Video game monetization is a hot-button issue right now, but what's the best way for publishers and developers to monetize their games? From the bygone era of ultra-hard, coin-op arcade cabinets to the mainstream rise of controversial loot boxes, there's a huge number of ways for games to extract player revenue, but they're not all created equally.
Currently, loot boxes are the talk of the gaming community, having been popularized by Overwatch's cosmetic loot boxes and quickly corrupted by corporate avarice into widely hated implementations like 2017's Star Wars Battlefront II, which took the loot box model and married it to the freemium economy of mobile games. The latter landed EA in serious hot water, prompting backlash so severe that loot boxes finally fell under regulatory scrutiny, causing the practice's ban in Belgium. Since then, legislators and gambling commissions in the US and around the world have begun considering passing loot box crackdowns of their own on the basis that their chance-based mental manipulation should fall under existing gambling laws.
Some may disagree, but those lawmakers are right, as video games shouldn't get a free ride where other regulated games of chance don't. Publishers, who usually pressure developers to shoe-horn non-traditional monetization models into their games, have been given plenty of time to move onto other methods, and many of them have. Established much earlier by Valve's Dota 2 and made standard among free-to-play games by Fortnite, the opt-in battle pass system has gained significant traction as a way for multiplayer games to collect the revenue necessary for developers to continue support and work on future projects without locking non-cosmetic content behind a series of paywalls or random chance.
The battle pass system usually comes in conjunction with a timed storefront in which players can purchase a limited selection of cosmetics, but in some cases this is also accompanied by loot boxes, like with Apex Legends' Apex Packs. Multiplayer games like these that offer a constant trickle of "free" content require massive playerbases in order to survive off of those who seasonally purchase battle passes, so even the model's pioneer has resorted to demeaning its own annual pass by introducing pay-to-win rewards and an ever-increasing artificial grind. Worse is when games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 began co-opting battle passes into their already swollen repertoires of monetization tactics, which gets back to the issue of the most gluttonous companies habitually taking things too far and ruining it for everyone.
So if the new kids on the monetization block are being banned and only work for games that are already massively successful, what should publishers do instead? The answer likely lies somewhere between the old and new ways of doing things. Battle passes and free content updates in multiplayer games were a direct response to community outcry of paid DLC map packs splitting up online playerbases, but other players are growing frustrated with how slow and unimpressive free updates are in comparison to paid content despite the fact that post-launch revenue is higher than ever. Meanwhile, rushed single player games are being increasingly carved up and served piecemeal via season passes when all players want are finished games with once commonplace expansions, which EA seems to have wised up on with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Ideally, online games should have periodic, large-scale content updates available to everyone, paid for with player money (preferably not exchanged for some value-obfuscating digital currency) in a reasonably stocked cosmetic storefront that allows players to purchase exactly what they want, when they want. Any shortfalls here could be covered with paid servers like those found in Grand Theft Auto V and Battlefield 4, but pay-to-win elements, steep grind, and loot boxes should be avoided like the plague. As for single-player games, publishers need to let up a little on developers by setting more realistic goals and deadlines and not forcing out-of-place multiplayer monetization models down their games' throats. In fact, the stoppage of publishers and their shareholders shoving anything down anyone's throats in the name of greed would be a great first step.