Overwatch Director Says The Game's Loot Boxes Are 'Good,' Not 'Evil'

"I think on the big spectrum of loot boxes, between 'really good' and 'really evil,' I'd like to think we're more on that 'really good' side with what we're trying to do," says Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan.

As part of an interview at BlizzCon last weekend, I asked Kaplan about his response to the recent furor surrounding loot boxes. At their worst, they can throw off game balance, and no matter how you slice it, they take inspiration from gambling to siphon money out of players' pockets.

Kaplan said that the Overwatch team is constantly monitoring and reevaluating the game's loot boxes in hopes of keeping them from making players feel crappy.

"We talk about it every day," he said. "That's how important the topic is to us."

Earlier this year, for example, Kaplan and company "drastically" reduced the chance that players will get duplicate items after cracking open a cold one, an update that came as a direct response to longtime player complaints.

The Overwatch team's response came later than players would have liked, and the end result is a system where duplicates still exist, but Kaplan argued that the team did everything it could.

"I always have to remind people that, within a system that doesn't have infinite content, there's no such thing as 'no duplicates,'" said Kaplan. "Somebody will say, 'Oh, I just got two of whatever!' I can't make it so that when you open a loot box, an artist gets an alarm in the middle of the night to come into work and model a new skin for you."

Still, that doesn't address more fundamental concerns -- namely, that loot boxes are inherently exploitative in a way that coaxes people into spending money and can ultimately create addicts, and also that they're largely unrewarding gambling-esque systems duct-taped onto games that would be more fun without them.

Kaplan -- whose game, it should be noted, makes a chunk of its sizable profits through loot boxes -- said that he feels like Overwatch's loot boxes avoid those pitfalls better than most.

"When you talk about loot boxes, there's a very wide spectrum of what games do with blind reveal systems," he said. Overwatch's loot boxes don't give players additional power, he said, instead allowing them to do things like expose McCree's glorious cowboy abs and turn Torbjorn into Santa Claus.

A few exceptions aside, nearly every item that's ever been in loot boxes can be earned by players without spending real money, Kaplan said -- though many of those are trapped behind limited-time windows (and, as we all know, stored for the rest of the year in a vault in Kaplan's terror palace).

To remedy that last issue, the Overwatch team is planning to drop a major loot box update early next year that will add a large number of special new skins to regular, non-event loot boxes.

"Players are getting more than just what they saw at BlizzCon," said Kaplan. "The goal is to make loot boxes feel better."

Even then, though, it's likely that some people will continue loathing loot boxes, if only because they hold the potential to be infuriating, the spoiled icing atop the occasional frustrating play session.

I asked Kaplan if, in light of all the recent anti-loot-box fervor, the team would ever consider removing loot boxes from Overwatch entirely. He replied that loot boxes will "probably" always stick around in some form, but never say never.

"I hope we've proven with Overwatch that we're very much in touch with our community, we care, and we're not scared to make big changes," he said. "We're not scared to totally change how D.Va works, or Roadhog works, or Mercy works, or Symmetra works, or big systems work. We're willing to go back to the drawing board on things, so I would never take anything off the table."


Comments

    For me the big problem with these boxes are the time limited ones, I know people who spend hundreds of dollars during each event due to fear of missing out.

    It just seems really exploitative.

      It is exploitative.

      But that's their choice.

      The events items are made available each year, so if they don't get a Halloween item they want one year, they have another chance to get it next year.

      It's the same with any time limited/limited edition item, whether its in a loot box or a pre-order offer or a finite print run comic book.

        Nothing like a limited print comic at all...
        Because if I purchased a limited print comic, that's what I would find inside the packaging, not a chance at getting a copy of Garfield.

          You've never heard of blind bagging, then, I take it?

          As in a limited print run comic is released with several variant covers, but you don't know which you get until you open the sealed bag it's in.

            I have, for several random comics in a bag for $5, but not for limited print no.

            I'm not challenging your defence of loot boxes, just saying a limited print comic is not like a limited run loot box.
            They may share a small similarity in being limited, but they are completely different in every other aspect, especially in relation to your point.
            Nobody set out to get a particular comic and left the actual book to chance in the same way a limited run loot box works.

        so if they don't get a Halloween item they want one year, they have another chance to get it next year.

