Skull and Bones, Ubisoft’s tactical pirate ship combat game, has a very in-universe take on the modern loot box trend. In an interview with GameSpot, Ubisoft Singapore creative director Justin Farren responded to a question regarding Skull and Bones loot boxes in the affirmative, but with a twist. “There’s nothing more pirate-y than the treasure chest,” is how Farren described how Skull and Bones will approach it.
Not content with just giving Skull and Bones‘ take on loot boxes a fancy pirate theme and calling it a day, Farren says it’s the goal of Ubisoft to make it feel natural within the world:
“Our economy emulates the real economy of the Indian Ocean, so things that are important to the people who are shipping goods, the merchants, … the empires, those things are important to you. There’s nothing more pirate-y than the treasure chest.”
In which case the “loot” in loot box becomes quite literal. Players will effectively be looting merchandise from the trade waters of the Indian Ocean. It won’t be so realistic as recognizing which mercantile vessels are running low in the waters or recognizing their cargo based on which flags they’re running, but fighting another vessel, stealing its cargo, and then being surprised by the contents of the crates in its hold is better than the standard approach to loot.
While the likelihood of Skull and Bones‘ loot system not being too different than other games in practice is uncertain, it’s interesting to hear Farren talk about his goals for the game. Making meaningful, positive changes to the current slot machine type loot boxes prevalent in the industry starts by recognizing the system’s inherent flaws. It starts by taking a more constructive approach to the system:
“What I don’t want players to feel is that it’s some abstraction from the fantasy. It should feel like the things that you’re hunting, using your spyglass to see the things that are on board, should directly relate to the things that you need. But you know, there’s nothing more pirate-y than the treasure chest.”
Of special note is Farren’s unwillingness to associate these treasure chests with microtransactions. He says that microtransactions aren’t part of the game yet, but does make comparisons to Overwatch. He says there are planned seasons and events, and that he wants lots of customization that isn’t necessarily gated behind having to pay money to acquire. It very much sounds like the same kind of loot boxes everyone knows and loves, just less immersion-breaking.
Skull and Bones is tentatively planned for release in mid-to-late 2018 for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.