If you were expecting Nintendo to back away from loot boxes because of the recent backlash, well, you’re in for a surprise.
Ever since the Star Wars Battlefront II debacle, the gaming industry has been in a mad scramble trying to decide what to do about these randomized microtransactions. With regulators around the world considering outright bans and consumers increasingly skeptical of spending real money for a chance at virtual goods, the easiest approach has been to back away from the idea entirely, instead focusing on more direct and transparent approaches to monetization.
During an interview with Bloomberg at E3, however, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé defended the practice, albeit with some caveats. “Loot boxes, broadly speaking, have gotten a bit of a bad rap,” Fils-Aimé said. “The game mechanic of buying something that you’re not sure what’s inside is as old as baseball cards.
“What we believe at Nintendo is that a gameplay mechanic that offers the consumer something to buy that they’re not sure what’s inside can be interesting as long as that’s not the only way you can get those items. And that’s where some developers have made some mistakes. For us, it’s one of many mechanics we can use to drive ongoing engagement in the game.”
It’s not exactly the most consumer-friendly answer to an increasingly important question, and it’s a bit surprising given how slowly Nintendo adapted to the world of DLC and microtransactions in the first place.
Of course, there’s one big complication here: Nintendo is a platform holder, not just a game maker. EA can come out at EA Play and give a long mea culpa about loot boxes and promise to do better because it only has to be accountable for its own games. If Reggie speaks out and then allows games with loot boxes on Switch, suddenly he has to battle off accusations of hypocrisy.
Given that Nintendo is still in the early stages of expanding into the mobile space, however, it’s also reasonable to assume the company wants to keep its options open with regard to monetization on those platforms. There’s a chance that loot boxes could find their way into upcoming Switch titles, sure, but that seems unlikely in the current climate. If we had to guess, this statement has more to do with Fire Emblem Heroes than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Metroid Prime 4.