        That's not a great consolation though. Last Halloween I wanted Witch Mercy. Didn't get it. Oh well. This year I wanted Dragon Symmetra. Didn't get it, got Witch Mercy instead - I didn't want Witch Mercy any more. Having these little windows of opportunity are worthless when the excitement of getting involved will regularly be transformed into, "Better luck next year."

      Precisely. Kaplan should not have used 'really good' and 'really evil' as the spectrum, more like 'extremely questionable' down to 'extremely exploitative'.

    While I agree overwatches model is good and a finer example. I still have concerns over the loot boxes existential nature with minors and adduictive personakities present in a games community.

    Without a direct way to buy select items through microtransaction or buying the currency directly... you still required to buy loot boxes to get the 1 must "want item". Especially with seasonal content.

    Also rewarding loot boxes encorages purchasing of loot boxes and educates minors on gambling.

    I wish it rewarded currency, and parental controls can decide if loot boxes are accessible or if direct purchases are.

      It also reinforces the notion that it's ok to rely on sheer luck to derive satisfaction and value from your rewards. There's literally no way in this instance to say, "I worked to earn this $10, this skin is worth $10, I will spend the money and have this skin that I know is worth the effort and interest I placed in $10."

      I'm not saying these imaginary goods will have any real value at any point, just that there's a valuable psychological process that goes into quantifying the value of something we desire and being able to act upon it. Gambling on chance however has an infinite value infinite and invisible cost somewhere between the limits of your luck and your savings.

    Loot boxes in and of themselves aren't good or evil.

    The malicious, exploitative way these are being implemented, in full priced retail games however...

    You expect this crap in free to play games. That's part of the deal. But microtransactions, and loot boxes in full priced games are utterly vile.

    I'm no longer a fan of the game but they way they do loot boxes is the best way to do it. Anyone who thinks they're exploitative or "evil" needs to get a grip.

      What about the 'limited time' items that you can only get at Halloween, for example? There's no physical reason they can't have those items available at all times. They only limit availability in order to rake in $$$ from people desperate to have the cool shiny thing that their mates have before it's gone for the next 12 months.

        Yes, how dare they make something available for a limited time during a calendar event.

        It's almost like they're a business and need to say profitable in order to survive in an over-saturated marketplace.

        Besides, how often do you see Christmas stuff on sale in Kmart after Christmas is over?

          Like I said, there's no physical reason for them not keep it available. It's not taking up physical space on shop shelves. It's a digital product. They have no reason not to keep it available apart from generating fear of missing out, a fact of which you can be sure they are acutely aware.

            Generate fear? Lol cmon man. Being available for a limited time makes it special.

              Yes, to generate a fear or concern about missing out, that is entirely the purpose of the model.

              It's up to the PR department to sell it as a positive.

                But people won't miss out, because the same items will be available again next year.

                Just like Christmas trees ;)

                  Tomorrow never comes ;)

                  Dude I'm in the business of selling people shit they don't need, to the tune of millions
                  (Not my pocket unfortunately)
                  I should be the one taking your viewpoint as its my bread and butter, but the truth is we are bad, lawful, legitimate, awful sons of bitches.

          It's almost like they're a business and need to say profitable in order to survive in an over-saturated marketplace.

          Oh man. Please tell me that's both the first time you've both used and heard that argument.

        It's a cosmetic skin in a video game, you'll live.

          Oh I will, but I know there are a lot of people out there who spend $100s on 'limited' loot boxes each time they are released. Some of them might be rich as Crassus, but some of them are no doubt suckered in by the psychological tricks used by Activision to encourage repeat spending.

            Let them ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              ugh...that's a deplorable attitude

                No it's not. There's something called responsibility.

                Just like when people spend money on gambling. They can piss and moan about it but at the end of the day they made the choice and they have to own up to it.

                This is from someone who used to be a dealer at a casino as well as someone who has lost a lost of money to both gambling and stupid things like loot boxes.

