... the games industry of late sure hopes you are!  It's become an increasing trend to add to games what I would call gaming economics, and it's a disturbing trend in what has been a long line of disturbing trends in gaming business models of late.

No doubt the most egregious example of this gambling mechanic has got to be Star Trek Online, and oh, I can already hear the collective groan of the people I correspond with more regularly.  It's something I've spent no small amount of time railing on, and in my mind, to good reason.  I was left thinking on this matter after yet another little spirited discussion with one of my friends about it, so I thought it remiss not to use this little Soapbox section for its intended purpose and properly structure my thoughts on the matter.

Allow me to explain how exactly this wonderful little wallet leech - I mean gameplay mechanic - has been implemented in Star Trek Online.  There are a variety of drops in the game that they call lock boxes.  These lock boxes are opened with Keys.  Except these keys are not available in the game itself, excepting trade with other players, and you have to buy them yourself, for real currency.  These boxes usually contain utterly useless shit.  And a very very slim change of having something really good - or at least desirable - in the case of unique ships not available through other means.  Jem'hadar attack ships.  Galor ships.  Iconic ships within the established canon of Star Trek which are desirable for that very fact by fans of the canon - and they more often than not have to spend hundreds of dollars in these Keys to get but one.

This is just one example among many of them, although it is arguably the most egregious given that it is not simply cosmetic, but you are also buying substantial power in getting those ships, not to mention the pervasive messages that will constantly pop up on your screen saying that some random berk got another one of those special ships - until you disable them through an increasingly-more-hidden button in the game UI.  One that Cryptic Studios has frequently moved around for no real given reason, conveniently re-enabling it for everyone that hat it disabled previously when they did.

Like most consumer-hostile business practises, these lockboxes have their apologists and their defenders.  Most will point out that these lockboxes are optional and you do not have to purchase them.  In most cases this is technically true, you do not have to have these cosmetic things or ridiculous horse armour DLC and similar things.  Yet the fact of the matter is it is not optional.  There is no opting out of having these mechanics present in the game.  And while they would not be problematic if you could indeed opt out of having these lockboxes drop for yourself or ever having to see them, this would defeat the entire purpose of these mechanics.

Much like the 'wait or pay' mechanics I spoke on in my previous Soapbox article, the entire point of these lockboxes is to pit a player's desire for a coveted rare drop against their patience and their wallet, and while it can be argued that you can simply not buy these keys, the temptation is constantly there, constantly tempting you, offering you that tantalising little glimpse of the little bit of content they've sliced out to offer you, all you need to do is roll the dice.  And again.  And again.  And again.

You know, when the idea of free to play came around and first broke out, I was actually excited.  I know: fancy that, given the benefit of hindsight to see how that business model has been twisted and perverted by the gaming industry since then.  Games like Tribes and TeamFortress 2 offered us complete game experiences to which we could add our own little touches for paltry sums.  But since then that sum has grown and grown, and the core gameplay experience has been chopped up to ribbons to be doled out for cold hard cash, as if it was a poor and unfortunate cow in the hands of a butcher who wanted to sell every last scrap they could of that animal.

There's plenty of articles out there on the psychology of these not-so-free ecosystems, and one need only look at the brazen success - if it can be called success - of the cow-clickers in the mobile market to see that this tactic is working.  I have not a doubt in my mind that many of the people that defend this business model are those that justify these purchases to themselves by saying that they don't have to - making themselves even more susceptible to the psychology of the thing by explaining it away as a choice.  It's not a choice, and you, as a consumer, need to start being more discerning.  The reason that we have all the drek on Steam that we do now is that is is successful, financially, for Steam to offer us all that drek.

Take some responsibility.  Be a responsible consumer.  Refuse to support shoddy business practises - and just as importantly - let the developers and publishers know exactly why.  If you don't ... well, I guess you're feeling lucky indeed.