Balancing the odds: Legend of Runeterra’s wildcard system levels the playing field by curving monetization

Legends of Runeterra. (Courtesy/Riot Games)

Chances are that if you’ve played any variety of competitive online game in the last decade or so, you’ve noticed the inclusion of a specific mechanic that tends to dissuade casual players from attempting to hit the upper limits of high-tier play. Primarily through the sheer lack of expendable financial resources; I’m talking of course about the probability based, near inescapable and often highly criticized game-play mechanic known as loot boxes.

For the uninitiated, the loot box is found in many forms throughout various titles and genres. They are often accompanied by some sort of hyper-specific currency that can only be redeemed in specific titles by spending real dollars. When purchased, loot-boxes can give the player any variety of game winning power-up, exclusive cosmetic or otherwise game-changing advantage that many players simply can’t keep up with. As such, it is from these types of random probability exclusives that the term pay-to-win was born.

To put it simply, loot boxes enable players to pay as much as they want to have access to rare and exclusive items that affect balance in-game. As a result, the loot box controversy that exists in modern gaming is explained in one of two ways. Either you’re paying to compete in the upper levels or you remain a casual as a result of not having enough cash. One one hand, casual gamers can quickly become dissatisfied at their lack of success in-game as a result of the ever-changing game balance that loot boxes affect. Alternatively, more invested gamers find it absolutely necessary to join the abundance of other hardcore gamers willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money to win and compete.

With all of the discourse on the subject of the dubious nature of loot boxes and micro-transactions, what can be done to remedy the issue? For many, the prospect of fixing what seems an integral part of modern gaming seems bleak. However, hope exists in the form of Riot Games’ newest foray into the world of digitial collectible card games: Legends of Runeterra. With their innovative wildcard system and an insistence on avoiding the aforementioned loot box mechanic, LOR appears ready to change the way we approach monetization in video games.

In short, Legends of Runeterra is a strategy card based online video game with an emphasis on deckbuilding. It uses mechanics similar to other titles such as Blizzard’s Hearthstone or Wizard of The Coast’s Magic the Gathering Online. However, while Hearthstone or MTGO priortise the purchase of loot boxes (booster packs) to build competitive decks, hearthstone instead focuses on a different approach. By eliminating the randomized content redemption found in purchasing booster packs and instead allowing players to purchase wildcards that can be redeemed for specific cards that a player needs to build a deck, the necessity to spend excessive amounts of money is made obsolete.

“I’ve played Hearthstone pretty religiously for the last few years,” says gamer, Philip Baca. “The issue was that i could see what was becoming meta in terms of decks and i realized that in many cases, if i wanted to compete i had to pay cash to get those cards that i wasn’t able to get otherwise. It kind of takes the fun out of it knowing that you don’t get much aside from a card that you have no guarantee of pulling out of a booster pack.”

Need a specific card for your deck? Grind away in the competitive ladder and earn wildcards or alternatively purchase a wildcard and get exactly what you need, when you need it. In many ways, this system of allowing players to purchase what they want mimics the the real world in various ways, namely on the principles established through second markets in real-life card shops across the country and the world. While the burst of serotonin that is unleashed when opening a fresh booster pack or loot box is nowhere to be seen in LOR, the feeling of being cheated out of your hard-earned money is also noticeably absent. In many ways, LOR refines a system set in place that has caused controversy in the gaming industry and instead changes the way we interact with game developers.