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What If We Could Lootbox Government?

If you’ve played any modern games on virtually any system, then you’ve already come across some form of monetization. Producing a game costs a lot of money, and often the game has upkeep costs that go way beyond the initial price of development.



If you’ve played any modern games on virtually any system, then you’ve already come across some form of monetization. Producing a game costs a lot of money, and often the game has upkeep costs that go way beyond the initial price of development. Multiplayer games need servers – sometimes lots of them –in order for the game to even function, but the $60 (or $80, or more) sticker price won’t cover that cost if the game doesn’t generate constant sales and stay operational for more than five years.

This presents developers with a problem: they can’t just raise the price to be however high they want without alienating their customers with a $120 price tag. In order to get more out of the consumer, a way of getting those with the ability to pay more for their games is necessary, but in a way that doesn’t fundamentally change the way the game is played for those who can’t afford to pay more.

It’s a really tricky problem, one that has plagued much more than just the video game industry. In particular, governments struggle with this problem more than anyone else. The issue of rising healthcare and infrastructure costs have made the search for additional revenue something that all governments, but particularly North American ones, prioritize during their tenures. Just as with video game prices, however, nobody wants to see their taxes rise. So, like game developers, how do governments deal with the rising cost of doing business?

Monetization Is Not A Dirty Word

The solution lies in monetization. There are numerous games available today that follow a free-to-play model, with varying degrees of success, but since many of them go too far and become pay-to-win, we’ll stick with games that only monetize aspects that do not affect the core gameplay. Perhaps the best example today is Overwatch. As with many games, Overwatch has a single, set price that allows anyone who can pay that price to join in the fun. Within the game are aesthetic customization options that allow players to add a bit of personal flare to their in-game personas, and are typically unlocked as rewards for simply playing.

However, there is an additional way that the player can achieve these items: by paying real money. Loot boxes, the virtual container by which aesthetic content is provided, are given at regular milestones in player progression and as part of special events, but players always have the option to spend real dollars to purchase them and unlock content at a faster rate than they otherwise would. Thus, Overwatch has found a way to get revenue from players long after the initial purchase by offering something that players want.

It’s important to remember that these additional skins, sprays, and emotes don’t alter anything fundamental about the game; every character’s abilities, powers, and armaments remain entirely unchanged. What does change is the player’s means of interacting with other players – or more accurately, the player’s own perception of how they represent themselves to other gamers. Being able to monetize desire without making the game unfair is something that Blizzard, the developers of Overwatch, have become very good at. A similar system exists in Heroes of the Storm, another Blizzard title, and one would expect to see something along those lines in the upcoming Destiny 2 as well.

Public Services At A Premium?

Of course, things aren’t so simple when it comes to running a government. The problems remain the same – the playing field must remain equal, with those that are able to pay more receiving the same services as those who aren’t – but finding that in government can be difficult.

Take healthcare. In Canada, there is ostensibly a single-payer healthcare system whereby the government pays for all medically necessary treatments for its citizens. In order to increase funding for healthcare (something that most nations are interested in given the influx of geriatric Baby Boomers) you could increase taxes, but just as with raising game costs, that would be wildly unpopular and consequently unsuccessful. By the same token, having an optional for-pay system (called two-tier healthcare) which allows the rich to pay for faster or better service would be similarly unsuccessful, as now the system is inherently unfair – just like a pay-to-win game which gives rich players an unfair advantage merely because they can afford it.

Unfortunately, and like with many social services, healthcare isn’t something that can easily have a purely aesthetic experience packaged up and sold, as there is simply very little in health care that is purely aesthetic. The argument can be made that even purely aesthetic procedures, such as rhinoplasty, can have a profound effect on the quality of a person’s life by making them appear more attractive to those around them.

But it isn’t impossible to find some ideas. Casts for broken bones can have plain white and similarly stylized versions. CPAP machines can be designed with the most necessary mechanical parts in one version, and another that has the same parts but also a sultry voice to woo the user to sleep.  Neither must we constrain ourselves to healthcare. Vanity license plates are another fine example of something that has no intrinsic value over a normal license plate, except to the person buying it. Or what about ID cards, such as driver’s licenses, that feature fanciful designs similar to those found on credit cards?

It’s these small things that can help fill a government’s coffers without the risk that higher taxes would bring for their reelection prospects. Perhaps it’s time we put a game developer in charge rather than a public servant.

Hailing from the wilds of the Canadian tundra, Sean's a freelance writer who's a big fan of any game with robots, or ninjas, or robot ninjas. He also loves donuts. Follow him on Twitter @seanmurray683