Why Loot Boxes Make People So Angry

It's the 100th episode of Kotaku Splitscreen, and to celebrate, we're ... talking about video games, loot boxes, and much more.

First, Kirk and I reminisce a bit about 2+ years of Splitscreen. Then we get into news talk (19:09) about loot boxes, Oculus Go, and Valve's Orange Box turning 10. Then we talk South Park, Steamworld Dig 2, and the new sexy Shelob game, Shadow of War.

Get the MP3 right here.

An excerpt:

Kirk: I think the issue there, with those [Destiny 2] engrams and with the loot boxes in Shadow of War, is more of an issue of messaging. And the way players see themselves through the eyes of the developers, I think is kind of what becomes problematic.

Jason: What do you mean by that?

Kirk: I think when players see developers seeing them as people to be tempted into spending more money, and into buying more things, where they see developers as withholding things from them and saying, 'You can only get this, through this thing that you need to spend money on.'

An example in Destiny 2 is the fact that ships now, ships and speeders, really only drop from those Bright Engrams that you can buy, from those loot boxes. I don't believe there is a ship or a speeder for the raid. There used to be, in Destiny 1 you'd get a ship when you beat the raid, and usually it was kind of cool-looking.

Jason: And to be clear, these are entirely cosmetic, ships and speeders.

Kirk: Right, but they are cool things you would get as an accomplishment. It was just one additional thing added to the raid loot table that now isn't there and is totally restricted to the [microtransaction store] Eververse.

So that feeling that they're taking, even little things like that, out of the game and putting them into the Eververse gives you this kind of feeling that the developers or publishers or whoever is making these decisions is looking at you pitilessly and thinking 'OK, we've got these people playing our game, how can we get them to spend money?' Which, to be fair, they are, and they have reasons to do that.

This is obviously a complicated and multifaceted issue. But that feeling is the feeling that causes players to get so upset about this kind of thing...

Jason: And unlike traditional microtransactions where you buy something for $US5 ($6) or whatever, you buy your favourite costume, the loot box is designed in a predatory way to make you feel that rush of dopamine every time you open up one of those chests -- oh my god, what could be inside, am I gonna hit the jackpot, am I gonna get my favourite thing?

So it's designed in this way that just makes you feel really gross, like you're gambling. Fun fact, the ESRB just told me that they do not consider loot boxes to be gambling and will not be adding a gambling descriptor on games with loot boxes.

...

Jason: The question a lot of people are asking is 'Why, when I pay $US60 for this video game, am I expected to spend even more within it?' And that is the question that I think will be a dominant point of discussion for the next few years.

Because video game development costs are rising exponentially. And video game publishers need to conserve risk, they need to find ways to make money outside of the traditional $US60 model. We are seeing the "games as a service" as a concept, and the model is that you buy into a game and keep spending money on it forever, because that's how people play games these days.

It's something that I don't believe is sustainable. I think we're going to hit a point where this current route is not going to work. It's just pissing too many people off, and games are too expensive, more expensive than they can feasibly be.

Bad things are going to happen. So stay tuned for that. We'll continue to report on that, and watch it, and comment on it, and hopefully the entire video game industry doesn't explode. But I would not be shocked if, in 10 years, the video game landscape looks very different.


For more, listen to this week's episode. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.

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Comments

    The way I see it is that Video games are an entertainment medium. It's also a hobby. If I am asked to spend extra, there has to be additional entertainment value in it. Lootboxes are an artifact that came about from the gambling side of gaming (betting).

    I am intrinsically averse to gambling and I don't condone it either specially when the winnings are virtual.

      I think random loot, whether it's a loot box, or just drop lists on a mob you kill are always problematic. Some lucky people get what they want first time, other can try literally forever and never get what they want. If you add money into the equation that becomes a real issue (look at slots machines "Just one more dollar it's gotta pay out soon").

      I don't have an issue with Devs making money in different ways, since games are costing massively more to make and there are many free to play games that rely on these transactions to stay afloat. Even in games where you pay for the game (and sometimes a monthly fee) it still helps pay for server time and ongoing maintenance, heck or even to give the devs a little profit so they can actually take a few weeks off.

      That said, I think there are better ways than gambling. Blizzard's pets and mounts made them a ton of money but weren't game breaking (though I think they charge too much for them $30 for a mount?) Tell the user exactly what they're gonna get and let them buy it.

