Developer The Coalition said the Gears 5 monetization model is "ahead of the industry," and the game's multiplayer design director Ryan Cleven said the decision to not include Gears 5 loot boxes was made even before that monetization tactic reached its current level of controversy. Initially revealed with two other Gears of War games at E3 2018, the fifth Gears of War game is simply called Gears 5, dropping the "of War" from the series' previous titles.
Since its 2018 announcement, The Coalition has only slowly trickled out details about Gears 5. Until Gamescom 2019, fans only got vague hints at the game's story, like a cryptic E3 2019 Gears 5 trailer that teased the internal conflict experienced by protagonist Kait. Besides brief looks at new enemy types like the Gears 5 Swarm Leeches and the Gears 5 Warden, The Coalition has mostly shown off the game's various multiplayer modes, like Gears 5's co-op Escape mode and the returning Gears 5 Horde mode. During E3 2019, the developer announced that Gears 5 won't have a season pass, and it appears that's just the beginning of how The Coalition plans to shake up the now-standard AAA microtransaction monetization model.
Speaking to the press after a Gamescom demonstration of Horde mode (via GamesIndustry.biz), Cleven, The Coalition's multiplayer design director, further explained the logic behind Gears 5's microtransactions. As the team announced earlier this year, Gears 5 won't have loot boxes, but it will include a currency called Iron that players can purchase with real money. Iron can be used to purchase cosmetic items, but there are two unlock systems in place for players to earn cosmetics without spending any money: Tour of Duty and Supply. Tour of Duty is a seasonal event where players will complete challenges to unlock cosmetics, and Supply Drops will give random items to players just for accumulating play time.
Cleven explained that he felt these unlock systems are "very player-centric" and "player-friendly," and he said The Coalition feels it is ahead of the curve in getting rid of loot boxes and in preserving the integrity of the experience while simultaneously giving players the option to accelerate their progression. Cleven claimed the wide-spread industry controversy about loot boxes had no role in the team's decisions, instead saying that the team came to Gears 5's monetization model after issuing a challenge to itself:
"[C]an we still provide purchasable things to players that want to purchase and still have the rest of the players really enjoy the system?"
While it's true that the removal of loot boxes makes Gears 5's monetization less predatory than that of many other AAA games, there are problems with Cleven's statements. It's hard to imagine a world where a completely microtransaction-free Gears 5 would have players who actively wished they could purchase items with real money rather than earning them in-game. Plus, the Gears 5 website already confirmed there will be items available exclusively through the Iron store, and reporting by Polygon earlier this year exposed the reality that players can be driven to purchase even cosmetic-only items by peer pressure. It's easy for companies to say a system that relies on player choice is "player-centric," but perhaps the most "player-friendly" Gears 5 monetization model would be one where microtransactions weren't present at all.