Middle-earth: Shadow Of War removing loot boxes

Monolith have announced plans to remove loot boxes from Middle-earth: Shadow Of War in July, eight months after the open-world enslave-o-stabber launched. They’ve realised that they make the game worse, they say. The ‘War Chest’ loot boxes in Shadow Of War contain random items, orc slaves, and bits, and are sold for either the virtuacash earned in-game or for a microtransaction currency bought with real money. Monolith say the loot boxes cause people who buy them to miss out on the experience of the game’s Nemesis system – and even if you don’t buy them, their presence detracts from the game. Neither realisation is remotely surprising.

The loot boxes, the Gold currency they’ve bought with, and the Market they’re sold in will all be removed in an update on July 17th, Monolith announced yesterday. They explained why they’re taking ’em out:

“The core promise of the Nemesis System is the ability to build relationships with your personal allies and enemies in a dynamic open world. While purchasing Orcs in the Market is more immediate and provides additional player options, we have come to realize that providing this choice risked undermining the heart of our game, the Nemesis System. It allows you to miss out on the awesome player stories you would have otherwise created, and it compromises those same stories even if you don’t buy anything. Simply being aware that they are available for purchase reduces the immersion in the world and takes away from the challenge of building your personal army and your fortresses.”

So they’ve realised loot boxes make the game worse not only for people who don’t buy them, but for people who do too. Smashing. Lovely. Great stuff. Everyone who bought the game at full price received a game saddled with nonsense that was clearly nonsense but is only now officially recognised as nonsense and getting cut out.

The various other reward chests, earned by playing, will remain but they’ll no longer contain orc slaves, replaced with Training Orders.

Monolith say they’re revising the game’s final chapter, Shadow Wars, as well. It’s a repetitive section of defending your clubhouse against ten attacks from Sauron’s forces, for which you’ll want lots of beefy orcs and decent gear. But, Leif Johnson told us, loot boxes are really not necessary for that as he was swimming in goodies just from playing.

“This portion of the game will be improved with new narrative elements and streamlined for a more cohesive experience,” Monolith explained. “For players who choose to continue with these on-going fortress defense missions, the Endless Siege update released last November will still be available.” Leif said he grew bored of Shadow Wars before the end of that chapter, so good, streamlining sounds good. Better late than never.

Other update plans are afoot, “including Nemesis System updates, new player skins, skill tree additions, gear system upgrades and progression updates” according to Monolith.

Ah, this is daft. I’m sure many people at Monolith knew loot boxes were an unpleasant idea. But post-launch purchasables are clearly popular amongst publishers, making them feel happier about the risk of investing huge sums of money into fancy singleplayer games (and to keep releasing updates after launch), and I’d be surprised if Monolith had much say in the matter. Big Video Games sure are in a volatile and unsustainable-looking position.

50 Comments

  1. Askis says:

    WB probably thinks that anyone who would have spent a lot on boxes has done so by now and that removing them is going to generate goodwill with those who hated their inclusion, so maybe they’ll sell some extra copies before the price drops too much.

    • Faldrath says:

      And it also gets the game back in the news, especially since this sequel seems to have disappeared from the public mind much faster than the original game.

    • Andrew says:

      Exactly. Also, in some countries there is still a possibility of government regulation in this area, so why not move out of the way and pretend that it never happened… until next game or said regulation.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      Pretty much what i was about to say. Can see this sort of practice becoming the norm in the months and years to come

    • KidWithKnife says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing. I generally try not to jump on the cynicism bandwagon with regard to games, but in this case it’s just too blatantly obvious what’s going on.

      That said, Alice is almost certainly correct in thinking that these sort of decisions are out of Monolith’s hands.

    • ludde says:

      Sure, but where I don’t think that makes sense is that it’s incredibly bad press for loot-boxes should they ever want to do them again. Admitting that even the mere presence of loot-boxes is shite pretty much make any future excuses for them void.

      • mitrovarr says:

        That might be the whole point. Executive meddling probably got lootboxes into the game, against the developer’s wishes. Now it might be a developer talking, and they’re trying to sabotage future attempts to force them to put lootboxes in the game.

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    Sounds good. Makes me more interested in picking this up later (intimidating backlog notwithstanding). And yeah, I suspect many devs at Monolith are feeling very “I told you so” about this. It does all seem a bit unsurprising given the trajectory of Diablo 3 and its Auction house. Most of these games with micro-transactions tacked on are not affected by it *that* much – I forgot they were there in Mankind Divided and the recent Assassin’s Creeds – but it does create a bad incentive to balance and design collecting in such a way that there is always more stuff to buy (eg infinite barely distinguishable items), which does not make for elegant uncluttered game design.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      What’s nice about this, is that it’s not just micro transactions and gambling, which are commonly referenced. But they actually talk about why loot boxes in general aren’t great.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Even if you don’t actually change your game to accommodate that stuff (ie the design is identical with or without) it’s still going to feel like you did to players. It’s *really* hard to shake the feeling that seemingly unnecessary grind isn’t there to encourage buying shortcuts. It’s a lose/lose situation from a creative perspective, so better to just avoid it entirely.