      If you're going to have randomized lootboxes then you need to have bad luck mitigation. A couple simple examples; if the box can drop five things, then you can't get double ups until you have all five. That way at worst a person will get what they want after five boxes, not five thousand... or never! Alternatively, sell the item outright at a high price but let people take a chance on getting it in a loot box for a super low price.

    There is a strong negative connotation to monetising any system that are already in games (progression, loot, chance of either) especially when it's in a game you already paid money for.

    I for one don't buy the "devs/publishers need these monetising systems" due to game prices staying the same especially since the gaming audience has dramatically increased in the last few years. It's just greed for whale money that devs/publishiners are using these almost predatory systems.

    Full disclosure is key.

    Odds need to be listed and disclosure of any bonus mechanics (like Blizzards guarantee if you dont get one in X boxes). Disclosure of duplicates and virtual currency.

    Option to buy outright any item in a loot box. (I just want THAT skin, give it to me)

    Also the industry as a whole should remove all Pay2win mecchanics. Cosmetics and low level player exp boosts are fine imo. No player should get a performance upgrade in end game or pvp from a loot box or microtransaction.

    And if the industry or ESRB doesnt see this as an issue, remember games didnt beed ratings either until someone went TOO FAR and upset a lot of parents in mainstream media.

    If the devs/publishers want to include microtransactions, loot boxes, etc, they should make the game F2P from the beginning..

    Because they are getting tagged onto full price games that also normally have season passes and tonnes of paid dlc. Then there is the fact that the devs never give out the drop rates for loot boxes, so you just have to take it in good faith that the trash rolls don't have a 95% drop rate.

    Its all very predatory when taking into account the move from purely cosmetic to game affecting drops.

    Not going to lie and act like I haven't been suckered into getting loot boxes before (my orca in Depth and blue flick in CSGO are treasures), but there are people that very easily succumb to these dirty practises in masse and they need help.

    One of the most filthy systems I have ever seen is that the local casino destroyed a resteraunt area to put in low cost pokies and changed their rules to allow the homeless to spend what little they have left. The gambling industry is a horrible device that I will never understand how people can associate themselves with it.

      That's a really good point, seeing the drop rates should be mandatory if they're allowed to remain. Oh hey that cool "thing" is a one in 100,000 drop will I buy loot boxes or not...

      I'd also like to understand (at least in basic terms) what there loot determination system is. You could determine what a player gets a variety of ways.

      It randomly rolls a value and you get that item - simple, and what most people assume happens. But it could be written so items are separated into categories, and it rolls the category first then the item. So it's very first roll might be "junk". Which is still relatively valid (but depressing).

      It could also be tied to seemingly unrelated things - like how old your account is, or how much you've spent, or how many hours you play, or your in-game "rank" or any of hundreds of possible variables. Again, these things could be valid, the idea that you have a better chance of loot if you're a regular player isn't in itself offensive. But it should be visible to the players.

        From memory Blizzard were pushed to disclose drop rates and add a soft cap on how long you could go without getting a top tier drop by the Chinese government. Which makes me feel conflicted for being happy about something the Chinese government has done.

          Also from memory didn't they change how Overwatch works in China? Like you can't buy loot boxes and instead you buy amounts of gold that come with "free loot boxes" and because you are not actually "buying" loot boxes Overwatch doesn't need to disclose drop rates.

        Multiple rolls are really equivalent to a single roll, provided you allocate percentages to each item.

        Consider a system where you have a 50% chance of picking one of 10 common items, 40% chance of one of 20 uncommon items, and 10% chance of 20 rare items. You could implement this by doing one roll to pick the class and another roll to pick the individual item, or you could just assign individual probabilities to each item (5% for common, 2% for uncommon, 0.5% for rare) and do a single roll. The result will be the same.

        Where things can be more complicated is when the contents of the loot boxes is not independent. For example, systems where receiving a particular piece of loot in one box changes the chance of receiving the same thing in later boxes.

          Yeah that's why I said it could still be valid (but depressing). I probably didn't express what I was thinking well enough though, I was thinking about the slot machines when I typed that. Many have a secondary gamble feature that kicks in after you have a win. Usually something with a playing cards metaphor - pick red/black or the suit. You'd expect red/black to have a 50/50 chance of winning but there's nothing to say that the software actually gives you a 50% chance. It could roll win/lose with win at say 30% chance. After it determines whether you win it displays red or black.

          In a round about way what I was getting at is that what looks like a particular chance really isn't. And worse, the system is a black box where we don't know whether we're being cheated.

    I would prefer to live in a world without them but given all the real world problems there are, getting upset about something so meaningless to survival is just not my thing. Some games are worse than others, some are obvious nothing but a storm in a tea cup.