                Do I blame anyone else? No of course not. Every stupid descision I made was my own and I have to live with that.

                Bottom line is - you want the skins and you don't want to pay for them. All this white knighting about "Oh but person A has spent 100.00 on loot boxes and I feels heaps bads for thems" is just a cover to hide your own annoyance at it.

                Last edited 11/11/17 12:36 am

                  I assume you mean individual responsibility not social responsibility...

                  People should of course take responsibility for the decisions they make, but problem gamblers do not decide to have a problem with gambling.

                  And for whatever it's worth, I don't care about skins at all.

              Yeah let those people at the pokies piss their money away too.

    Sigh. This again?

    Loot boxes are not gambling.

    Gambling involves the risking something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome.

    While there is an uncertain outcome when it comes to what you get from a loot box, you are always guaranteed to get something. There is no risk of losing with loot boxes. Thus they are not gambling.

      Even when the reward is something borderline worthless? That's my distinction personally, if your only claim to its not gambling is the fact you receive something for it each time, then what your receiving should be worth what the input value is.

      Last edited 09/11/17 2:26 pm

        Your distinction as to what? Whether loot boxes are gambling?

        Worth is subjective. The fact you get something you may not have wanted does not change the fact you still got something.

        It can't be considered gambling if there's no risk of loss.

          That's a ridiculous assertion.

          Slot machines are gambling. They always pay out if you spend more than a minute on them.

          Some of the items are duplicates which are worthless. You already have it. There is no benefit to having two. So you didn't actually get anything. Just a number next to the item says '2'.

            Your argument is fallacious. Slot machines do not always pay out.

            As for loot box duplicates being worthless, again, that's subjective. You still did get something.

            A number next to the item saying 2 indicates you got something.

              Slot machines do always pay out if you play for a few minutes. Put in a couple of dollars on the 1c slots and play it for a few minutes if you don't believe me. You'll win a few cents. The few cents on the screen indicate you got something.

                But, unlike loot boxes, there is a risk of getting nothing.

                You always get something with loot boxes.

                Just because it might not be something you want is in no way a loss of something.

                  Lets say I took a regular casino slot machine and altered it so that it now gave you a token every time it would previously have given no prize, and allowed you to exchange 20 of these tokens for an extra spin (and maybe some other exchange options). Would you say that this modified slot machine no longer counts as gambling?

                  It is likely to cause the same kind of behaviour in players, so why not call it gambling?

                  I did not say 1 spin. I said spins for a few minutes. Slot machines are programmed to give you some winnings. Unless it's broken, you will win something. Same with these loot boxes. Unless the programming messes up you win something.

      Even If that thing you win is worthless?

        As I said above, worth is subjective. You still got something, unlike with gambling where you can end up with nothing.

      No. The outcome is certain, the value is NOT certain.

      You paying money for something that has no assigned value. Or are you telling me that player icon is worth 20 cents or ypu would be happy paying 20 cents for a ligo you dont want need or care for.

      Even so gambling laws also covers all games of chance under competition law. Even a random box game in real life is regulated, just look at most game shows.

      You don't consider money valuable and a random chance of a box containing something you want or don't have an uncertain outcome?

      Even if you're just grinding for them, you are risking valuable time on an uncertain outcome so either way they meet your definition of gambling. Just because you don't lose it doesn't mean it's not gambling, you are still staking something on a game of chance. (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gambling)

        I think you misread my post.

        I actually said "While there is an uncertain outcome when it comes to what you get from a loot box".

        And just because you don't lose it doesn't mean it's not gambling? Actually yes, it does mean it's not gambling.

        The definition of gambling involves a risk of loss. There's no such risk with loot boxes.

          Too late, that dictionary definition doesn't matter any more. We're calling it gambling and that's what it is now.

      It's not gambling but it uses the same exploitative techniques that slot machines use. I think most people would be more worried about the effect of loot boxes than the definition applied to them.

      No that's just the ESRB's definition. They are a US based self-regulatory body, not a government department (unlike the ARB in Australia). Their particular definition is used in a specific context for the sole purpose of defining the content of games and attributing a rating to them. It does not apply generally.