  3. SanguineAngel says:

    Sure, it was crappy stuff to load the game with in the first place but I am hopeful that this marks the turning tide, with two big names pulling a 180 and now Monolith actually calling out real reasons why it’s not great, rather than simply paying lip service to perceived reasons/hot topics.

    Rather than simply blindly following the mass of popular opinion in a transparently sycophantic move, this actually reads like they might have thought about it a little bit.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      I think you overestimate their compassion. I think it’s more a case of their PR department being cognizant of the fact that they can’t afford to take as much flak as EA did.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        Oh sure, I don’t doubt the motivation for this move rests with the weight of public opinion and perhaps them wishing to get out in front of this thing.

        However, usually this sort of announcement would be a regurgitation of current buzz words and what they think people want to here. Right now, around this issue, that tends to be about gambling and microtransactions.

        What interests me here is that they voluntarily discuss reasons that, to my mind, are more relevant to game design in general but less popularised.

      • fish99 says:

        Yeah they’re doing this purely for financial reasons. I’m guessing the bad press hit sales.

    • Excors says:

      I guess the question is whether this is an actual change of mind by the people who decide to put microtransactions in games; or if those people simply stopped paying attention to M-e:SoW (since it’s old and the microtransaction revenue is now too low to bother caring about), and this announcement was written by people who have always valued gameplay integrity and never wanted microtransactions anyway, and who raised these points internally years ago when the game was in development (but lost the argument at that time, and couldn’t discuss it publicly until now).

      Probably the only way to tell if there really was a change in attitudes among the people who matter is to wait for the next Middle-earth game and see if it’s full of irritating microtransactions again, as the money-favouring people choose to assert their power again.

  4. 4026 says:

    What did not happen in Monolith’s offices:
    “Hey, you know what? Eight months after release, I’m starting to think that our loot boxes made the game somehow…. worse, maybe?”
    “Holy shit, you’re right! Let’s take those out right now! Wow, why did no-one mention this sooner?”

    What proooobably did happen in Monolith’s offices:
    “So, the loot boxes aren’t performing financially anything like as well as we hoped. D’you reckon if we scrapped them, we’d get some positive press?”
    “I mean, it’s probably worth a shot, right?”

    • SanguineAngel says:

      God it’d be nice if that first one happened. everywhere.

      • ColonelFailure says:

        If it did it’d be followed up with something like this:

        “So, how long will that give us before we need to lay off staff at the studio?”

        “Well, that particular studio has a burn rate of around $1.2M per month, so maybe if we cut it by half they could have a new title out, maybe some DLC before they’ve eroded all the revenue from the game.”

        “Well that’s a lousy choice. No chance we could get gamers into some kind of subscription idea? It’d allow them to continue to work on the game while we spin up early design work on the next one.”

        “No can do. Apparently there was a memo sent round stating that all games should now provide multiple-hundreds of hours of gameplay for the same price as a couple of cinema tickets.”

        This is not a defense of loot boxes. Rather, this is a “be careful what you wish for.” Studios are expensive to run, and with each day past the release of a game that studio is eating into the money that game has made. This is not commercially sensible.

        The money to support games has to come from somewhere, with the alternatives being more laid-off developers, reduced scope in games, shortened experiences and/or fewer patches.

        Let’s just hope that the funding method chosen to replace loot box income is one we like.

        Bonus point: loot boxes aren’t the problem. Time is the problem.

        • Xocrates says:

          “The money to support games has to come from somewhere, with the alternatives being […] reduced scope in games, shortened experiences and/or fewer patches.”

          You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m dreaming of the day this might happen for years.

          Imagine the day games are once again allowed to be focused well defined and nuanced experiences instead of 40+ hours bloatware about nothing that must appeal to everyone.

          • ColonelFailure says:

            I agree entirely. Although I sit in the other camp (as I’m not really an isolated experience kinda guy) – I’d sooner pay a subscription for an elongated, continually developed world.

            The whole furore surrounding loot boxes has asked the wrong question. What people, from my observations, have most wanted is a return to the PS2 era – pay for a game, play it, finish it, play the next game.

            Ongoing development of games post-launch came about because it solves a major problem in the industry: how do you pay for a full studio when only a quarter of them are needed to work on the next game. In major game development, you ramp up staffing in the final few months to a year in order to get it done, having started with an incubator crew.

