Damion Schubert Former SWTOR Dev on Loot Boxes

With all the controversy about EA’s business model for Star Wars: Battlefront 2,  former SWTOR developer Damion Schubert offer some insights on the hated lootboxes.

The whole conversion can be found on twitter and in our copy pate below:

Damion Schubert was the Senior Designer/Lead Designer/Director of Microtransactions Design at SWTOR (May 2006 – October 2014). He was responsible for initial conception and design of key new F2P, monetization features, including random pack design, dye mods, minipets, player vehicles and animal mounts, and player housing (according to his Linkedin profile)

  • Let’s talk lootboxes, and how annoying it is to watch AAA publishers fuck them up from the perspective of someone who has to design to them. (1)
  • I’ve been working in Free-to-Play games for 4 years, and loot boxes are pretty crucial to that business model working. But it *is* possible to do them ethically, and they are super easy to fuck up. (2)
  • The number one mistake that I’ve seen in F2P games is devs who don’t understand that NOT SPENDING IS NORMAL PLAY. Most of your customers will NEVER give you a dime. (3)
  • The Zynga Facebook games that used to spam your feed were a success if they had a conversion rate of 2%. That’s right – a successful business model if 98% of your population never drops a dime. (4)
  • What this means, though is that the non-spendy version of the game is the NORM. The game that you see as a non-spender is what 90%+ of your customers will see. (6)
  • Dungeon Boss on mobile failed because what those people saw was a game where spending was absolutely mandatory. That view of the game killed the game. (7)
  • Because that 90%+ of the population is your game’s virality (also known as “word of mouth”). If your free players (or in the case of Battlefront, box spenders) have a negative reax it can kill word of mouth, tank reviews, etc. (8)
  • Some ppl think that game devs don’t care about keeping that 90%+, but that’s not true. Most of these games NEED those non-spendy players because they’re multiplayer games. (9)
  • In MMOs, you need ppl so that dungeon queues will fire. In PvP games, you need enough people to make a match – and matchmake them with appropriate enemies. (10)
  • This is much more true in AAA games where the PvP is synchronous than in mobile games where the PvP is against offline opponents frequently (see the core Clash of Clans game) (11)
  • So what Battlefront got wrong was to put content that people consider core behind a hugely long grind path. They missed that this would be seen as the ‘normal’ game. (12)
  • And one more thing: once you go into microtransactions, players start suspecting they are your motives for everything. (13)
  • So even in the scenario was a game designer that (for example) accidentally put an unlock behind an 80 hour grind because he fat fingered it, or because he just likes grinds or hard games, players will assume the company is making a money grab. (14)
  • That’s because in a lot of cases, the players are correct. Bringing microtransactions into things erases the benefit of the doubt. (15)
  • I still am a huge proponent of Free to Play because I’m a big hippy. I *like* the idea that 98% of my population can play for free. (16)
  • And a lot of research has been done to find that most heavy spenders (‘whales’) are people who like spending and don’t feel manipulated into it. Think high-powered lawyers with too much spare cash lying around. (17)
  • I’m pretty fine with those guys paying a lot of money so that a whole bunch of kids w/o money or credit cards can play my games for free. (18)
  • In talks in the past, I’ve compared it to the old Patron system in Renaissance times, where kings and rich dudes would subsidize art so everyone could enjoy it. (19)
  • But still, good MTX design is an art. It requires designers to be equal partners with Product Managers to come up with something that is perceived as fair and is celebrated. (20)
  • People like @JimSterling would disagree, but the difference between Overwatch & Battlefront is stark. People CELEBRATE new skins being added to the former. (21)
  • When a new Magic or Hearthstone set comes out, people CELEBRATE the opportunity to spend more. Same for a new FIFA season. (22)
  • This is important. MTX will fail if it *doesn’t feel good to spend*. It will fail if it creates a poisonous environment around the game instead of excitement. (23)
  • Anyway, I need to hit the road to a convention, but these thoughts have been rattling around my brain for a few days now. (fin)
  • Fuck, I said “Dungeon Boss failed” above. I meant Dungeon Keeper. Dungeon Boss is my game, and we did pretty good actually.

This was an amazingly clear-headed perspective. You were still working on #SWTOR when it went free-to-play, weren’t you? I feel like that model has been largely responsible for allowing the game to succeed long term, but out of curiosity, were there any lessons learned from that? – @vayne_verso

  • I was lead designer of that conversion, and it was my first F2P/micro transaction experience. Yes, this was a pants-shitting-in-terror level of responsibility.
  • We made a lot of mistakes but overall I’m proud of the results. We got a net GAIN in paying subscribers when we went free.