    Shadow of War: just stupid, have ZERO bearing on the game. Greedy Publishers getting in the way of people reviewing the actual game the developers made.
    Destiny 2: Laughable. The hysteria over this was flat out silly. Within a week I was drowning in shaders.
    Star Wars: Concerning. Given they affect gameplay.
    Overwatch: seem good but they are truly the worst. There drop rates are appalling during events. Sure you can now buy the item for coins if you have them, they have 'fixed' the duplicate thing. Sort of... but here is the thing, say I just want a Mercy skin. I can grind, and everytime play the loot box lotto, or I can keep buying loot boxes and do the same or until I have enough coins... Why cant I just buy the coins?! I want the choice to be able to buy a skin for X amount of I want to. I would rather pay $10-15 for a skin (if feeling rich that week) than risk 20-30-40 whatever, gambling for it.

    I have dropped more on Overwatch loot boxes 10 fold more than any other game, personally yes that is my choice and my love of the game means it some what makes sense. But like with casinos and this pokies there is a definite concerning element with how they operate. Made worse by this is a game played by a lot of children, I know my niece and nephew pressure me and their father every event. I want (and sometimes do)to buy them a set each but every event there is the same conversation about gambling. Overwatch devs (or is it publisher office) are lying to themselves dismissing their responsibilities. They know they have 'crack' for kids but keep spinning the 'we want legendaries to feel legendaries' line, no they know children will either play an extremely unhealthy amount or force their parents to pay an unhealthy amount until they get the legendary they want.

      I think the real world problem with them is just like slot machines. It's ok for some (maybe most) people who can exercise the self control to step away without spending too much. But there are people who get caught up spending far too much. And the fact that they're games and kids are being encouraged to gamble sets a bad precedent.

      Partly because kids aren't known for great impulse control and could easily rack up large bills. And secondly, because it establishes habits. Which may exacerbate real money gambling as they get older.

      Note: I said *may* since there aren't really good studies about that yet.

      Blizzard recently added loot boxes into Heroes of the Storm too, but they also added a means to buy their virtual currency so you can get the cosmetic items you want.

      I daresay it won't be long before a similar thing is added to Overwatch now that it's into its 2nd year, is building up a pretty large sized collection of cosmetic items, and is about to unveil its 26th hero.

    Didn't China class loot boxes as gambling and ban them or something? I remember the internet laughing at the Chinese for doing it. No one is laughing now.

      They did not ban them, but they did make it so if a game had them, they had to show percentage chances of what you can get out of them. Overwatch did this, but the rumor is that the China drop rates are different to the rest of the world. Not sure if that's true or not though.

    Just give me the option to get something at a reasonable price

    It didn't really bother me when playing Shadow of War, but it did stink a bit when the game actually gave me an in game, in character advertisement for microtransactions. (An orc runs up to you and recommends visiting the market).

    That's without even touching on the little "casino jingle" that plays as soon as you enter the marketplace.

    Still a great game, but the money grubbing is so obvious.

    The only time I have a problem with lockboxes is when they are thrown in your face. It's one reason I'll never play a Cryptic MMO again. However the outrage over Shadow of War is a little overblown. It's there, but it's not ib your face. If it gets to that point, I'll just stop playing it ... but so far, I haven't seen any need to get lockboxes in SoW.

      Its not really Cryptic doing it though. Its that parent company Perfect World that fuck over shit. If Crypric was to break away, and do something on there own, I think it would be fine.

    Jason: And to be clear, these are entirely cosmetic, ships and speeders.

    That statement right there is the biggest problem. 'It's just cosmetic' is just a dumb argument. A loot box is a loot box, and in the case of SoW, they actually look some cool things behind them called Command Orders, witch let you give your followers new powers, level them up, or move them to a different region. Now, the loot boxes in SoW can VERY easily be obtained with the in game currency, but that is also no excuse. And I say that with 24 hours so far on the game. Its a GREAT game. But the loot boxes just make it seem like they had no confidence in the product, and brings what SHOULD be a 8-9/10 game down to something more like a 6 or 7. Loot boxes, if they feel out of place, should be docking points from reviews. I mean, this is WB where talking about here. If there was a new Arkham game coming, I am sure there would be loot-boxes in them now, and they would not fit in to the game at all.

    Lootboxes are for FREE to play games, and card games. And even then, they need to be done in a way that dose not disrespect the game it self, or the players, no matter WHAT you are getting from them.

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