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July 24, 2019
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If you make lootboxes, Reddit hates you, even if you were their hero

by Nick McCormick on 10/01/18 10:18:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Star Wars: Battlefront II sent a clear message: Reddit (now the #5 website in the United States) hates lootboxes and the companies that sell them. Memes about EA’s business practices are still common, this story is old, and should be fairly well known at this point. But as of this month, we now know that for fans, it wasn’t because of EA’s pattern of aggressive monetization that this was such a PR problem. The scarlet “L” of lootboxes inspires hatred no matter who you are, and can be even more harmful when a property has a history of consumer trust.

Three weeks ago h3h3Productions, a YouTube channel with 5.9m subscribers, released their first game, a mobile title called Ball Rider. Its first appearance was an ad on their channel, their first video in three months. The fan reaction was mixed to negative, and they were so surprised that ten days later, they released a video apologizing for it.

“… I should have know that that’s what would happen. I could have delayed the game until we were making more videos… The video game thing was just another of a string of very poor judgment on my part.” [sic]

— Ethan Klein

It’s a fun game with good reviews and seems, at least initially, to be a fun side project for this lighthearted comedy channel that should have worked out well for them. It was made by the development team Outerminds which made both of PewDiePie's mobile games, both of which have lasting popularity in the app store (still around #100 in games). This wasn’t even the first time they promoted something heavily on their channel; less than a year ago they launched a fashion line, which they now sport in virtually all of their videos since its release.

teddy

Every piece of clothing here (except the Looney Tunes sweatshirt), as well as the sunglasses, are from their clothing line, linked at the top of the description despite the topic of the video being unrelated to their fashion line. This kind of promotion gathered no ire — but making a mobile game with lootboxes was a step too far for their fans.

H3h3’s fanbase has more overlap with Reddit than any other Youtuber. Their videos, unlike PewDiePie’s (the most popular Youtuber in the world), regularly got to the front page of Reddit for years. However, Reddit is where the fans were the most unhappy. The Youtube video itself has 65% likes to 35% dislikes, already low for their channel, but the Reddit thread is at 0 upvotes. Eerily enough, the thread has consistently kept exactly 50% upvotes for days, which could either be a coincidence, or botting.

The top comment here is indicative of the general fan reaction. If you’re already familiar with Reddit, you will probably know what went wrong here. The audience of h3h3 is people who read and post on Reddit, who play a lot of AAA video games, and absolutely detest mobile game trends. These people originally subscribed to h3h3 because of their well-researched takedowns of  scammers, crass self-promoters, and other morally questionable content on Youtube.

The core fans of h3h3 are the same people who led a deafening grassroots campaign against Battlefront II last year on Reddit: despite political differences, they can all agree that lootboxes are exactly what they hate about their favorite hobby, video games. Alienating them could have meant losing it all, which is why their apology video was so heartfelt — and popular.

Their fanbase’s hatred of lootboxes could certainly have been predicted by h3h3. In this interview with the late gaming Youtuber TotalBiscuit, at 38:45, they talk for about ten minutes all the negative press around Battlefront II’s lootboxes. In an oddly prophetic moment, Ethan Klein of h3h3 describes how quickly their fans can turn against them:

“For me, being someone who’s very critical… I feel like with our fans, having that critical perspective cuts both ways. When they agree with you, they love you, and once they disagree with you even a little bit, they fucking hate your guts.”

— Ethan Klein

TotalBiscuit extended this idea with his own experience:

“I think that people build up in their minds this image of what they think this internet person they watch on a daily basis is. Who they believe they are. They build them up higher and higher, they build them up bigger and stronger than they ever could be. And when there’s a crack in that facade, when finally they say something that they don’t agree with, or they maybe make a mistake, as everyone is ought to do from time to time, that’s it, like, the whole, giant, golden statue that they built shatters into a thousand pieces, and they’ll never forgive that person for that.”

It’s hard to say just how much the ad impacted the popularity of Ball Rider. As for their Youtube channel, you can see on SocialBlade that following the ad on September 6, they bled followers until they released their apology video, after which their total follower count quickly recovered. The lesson here is clear: if you make a game with lootboxes, whether you’re EA or a public figure with a good image, Reddit hates you.


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