My Take on Lootboxes

All images will have only limited relation to the topic, because I’m on my laptop but addicted to posting pictures.

From the scuttlebutt I’m hearing, lootboxes are ‘back’ in the news. I guess the major console makers are trying to get ahead of the various governments to “do something” about this “menace”. And it looks like they are going to make those games that do use their systems, or perhaps will use their systems (I didn’t read any articles or anything; why do actual work and/or research for a blog post?), publish odds for winning the various prizes in the boxes. I think would make industry practice at the very least follow gacha rules in Japan, which is pretty much the same thing: the rates for the items in the gacha must be published (and presumably actually be accurate, too). (For further reading on this, search for “Monkeygate”.)

As for my personal views on this, I think this is a good move. I’m morally opposed to gambling, but I don’t think lootboxes are gambling, in the strictest sense: the player (or someone else, presumably) pays for a chance to get something they highly value, which they have a low chance of getting; but unlike real gambling, what they are wanting isn’t anything of actual real value, and if they lose, they don’t end up with nothing. I’m not opposed to lootboxes in the abstract. I do agree that the way they are used is predatory, that lots of psychology and research goes into it. But that’s not, in-and-of-itself, bad – that’s just marketing and research. Just because this way might be more effective than others of getting people to voluntarily trade their money for something of questionable value doesn’t make it wrong.

However, I do think they should be what people are led to believe they are: that the player has a random chance to get the various things in the boxes. If the boxes are being manipulated to change the odds at various times, or to tailor the results to specific individuals, that ain’t right. It’s at the very best misrepresenting what these things really are, and at worst it’s fraud. Having the odds published prevents that kind of thing: if anyone suspected that the odds were wrong, they could complain to Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo, and the game could be audited, or at the very least the publisher/devs questioned. The player (or rather, payer) knows the odds, and can make a rational decision based on those odds, and what they value the various prizes to be.

I also think that the box should give something of ‘equal’ or greater value compared to the cost of opening the box. For example, in Star Trek Online, even the worst booby prizes in their boxes had equivalents in the normal cash shop that were the same or greater price than the keys to open the boxes. Even if you didn’t get what you wanted (and most people just want the top prize or two), you still got something for your 125 Zen that would cost 125+ Zen if it were in the store. (Whether those things were worth what they cost in the cash shop is another argument entirely.) This also, conveniently, throws out the gambling argument, at least from a legal (and thus actionable) angle. (Also, all of the actually decent prizes are tradable, so you don’t even need to engage the boxes themselves to get even the top prize.)

The most common thing said against lootboxes is that they are predatory towards children, in that children can’t control their spending, since they don’t associate the price with what they get, or something to that nature. That might be so, but the counter to this is: children can’t get credit cards, and they can’t get bank cards very easily. If they are running up their parents’ credit cards, that’s on the parents not having control of their financials. And as for going to the corner store to buy Google Play cards or whatever? That’s got a limit, because they have to use money they actually have, in-hand, to get that stuff; and if that’s how they want to spend their money, that’s their thing, and it’s between them and their parents.

I’ll leave with my personal view on personally using lootboxes, myself: I don’t really mind that they exist, but I don’t make much use of them. I’m certainly not averse to putting up my dosh for random chance stuff: I do play gacha games, after all, and even sometimes pay for those rolls. But lootboxes are different from gacha, in a sense. More limited, I feel. But they are fun to open, on occasion, just to see what comes out. I’d never open them for the chance at the top prize. But, like going to Vegas just to play the games, opening the boxes can be somewhat fun in itself.