            You really don’t want to cut talented developers, but if they’re sat around doing nothing because it’s not their time to get stuck into the next project, are you going to pay them for nothing?

          • Xocrates says:

            @ColonelFailure: I have my doubts that your assessment of the reasons for the rise of on-going development is entirely accurate. While I’m sure that’s a factor on it, the ramp up still exists and will continue to exist, which compounded by the rapidly expanding team sizes and decreasing number of games put out by major publishers indicate that there isn’t room for everyone even with continuous development. And if there is it’s because there was enough content planned far enough ahead – which can just as easily be DLC for a “on-going” game as it could have been another game that was started on in parallel, which ultimately makes it a planning issue.

            Further, from my experience several developers are opting to recruit outsourcing companies instead of ramping up internally, which handily solves the problem.

            Obviously it’s never as simple as either of us is saying, but the “need” for continuous development and additional revenue sources is a self-inflicted problem of the industry, and AAA in particular.

          • ZeroWaitState says:

            After EA reworked the loot system in Battlefront 2, they told investors that removal of the paid loot system was not a deal-breaker at all and not to worry about the bottom line too much. The reality is that these games are still profitable to make without the loot system. It’s just that the loot system is money on the table for doing comparatively little.

        • JaseyMitch says:

          I think there is something fundamentally broken about a business model that can’t make enough money by selling a £39.99 thing to millions of people, so it can sustain itself for a further 2-3 years for the next title to get made (while sub-teams make dlc for the last one at a fiver/tenner a go).

          Colossal marketing spend, hundreds of staff, the huge cost of creating near-photo-real assets, mo cap, voice actors etc. surely has a lot to more to do with how unsustainable the AAA industry has become. I do not believe Shadow of War’s success was balanced precariously on whether enough people buy extras on top of the £39.99 (base game, not silver/ultra/whatever edition that cost more).

          If the 20 hour single player model’s survival means cell shading and fewer prime time ads I’m sure a lot of people would be fine with that. Alternatively, make an ongoing, growing game with a subscription but with an low (or no) initial spend could work too, assuming it gets enough initial traction and is nimble in the face of player feedback.

          • Stromko says:

            It’s not strictly necessary for the survival of the studio to put in all these profit-boosting player-enraging extras, it’s necessary for the profit margins of the publisher.

            That’s not to say they won’t shut down a studio after putting out a profitable game, I’m sure that’s precisely what happened to Maxis, and it will surely happen to the developers of ME Andromeda next if it hasn’t already. SimCity 2013 made back its cost and then some, so did ME Andromeda, bu they didn’t meet sky-high profit projections so the devs had to pay the price. In a booming market, it’s extremely high expectations that are killing AAA games not unprofitability.

        • Stromko says:

          The trouble with comparing the price of a game to the price of two cinema tickets is that a AAA game still has a smaller budget than a blockbuster movie, and getting a film to a cinema with all the marketing and whatnot involved also costs more.

          There’s more costs, more overhead, and a smaller potential profit for Hollywood movies (gaming is the single largest entertainment market in the world right now, film isn’t even close) and yet nobody ever says movies need to cost more money.

          The biggest threat to AAA games is the fact that their massive budgets don’t make them much more profitable than quality games made for 1/100th of the cost. Much like blockbuster films, they tend to come out of a studio system that produces things that are basically trash, and players are a lot less willing to actively engage and push through a trash game than they are to watch a trashy spectacle of a big budget film.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      As Alice said, it’s unlikely that Monolith had much say in the matter either way. They’re probably more relieved than anything.

      • 4026 says:

        Granted. It’s a reasonable assumption that none of this is actually Monolith’s fault. My point was more about the obvious cynicism of the messaging than trying to pin anything on the developers.

      • ZeroWaitState says:

        Based on what? Their rationale for removing the loot store was “we failed to make the internet slot machine immersive enough”, instead of “internet slot machines are objectively bad.” This is coming from the studio, not the publisher.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Even if that second conversation happened, and you definitely don’t know either way, it almost certainly happened at the publisher (Warner Bros), not the developer (Monolith). Gamer cynicism is so tiresome.

      As I alluded to above, devs were almost certainly aware that this was a bad idea (and did mention it) but were overruled.

  5. Gothnak says:

    Well, the Xbox One version is almost low enough for me to finally consider picking it up, so this is good news :).

    For some reason, these style of games feel better in a comfy chair with a controller rather than in my office.

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      phuzz says:

      Why not get a comfy chair in front of your PC?
      I did play the first one on a game pad though, it’s just a better fit for short range fighting games I find.

      • Gothnak says:

        Well, it’s an office chair in my office, better for commanding troops in Arnhem…

        Also, two widescreen monitors on my PC with headphones compared to a 47in tv and stereo on my Xbox. Strategy vs Action.

