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Paladins Cards Unbound Loot Box Controversy refers to the online backlash directed toward video game developer Hi-Rez Studio for introducing a pay-to-win style loot box system to their free-to-play multiplayer shooter Paladins: Champions Of The Realm, echoing many of the criticisms used against the system used in Electronic Art's Star Wars: Battlefront II.
On November 29th, 2017, the Paladins by Hi-Rez Studios YouTube channel uploaded a developer update video after their OB 64 Patch notes stream announcing Cards Unbound, a new card leveling system that will replace the old card systems points distributing system into a leveling system (shown below). In the video, lead designer HiRezMartini revealed that players would be required to unlock loot chests and acquire duplicates of cards in order to level them up to gain higher level buffs and stat increases. They also announced that their Casual play mode will be replaced with a quickplay mode which allows no limits on cards, while also making their ranked game mode restrict all cards to all players at level 3 regardless of a players card level. The patch is available in the public test servers for players to give feedback and allow changes for the week before the patch goes live on Wednesday December 6, 2017. Hi-Rez also announced that any purchases of the lootboxes to upgrade cards will only be purchasable with in game gold currency and not allow players to purchase it with their premium currency until they feel that the system is balanced for micro transaction purchases.
Shortly after the announcement, the Paladins community on both The Paladins forums and the r/Paladins subreddit did not hesitate to voice out against the new changes to the card system, saying that this will cause a lot of unfair advantages to both newer and older players of the game. Paladins Cards unbound was also front paged on the r/gaming and /r/pcgaming forums and has even drawn the attention of various media outlets such as IGN, PC Gamer, Kotaku and Eurogamer.
On November 30, YouTuber KamiVS uploaded a video breaking down the amount of money, in game currency and time required in order to unlock the cards to maximum level.
The cards unbound patch caused Paladins content creators such as NuclearSharkhead (shown below, left) and Chavsberry Gaming (shown below, right) to speak out against Hi-Rez and the cards unbound system.
Meanwhile, YouTuber Joshino uploaded a video criticizing the developers decisions on creating a card system (shown be, left) . On December 2nd, Jim Sterling released a video covering and criticizing Hi-Rez Studio as well for following the the same exploitative pay-to-win lootbox systems that other AAA companies such as EA have been using for their games (shown below, right).
Hi-Rez has responded to the changes by slight doing re-tweaks to the system to help reduce the amount of cards needed to level up cards and to remove duplicates of cards at maximum level. However, this only caused further backlash from the community requesting that the whole system be dropped out of the game entirely before the patch goes live.
r/Paladins Shitty Fanart Protests
On Febuary 17, reddit user CrankisDank posted a thread on r/Paladins called "I will post Shity Paladins Art until cards unbound is removed" followed with a poorly drawn MS Paint drawing of Grohk. Since then the post has gotten 693 upvotes and over 65 comments.
Shortly after, many other users began to draw their own poorly drawn pictures of various paladins champions to protest the cards unbound system, flooding the r/Paladins subreddit with shitty fanart for almost an entire week until Hi-Rez and the Paladins team removed the cards unbound loot box system. The art protest has even caused Youtuber Jim Sterling to make a video on it, showing this alternate yet entertaining method of protesting to the pay-to-win system.
IGN article and internal conflicts inside Hi-Rez Studios
On Febuary 22, IGN created an an online article about the ongoing conflicts and debating inside of Hi rez studios and the Paladins development teams. Through anonymous employees that were contacted by IGN, most of them stated that the cards unbound pay-to-win system was mostly forced by executives against the will of almost every member of the paladins Development team. Other employees were also contacted to discuss the system, but they either did not respond or declined due to fear of loosing their jobs.
Executive producer HiRezChis announces the removal of Cards Unbound system from game
On the same day after the IGN article went live (see above), executive producer HiRezChris made an announcement on twitter that major changes will be made in Paladins via a google document, including the removal of cards unbound lootbox system. In the document, Chris stated: "Our team will be working over the next major release cycle to remove Cards Unbound from the game. We will be replacing it with a new system that I believe the community will be really excited about -- including the re-introduction of the deck building point system, and a method for obtaining cards that will be way less grindy."
In addition to the removal of cards unbound, he also stated that they will be removing the newly anticipated battlegrounds mode from the game due to the conflict of balancing champions for both different game modes. Instead the battlegrounds game mode will be worked on by a separate team to be reintroduced as a new free to play game with its own client, with the monetizing of skins and visuals.