    Personally I would like to see Overwatches loot boxes guarantee at least 1 item you don't own per box.

      They already do that.

      But if you have all items of a certain tier unlocked, then it has nothing else to give you so it either gives you currency or gives you a duplicate that it then redeems for currency.

    The fact Kaplan had to justify them is a dead giveaway they are evil.

      More likely the fact is he's just replying to a hot button topic within his game's community.

    For those against loot boxes in Overwatch I have a question, would you prefer to pay for all map and hero DLC?

      Isn't that what we're paying $88.95 (at EB games) for?

        I think what they're trying to get at is that instead of making us pay for extra heroes and maps as DLC, we get it all for free.

        Just like we get extra skins and sprays and voice lines for free. They're just randomised in loot boxes (that you also get for free).

          Oh yeah... "free" but designed in a way to entice the player to pay for more random loot boxes filled with useless sprays. They're totally not designed deliberately to manipulate the player to spend more money using known psychological techniques.

          Yup, generous, philanthropic Blizzard.

          Yes, I get that you can resist the temptation. But should you have to? Should you have to resist the temptation to buy loot boxes every time you boot up a game you paid full freaking price for? Is that right?

            My point is if loot boxes weren't in the game you would have to pay for all the new maps/modes/characters as DLC. Implementing loot boxes allows for all that to be free.

              It gets paid for anyway. By people buying loot boxes. No free lunches and all that.

      I would prefer to pay for the skins themselves, if you could just pay 10 dollars for each skin you wanted (Which is still outrageously expensive) it would be a far better system than what they have now.

      This one encourages you to sink huge amounts of money into it to get the skin you want.

        How so?

        You can earn boxes for free just by playing. Get enough currency from those and you can get the skin you want.

        If anything it encourages people to sink more play time into it rather than money.

        It's not like there's ads popping up all over the place in game enticing you to buy loot boxes.

          It's not like there's ads popping up all over the place in game enticing you to buy loot boxes.

          There's no need. The only other thing to do than play a multiplayer match is to get and use skins for multiplayer matches.

          Last edited 10/11/17 12:51 am

          They advertise the cool new event skins on the launcher, if you want them you have to buy loot boxes as you wont earn anywhere near enough the normal way before the event runs out. This is by design to manipulate people into spending way more money than they would usually consider on a skin because otherwise they will have to wait a year before they get another shot at it.

            Yes, they advertise the cool new event skins on the launcher, because why wouldn't they? It's new content in game.

            But they absolutely do not say that you need to buy loot boxes to get them because you can earn the loot boxes for free just by playing the game.

            If anything it entices people to play the game more, not to spend money.

            If you spend money on loot boxes, that's entirely your choice.

      OW was at best half a game on release. (#shotsfired)

      All things aside, I do get your point. However I'm not sure slot machines for games is the appropriate answer.

    He says that they want the loot boxes to not 'make players feel crappy', and that they spend lots of time talking about them. Simple solution, loot boxes can't make people feel crappy if there aren't any, and you'll have time for other things!

      They are more than likely talking about them every day because of the insane money they make from them. Nothing else.

    Why do people defend lootboxes by saying "they arent gambling".

    You do realise that as a consumer this applies pressure on the industry to do better, return value to consumers and protect consumers. But feel free to claim "you dont have to buy them" "there is no risk"and all that garbage as they deliberately design mechanisns to exploit consumers from pkaying flashing colours, coin sounds, roadblocks, and matchmaking patentscto further exploit weaker consumers.

    The video game industry doesnt need you to defend them, they hire people to do that, you role is to be a valued customer of desernable wants and endless joy and live for their gane and not an endless wallet they can manipulate as long as they have you hooked.

      Its easy for hardcore Overwatch players to do 50 or 100 loot boxes per event have currently spent...

      $480 & $960 since launch.

      I choose to spend money on loot boxes, and I do so knowing full well that while I might not get the item(s) I want, at the very least I'll get in game currency that I can use to get what I want. So I know that, at the end of the day, I'll always have something to show for my money spent.

