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Middle Earth: Shadow of War Is Everything Wrong With the Gaming Industry

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Coming out on October 10th, 2017, Middle Earth: Shadow of War is the big follow-up sequel to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, one of the most beloved and successful Lord of the Rings video games to date. This is thanks to the Nemesis system that helped the player create unique and interesting stories in their game.

So, since it was announced, fans have been anxiously waiting for Shadow of War and what updates it could bring to the series. Yet, alongside the little glimpses we’ve received, we’ve also gotten some very disheartening news: The publisher, Warner Bros., and the developer, Monolith Productions, have chosen to employ some very unfriendly consumer practices and have begun forcing some slimey things into the game just to make some extra money. Here’s why Shadow of War is a perfect example of what’s wrong in the gaming industry.

There Be Loot in Those Boxes

Loot boxes are becoming a very popular inclusion in video games, especially in the last few years. Many people point their fingers at Overwatch for popularizing the trend, but the mechanic has been in specific games long before now, with one major game, Team Fortress 2, having a loot box system back in 2010. It’s undeniable, though, that since the success of Overwatch, loot boxes are the new hot way for game companies to make extra money. Even games like The Division, Heroes of the Storm, and and Call of Duty have made loot boxes a key part to their games.

So when it was announced that Shadow of War would have loot boxes, it wasn’t a surprise, but there was a little bit of confusion. It wasn’t until the public was told what was in the loot boxes that people became angry.

Traditionally, purchasable loot boxes only had cosmetic items. The kind of things that don’t affect gameplay, just the appearance of the game. Most games stick to this, more or less, letting players stay on an even playing field. A few games, like Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Halo 5, and Gears of War 4, included more powerful weapons and bonuses in their boxes that could be used in competitive multiplayer modes.

Shadow of War is deciding to stray away from giving just cosmetics in their loot boxes, instead including weapons, bonuses, and powerful Orcs to add to your army in their boxes. Now, this would be somewhat fine if Shadow of War was a completely single-player game, but it isn’t. There is a multiplayer element in it, which leads us to our next point.

The Multiplayer Is Now Pay to Win

Thanks to games like Dark Souls and Metal Gear Solid 5, many games are now including the ability to invade other players’ games, either to attack the player directly, or attack their base of operations. Shadow of War is doing the same kind of thing, letting other players invade your game and try to take over your forts and kill your orcs. As you play the game, you recruit different orc captains and generals to run your army and protect your forts while you aren’t playing.

The problem here, though, ties back to the loot boxes. As our understanding is right now, the orcs you get from loot boxes are the same ones that protect your fort from online invaders. So, if you spend the money to get tons of loot boxes and get all of the best orcs, you receive an unfair advantage.

Tie this with the fact that Shadow of War has an online leaderboard and a multiplayer mode, the game becomes pay to win. The more money you dump into the game, the better you’ll do in the multiplayer. You’ll have better gear than opponents, leading to an unfair playing field.

Making Money Off of a Tribute to a Developer

Currently, Shadow of War has one available DLC which unlocks a specific NPC, Forthog Orc-Slayer. This character is a tribute to one of Monolith’s producers, Michael Forgey, who passed away last year from a brain tumor. The DLC costs 5 dollars, and Warner Bros has promised that the money they earn from the sales of the DLC will go to a charity that helps Forgey’s family.

It’s wonderful to see companies doing their part to help both the people in their industry and the world as a whole, but Warner Bros. still benefits from giving that money as charity. A major benefit the publisher gets here is a big tax write-off for all of the money they donate to charity. They still made money off of the sales of the DLC; it was just made in having to pay less taxes.

Another problem with this plan is that in specific states, and outside of the United States, there is no mention of that money going to charity. Each state has their own set of tax codes and certain states have requirements when it comes to giving money to charity.

In their trailer announcing the DLC, in small print it states that they can’t donate the money from Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi and South Carolina. The question becomes, what happens to the money from those states and outside the US? All we have to go off of is Warner Bros. promising they’ll do it, but there is nothing forcing them to.

It’s this kind of non-transparency and unclear marketing that misleads consumers. Instead of giving a full explanation of what’s happening and how they will ensure the money is taken care of, Warner Bros. just sent a sentence basically saying they will donate all of the money. No explanation as to when they will donate it, how they will handle oversea purchases, and how long they will continue to donate. Why did they have to include the small print before when they were planning on donating all of the money anyways? It’s these kind of contradictions that makes it seem like their short statement isn’t true.

Don’t Let This Become the Norm

What’s frustrating is that it’s likely both the publisher and developer are going to get away with this behavior and make a ton of money off of Shadow of War. The more we as consumers reward these kinds of schemes and money generation tactics, the more games will include them.

If this stuff bothers you, don’t buy Shadow of War and don’t fund other games that do similar things. The only way we as consumers can control the gaming industry is with our time and money. Yeah, you can throw a huge fit on social media, but if the game still sells well, nothing is going to change. Another game will be made, and gaming companies will see what else they can get away with. If there is a significant drop in sales, the companies involved will try to course correct and become more consumer friendly.

So, if things like having a loot box system that encourages a pay-to-win multiplayer mode, and a company misleading their consumers about giving money they’ve made to charity, then don’t buy the game. If you still must play it, find alternatives, like renting the game, buying a used copy, or borrowing it from a friend.

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The Author

Ben Allen

Ben Allen

Champion of Hyrule, defender of space, bane of demons, savior of light, and occasional pizza eater.