  6. Blastaz says:

    The loot boxes weren’t the problem, the long war was, the amount of grinding you needed to get your character level up was absurd. Around twelve hours of repeating the same basic missions just to hit lvl 60, and then having to level up your orcs and weapons. Not worth it.

    I had great fun up till then, it’s a very solid sequel, refining and expanding the Nemisis system and adding a huge sense of scale with the sieges, massive armies and dragons.

    I bought the season pass but haven’t come back for any of the dlc as the size of the grind just put me off returning. Will be glad if they fix that.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      It’s commonly thought that the grind was a way to drive microtransactions, which makes sense. It would therefore make sense to lessen the grind now that they’re gone, though that would be as good as admitting that it was just there for sales. We can hope, though.

    • durrbluh says:

      Ultimately, the first game was decent and the sequel was destined to be forgotten a scant few months after release. Taking loot boxes out of the game 8 months later can’t change the fact that the game has no clear vision, no (subjectively) likeable characters aside from Bruz and Ratbag, and is filled with pointless busywork to hide the overall lack of substance in what is an otherwise beautiful but soulless murder-themed sandbox.

      You can blame it on loot boxes, but for people like myself who used a hex editor to get thousands of them for free, it’s obvious the game had much deeper issues that couldn’t be addressed by stripping microtransactions out.

    • bikkebakke says:

      Man that’s so true. I liked the game, it’s fun but man it’s too grindy in the end.

      I completed the main story and was… what, like lvl45-50 or something, and then there’s literally no real missions to farm xp on, so you walk around killing a bunch of captains and that’s it.

      If they would increase the the xp gain or lower the xp it takes to level up I might pick it up to finish the true endgame, but screw grinding for literally 10-15 hours.

  7. mac4 says:

    Any word on recompensation to those who have been buying into their microtransactions? (No, it doesn’t affect me.)

    • Someoldguy says:

      I expect that’ll happen at about the same time as everyone gets a refund for buying products at full price in the months before they go into a sale at 50% off.

  8. suibhne says:

    This was one of my most disappointing titles of 2017: a sequel with better gameplay in just about every way, marred by transparently corporate loot boxes and an interminable grind that meant, by 30 hrs in, even with every skill unlocked, I still faced another 30 hrs of repeating the exact same gameplay I’d already experienced.

    Once I read more about the endgame and saw what I was in for, I happily uninstalled and didn’t look back. Screw this game.

    The funny thing is, I can’t argue I didn’t get my money’s worth in those first 30 hrs…but this handful of bad design decisions left me with the sense that Monolith harbors active contempt for my time and engagement as a player. Not really a good way to end a relationship.

  9. doodler says:

    Too little too late. I cancelled my preorder as soon as the MTX were announced and won’t look back at it until it is below $5 just like the first one. They can act like their inclusion didn’t affect the grind but from everything I’ve read and heard I know that is a lie. My backlog is deep enough without a game artificially expanding its gametime.

  10. screamingabdab says:

    This make me especially happy that I stopped playing somewhere during Act 2.

    It’s now far more appealing to go back to a more polished end game experience. The loot boxes didn’t bother me in any way and though I’m sceptical of the timing (late) and reasons for their removal at least they are being removed.

    • suibhne says:

      Unless the promised updates do a lot more than ditch loot boxes, you won’t see anything new after about Act 2 anyway.

  11. dontnormally says:

    Wow. I will buy this game in July. I was sad I was going to miss out on it.

  12. MaxMcG says:

    This is like taking a big poo on someone (a smelly one), on a daily basis, every day for a few months and then, one day, announcing that you will no longer take a poo on that person and expecting to be applauded for it.

    WB/Monolith can get fucked.

  13. hungrycookpot says:

    We’ll see. Hopefully at the least we can hold this up to them the next time they release a game with loot crates and say “if it was a bad idea that ruined the game but took you too long to figure out, why are you putting them in THIS game?”

    I basically ignore loot crates anyhow, and they didn’t affect my decision to wait for a price drop on this game. Still looking forward to playing it, now with some nice improvements and less faff in the menus. Glad I waited.

    • ZeroWaitState says:

      Fundamentally, what they did was charge for a cheat code to a single player game, and then designed the game so that it was tedious to play in certain parts without the cheat. They referred to this as “providing [a] choice,” which sounds less like an apology and more like “we made this tactical error in our implementation.”

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Call me jaded but I think it’s more likely than not that WB will just try to find another excuse to implement some form of in-game monetisation. “It’s totally different this time, guys! Really!”

  14. Captain Narol says:

    That’s good news, I enjoyed the first game a lot and this one was on my wish list but I refrained myself from buying it so far because of all those microtransactions stuff.