Apex Legends’ recent Iron Crown event, which let players play in solo mode for the first time, also had a number of cosmetics alongside its festivities called the Iron Crown Collection. These new cosmetics were exclusive to the event and only attainable through lootboxes, which were more expensive than your run-of-the-mill lootboxes. Moreover, some lootboxes, like Bloodhound’s heirloom set, could only be received after spending nearly $200 in lootboxes already.
Fans obviously complained. Loudly. So loudly that it prompted a response from Apex Legends producer Drew McCoy, apologizing for the issue.
“At launch we made a promise to players that we intend to do monetization in a way that felt fair and provided choice to players on how they spent their money and time,” McCoy wrote. “A core decision during development of Apex Legends was that we wanted to make a world class battle royale game – in quality, depth, progression, and important for today’s conversation – how we sell stuff. With the Iron Crown event we missed the mark when we broke our promise by making Apex Packs the only way to get what many consider to be the coolest skins we’ve released.”
To fix this, Respawn is putting the legendary skins in the in-game store for Apex coins as well as in the lootboxes still. The developer also promised to reconsider the way they offer skins, as in not having them be lootbox-exclusive, in future events.
But this also brings up a broader discussion of free-to-play games and monetization and the decidedly delicate dance between making money and making your fans happy. In an interview with CNN Business in June, Respawn head Vince Zampella argued that it’s great to have so many players enjoying a game for free, but reasoned “we have to obviously make money on it, right?” This lead into a defense of lootboxes for cosmetics as fair value and something that does not affect balance.
As companies increasingly keep running up against the wall of what their consumers will accept in their lootboxes, or in a game’s monetization in general, it starts to become a bigger question of whether the once-safe ground of pushing all boundaries with cosmetics is as sacrosanct for publishers as it once seemed.