Good or Bad? Loot Boxes

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Today I’ll be covering a controversial game mechanic that most people would claim hurts players: loot boxes. In fact, loot boxes are so controversial, they are (as of this writing) illegal in Belgium and the Netherlands. Other countries are considering regulations for them as well so it makes sense to go over what they are. There is some overlap with my article, Good or Bad: Free to Play Games, so give that a read too if you are curious about similar game mechanics.

First off, what is a loot box? A loot box is an in game reward that is usually obtained with real money, or with premium in game currency that can be obtained using real money. The catch? The reward you get is randomly determined by the game, and not by how much you pay. These rewards can be anything from new characters, useful items, a new action, skill, or a character skin. In some games, they are referred to as “gatcha” mechanics.

Loot boxes shouldn’t be mistaken for DLC. DLC is paid additional content that you are guaranteed to get if you pay. DLC requires only one payment, and usually costs less than the full price of the game from launch.

The main issue here is you are paying money for maybe getting what you are looking for. This lack of guarantee on top of possibly spending money sounds like gambling. Throw in the possibility that these items could make the game considerably easier, or help a player win multiplayer matches means it could lead to “pay to win” scenarios.

In some games, the currency that grants a loot box can be earned just by playing. However, in most games that offer loot boxes, paying for this currency is a much faster method of gaining loot boxes. Considering that the odds for the best rewards can be abysmal, (possibly well below 1%), it can be a much slower process of gaining these goods if you do not pay at all. With loot boxes, you could pay indefinitely if your luck is really bad.

In short, this type of game mechanic is incredibly predatory. To get what you are looking for quickly, you could pay a lot of money, most likely more than the game is worth! Yes, you do usually get something from a loot box, but it may be something you aren’t looking for, or don’t need in the game.

So the only question I have is, is there a way that loot boxes can’t be predatory? I can only think of a few possibilities. One way is to keep them entirely free, or in other words to use in game currency that can only be obtained by playing. Keeping the odds reasonable for each reward could also go a long way. Yet another method is to make each reward obtainable only once, meaning each loot box will eventually give you every reward you could want. All of these in tandem could mean there isn’t really an issue at all. Would it be fun this way? Possibly, assuming it isn’t required to complete a single player game, or to win a multiplayer game. Balancing the time invested by players is also key here too.

So what are the takeaways from loot boxes? Let’s take a look:

  • If created the wrong way, they are incredibly predatory.
  • If you pay real money for them, it is essentially gambling.
  • Some varieties could be more fair than others, based on balancing time spent vs. the money a player could spend. If either is large, the system is predatory.
  • If you play such a game, try it out for free first.
  • Try to either gauge the game’s value, or make a total spending limit. Do not spend more than your assessment or limit set.
  • Watch out for games with updating loot box content: they can be massive time or money sinks.
  • Look into how the game monetizes their game or content. If you disagree with how the game generates money, then do not buy or play these games!

Those are my thoughts on loot boxes. What is the best game with this sort of feature? The worst game with this feature? Are you bothered by loot boxes? Let me know in the comments below (be civil, please)! If you liked this article, then click that like button and share on social media. To keep up with That’s All Games, you can subscribe via email or WordPress. Until next time, have fun gaming!

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