bungie has put into Destiny 2 like chests or environmental materials failing to give out any items if you farm them too quickly. While those lock-outs are hated enough by the community, literally giving people less XP than they’ve earned is something else entirely, and a big problem when the thing players are trying to earn using that system is the exact thing Bungie is selling as the game’s only form of microtransaction. And their explanatory statement really does come across like “we’re sorry we got caught doing this,” though I have reached out to them to clarify.