The games industry's insistence on profiting from gambling mechanics continues today, as Apex Legends' highly-anticipated Iron Crown Collection Event has arrived - absolutely riddled with loot boxes.
In contrast to Apex Legends' previous event Legendary Hunt, in which all new cosmetics could be earned or purchased directly from the store, most of the Iron Crown Collection cosmetics are locked behind expensive loot boxes. Worst of all, Bloodhound's heirloom set - containing an axe, a kill quip and a banner pose - can only be unlocked after opening around £130's worth of the packs. And then paying another £28 on top of that. Yes, really.
Time for a detailed maths breakdown - and I hope you're ready, as this is a little complicated. Skip to the bits in bold if you don't want your brain to melt.
First up, what do you get for free in the Iron Crown Collection Event? There are a number of challenges players can complete to earn "Crowns" - a special event currency that can be used to purchase items in the Iron Crown Collection Event store. So far you can earn 30 Crowns through the challenges (15 per challenge), which is enough to buy you either a mediocre Longbow skin or a mediocre banner.
You can also earn two Iron Crown Collection Event Packs (AKA loot boxes) through completing challenges. Each loot box contains either one rare or legendary item, along with 30 Crowns (bringing the free Crowns total to 90).
As there are 24 rare and legendary items (with no duplicates), and you get two free loot boxes, that means you have to buy 22 loot boxes to collect all the event items in this section of the store. Each loot box costs 700 Apex Coins, which converts to roughly £5.59 each if you purchase the smallest coin pack, or £4.86 each using the largest pack exchange rate.
In terms of actual coin packs, however, you need 15,400 Apex Coins, which you can't buy directly. At the most expensive (16 lots of 1000 at £7.99) that will cost £127.84, or at the cheapest (by buying the 115,000 pack and 4000 pack) it comes to £111.98 (with some coins spare).
So to recap, that's between £111.98 to £127.84 for all event items in the loot boxes. (Assuming you unlock two loot boxes through gameplay, otherwise it's between £119.97 and £135.83.)
Still with me? It gets worse, as Apex Legends has locked some of its new items behind these loot boxes. Bloodhound's heirloom set - including that axe - becomes available to buy once all 24 items are unlocked, so you must pay another 3500 Apex Coins on top of all that (depending on which pack you buy them in, a few quid either side of £25). This brings the total cost to 18,900 Apex Coins, which is £151.81 at its most expensive (19 packs of 1000 for £7.99) or £135.97 at its cheapest (through the 11500, 6700 and 1000 packs).
To repeat, if you want the Bloodhound heirloom set, it'll cost you between £135.97 and £151.81. (Again assuming you unlock two loot boxes through gameplay, to directly buy them all it's between £143.97 and £167.79.)
That's bad enough, but the decision to hide the best cosmetics in loot boxes feels particularly egregious in light of the criticism Apex Legends previously received for its Battle Pass, with the main concern being a lack of good cosmetic items for the price. The previous Legendary Hunt event provided Battle Pass holders with special event skins, but this time, owning the Battle Pass gets you nothing extra.
Adding further insult to injury, these event items are limited to the next two weeks, thus applying pressure for players to purchase them now or face losing them forever. And, should you want a specific skin for your favourite character, there's no way to directly purchase it: thus leaving you to the ravages of RNG loot box hell.
Unlike opening a loot box, the community reaction to this event has been predictable: the Apex Legends subreddit is outraged, and many players are calling for a boycott of spending on the event. While loot boxes have been present in Apex Legends since launch, the sheer cost of event items and the heirloom set seems to have tipped most players over the edge. Many consider this a deliberate attempt to attract "whales" - players who overspend in games - rather than realistic pricing for the average player.
It's worth noting the existing Wraith heirloom set (similarly containing a knife, banner pose and quip) is only obtainable via opening loot boxes, with the EA website stating there's a less than one per cent probability of the set dropping. There's a 500 box pity timer, but that's potentially £319.96 to £399.50 spent trying to get it. Perhaps the enduring chance of it being a possible drop meant players were less opposed to it, compared to the attention-grabbing hard paywall for Bloodhound's heirloom in this limited-time event. In any case, the patch notes say Bloodhound's heirloom set will eventually end up in the regular loot pool after the event, likely with the same odds as Wraith's.
Why is this happening now? Possibly to curb a drop-off in spending, as Apex Legends previously saw a slump in revenue - although it's seemingly still making huge amounts of cash. Perhaps it's more a case of game companies pushing the boundaries of what they can get away with: something Activision has previously been accused of with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, although the infamous £20 hammer's got nothing on Apex Legends' £136 axe.
EA, meanwhile, recently said it considers loot boxes to be "surprise mechanics" akin to Kinder Eggs in a disastrous Parliamentary session with the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Personally, I can't imagine anyone spending over £100 on chocolate eggs - and one has to wonder how long companies can get away with aggressive loot box monetisation schemes like this.
If you'd like to block yourself from loot box temptation, simply change your EA regional settings to Belgium, where loot boxes are illegal and cannot be accessed in-game. You're welcome.