      I choose not to spend money on poker machines, because I know full well that while I might get the occasional winning spin, there's a better than average chance of getting nothing from a spin. So I know that, at the end of the day, I might not have anything to show for my money spent.

      Ergo, loot boxes are not gambling.

        As you have about eleventy three posts on this thread, choosing one to reply to was difficult :) But this one will do.

        By any recognised definition its gambling. You pay money for the opportunity to win something that's randomised. Which is the textbook definition of gambling.

        Macquarie Dictionary defines it as 'To stake...anything of value on the outcome of something involving chance'

        https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/features/word/search/?word=gamble&search_word_type=Dictionary

        To think otherwise is delusional or ignorant.

        That doesn't mean its not an acceptable level of gambling though. That's up to you. Personally, I think they're fine as long as they aren't pay to win (with exceptions). But don't delude yourself into thinking its not gambling, that's just one of the signs you have a gambling problem of some level.

        Your example of choosing not to spend money on pokies is a flawed one as well - plenty of people that play pokies choose not to play keno or gamble on horses either, so does that mean slot machines aren't gambling to them?

        Of course not.

    I keep thinking I imagined this because of how it never gets spoken of.
    http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2017-06-06-blizzard-avoids-chinas-loot-box-laws-by-selling-in-game-currency
    Basically China has laws that require loot box drop rates to be made public. Overwatch revealed its drop rates at first before changing it to where you buy amounts of credits with "free" bonus loot crates. And because you aren't buying loot boxes they don't need to disclose drop rates.

    Even if they haven't done anything dodgy with drop rates yet, they've manipulated it to where they could change the drop rates without the customers knowing. To me that's disgustingly dodgy.

      That is one of the slimiest things I have ever seen from a gaming company, I am amazed I haven't seen this on Kotaku before.

      It seems like such an obvious scam to get around the new law as the amount of credits you get per dollar is pathetic, its really easy to see that you are still just paying for the lootboxes.

    Having randomised slot machine boxes with no way to buy exactly what you want for a reasonable price is still crap.

    Having skins locked behind events is also stupid. Especially going forward each year. If they want to celebrate the same old tired halloween event with the same skins we saw last year but with a few new ones that you might not even get (like it did for me this time). Having limited time events is fine but trying to keep it up year after year will eventually get boring.

      Stupid moderation bs...

      Last edited 10/11/17 9:17 am

    Just needed to say this is all a bit ridiculous isn't it. These are for pure cosmetic purposes and are not something you have to spend money on. Just because some people chose to doesn't make the loot box system evil. They know it is a lucky dip when they spend the money.

    All items can be purchased with in game currency anyway or earned through just playing the game. It's the same as any loot shooter really, it's just you get your random items through a loot box via game play vs actually killing enemies.
    In regards to skins that are only available during timed events, isn't the point of these to be exclusive? to actually be worked for? You want that new skin, then earn it by playing the game and grinding. Or by being smart and saving in game currency for these events. I don't know why game developers are always having to cater and justify themselves because of the lowest common denominator.

    Overwatch's implantation of a loot box is fine, it's a game designed to be in it for years to come, it's a competitive multiplayer game. This system makes sense, you don't get what you want in a loot box, don't worry, just play a few more games and you'll get another go. To be honest I think it helps the longevity of the game as without a story or progress system random loot boxes help give you another reason to go back to the game every week, earn those 9 arcade loot boxes etc. Where loot boxes make less sense are for single player games as these purchases wont' mean anything in a few weeks once you have finished the campaign.

    In short, I hope they don't get rid of loot boxes from Overwatch just because other games have implemented them with greedier intentions. They're a fun little extra that's nice to have when your $80 game has already given you hours of fun.

    But that's just my opinion.

    Last edited 10/11/17 9:29 am

    Gee, a gaming exec shilling his own product? I'm sure we can just every single unbiased word out of his wholly objective mouth. Clearly there's nothing whatsoever wrong with Overwatch's loot boxes.

    It's just a pity I don't play Overwatch because fuck that shit.

    said that he feels like Overwatch's loot boxes avoid those pitfalls better than most.

    lol, a fox dressed as a lamb is still a fox!

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