Like 'em or not, lockboxes are the latest craze in free-to-play games. These little chests of mystery show up on your fallen foes sealed alarmingly well, and often require a special key purchased from the cash shop to open them. DC Universe Online will be the latest to jump on this trend with next week's patch, but it will at least allow subscribers to open all of them for free. In addition, subscribers will be getting a few other nice perks starting next Tuesday.
My favorite of the new perks is the monthly stipend of 500 Station Cash, roughly $5 worth of cash shop currency that can be used to pick up all sorts of goodies. Also awesome: SOE is adding the ability for players to reset their instance loot lockout timers, which'll let you double-up on gear rewards if you have a free weekend. Resetting a lockout will cost a different amount of Replay Badges, depending on the type of content: 12 Replay Badges for a Duo, 29 for an Alert, and 87 for a Raid.
Subscribers will get 150 Replay Badges dropped into their bags every 30 days to let them run their favorite content more often, with additional Replay Badges costing about three cents a piece. The reason I like this new perk so much is that it adds an option that wasn't in the game before, and lets subscribers sample it for free without changing the experience of free-to-players at all. These two new subscriber perks are terrific, and are a show of good faith on SOE's part.
The third perk is more of a mixed bag: it's great for subscribers, but will likely annoy the majority of free players. Starting Tuesday, Promethium lockboxes will have a chance to drop off of every enemy in the game above level 10. These will contain random pieces of new, unique gear and Marks that can be used to purchase endgame gear. Subscribers will be able to open them at will (yay, free gear!), but free players will need to purchase keys from the cash shop to crack 'em open.
I'm not a fan of this kind of lockbox system, which fills free players' inventories with potentially useless items that constantly remind them that they're not paying money. But some free players will want to pay for these boxes and subscribers will definitely be happy to receive the extra loot and Marks while playing. And to be fair, no other free-to-play MMO is as generous with these lockboxes to their subscribers as DCUO is. Most other MMOs with a similar system require their subscribers to pay for the keys, just like free players. The big problem I have with DCUO's system is the price tag on the keys: $2.50 is abnormally high.(opens in new tab)
For comparison, Allods Online , which doesn't have a subscription option, has been dropping lockboxes that require cash shop keys to open for over a year, charging 50 cents per key and allowing them to be traded between players in-game. Since December, Lord of the Rings Online has run a similar gambling-style game with its lockboxes and treasure-hunting system, but it requires subscribers to purchase keys at $1.33 a piece, on top of their monthly fee.
Star Trek Online added Cardassian Lock Boxes back in December, which can hold anything from a super rare spaceship to crappy consumables, and charges $1.25 per key to open the little buggers—also not free for subscribers. And more recently, City of Heroes added some random looting with its Super Packs, which give five random items for $1. But CoH's super packs don't drop from creatures and can only be purchased in the store--a good compromise that keeps the packs from pestering those players not interested in playing a little gear-roulette with their money.
The big non-MMO to use a similar lockbox mechanic is Team Fortress 2, which also charge $2.50 for players to open a single lockbox, which will contain a random item.
So by comparison, DCUO's system treats susbcribers extremely well, although it isn't doing free players any favors with steep key prices. For more info on the changes to DCUO next week, you can see the official community post and FAQ .