Counter-Strike's X-Ray Scanner Is Bullshit

Loot boxes are bad, and regulators around the world are cracking down on the most egregious models. Counter-Strike is at the forefront of that, because of its secondary market that sees weapon skins and knives get traded for hundreds of real-world dollars.

So here's some hot bullshit: To provide the appearance of transparency, Counter-Strike developer Valve has introduced an X-Ray Scanner consumable item that lets players see inside the contents of a loot box, but it's only available in France.

The full blog post, which went up Tuesday Australian time, says the X-Ray Scanner comes preloaded with a P250 X-Ray pistol, and "users in France must first claim this item to use the x-ray scanner again".

How the scanner works is as follows:

In France, every container must first be placed into the X-ray Scanner to reveal the item inside before purchasing a key. The X-ray Scanner will consume the container and reveal the item inside. To use the X-ray Scanner again, the revealed item must be claimed; it is not possible to scan another Container without claiming the revealed item.

In other words, you can use the x-ray scanner to see what's inside a loot box ... but if you want to see inside any other loot box afterwards, you have to open the container and claim the item inside. But you can't open the container without a key, which costs a couple of dollars at the current market price.

It's a bullshit move, a stop-gap until more regulators crack the shits and demand these forms of microtransactions be scrapped entirely. It's interesting that Valve is rolling out the change first in France, a country where the local regulator stopped short of declaring loot boxes as gambling.

Netherlands and Belgium have taken a much stronger stance against loot boxes, forcing 2K and EA to pull some of the microtransactions from FIFA and the NBA 2K games. The UK's Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee also recommended a wholesale ban on all loot boxes to minors, and loot boxes should be officially regulated under the Gambling Act. "Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm," committee chair Damian Collins said.

In lieu of the growing gamer backlash and increased regulator attention, games have started disclosing drop rates and introducing more transparency. Rocket League announced they were scrapping their entire loot box system for "blueprints", while Blizzard was forced to reveal the drop rates for Hearthstone and Overwatch card packs and loot boxes in China.

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Comments

    Valve practically popularised loot boxes with TF2 and made it acceptable to have one-time keys to open opaque boxes of questionable value. Then they took it to the next step with CS. They will try to delay killing stuff like this as much as possible - it allows their games to keep generating money with minimal effort, which is great for a developer who can't make games anymore.

    The old Valve is dead and gone.

      Couldn't agree more.
      I would have hated the EGS back in the day. Now, I actually like seeing Valve sweat.

      I've been quite happy to support devs who make real, single player, non microtransactional games and list them on the EGS. ie Metro / BL3 / Outer Wilds etc.

      It's less convenient... but Valve is only at the top because they were there first. Not because they're a good company.

    Valve is a sh!t company.

    And what makes it worse is that they're private.

    Private companies don't have the same shareholder pressure that public companies do.
    I might dislike EA/Activision... but at the end of the day I understand why they do such awful things. They're driven by shareholder greed.

    But Valve has the option of being better than that. Instead, they charge more to be listed on their store. And all their games are all gross GaaS-trash designed to flog lootboxes.

    It's comical, really.
    There is still gambling involved, it's just "will the next box be worth it" instead of "will this box be worth it".

    clearly they're taking regulators' concerns very seriously...

      Reminds me of the government's attitude towards coal mining.

      "Have you seen what's happening with renewables de-valuing coal? We need to dig every last remaining bit of it out of the fucking ground right the fuck now, while it's still worth something! Go go go, exploit exploit exploit!"

      They gotta squeeze the lootboxes dry while they still can.

    It's not really clear how they could do more here without either (a) completely partitioning France off from the rest of the world as far as rewards go in the game, (b) stop pre-assigning the contents of each loot box, or (c) tearing down the loot box system world wide.

    If they could discard scanned loot boxes without opening them, then it would significantly change the game's economy. Also, since French players can still trade loot boxes, they'd be be able to offer scanning services to other players if they could remove loot boxes from the scanner.

    This is not to say I think it is a good idea. Long term, I think they're either going to need to partition players between countries that allow gambling in games and those that don't, or completely separate money from the chance mechanics.

      The whole system is indeed shit, but regardless, you seem to be assuming that loot boxes are actual boxes that contain loot. Valve doesn't preassign the contents of each box, the contents are randomly generated when someone clicks on it. There's no reason at all that traded boxes would need to contain the same gear if traded to another player. (Although, why bother, if it contains crap who would want it? and if it doesn't it will be opened immediately and the good gear claimed or sold directly.)

      Furthermore, once X rayed, the only way a player can get it out of their virtual X ray machine is to open it with a key, you can't actually remove the box from the machine. That's (partially) why the system Valve is proposing is particularly shitty - if you don't like what you see in your X ray you can never open another loot box again. This is only barely a step away from completely useless.

        Without seeing Valve's backend code, it is hard to say when they decide what the contents of a loot box is. I'll admit that the X-ray thing doesn't necessarily require loot box contents be set at creation time: it could choose the contents at the point you stick the loot box in the X-ray machine. With Valve's loot boxes being independently tradeable, it still wouldn't surprise me if they set the contents at creation time though.

        I realise that this system is unlikely to satisfy many people (I said as much above), but it is still marginally better than before since it effectively lets you skip opening one loot box. While you need to spend a key to clear the X-ray machine, it sounds like you can continue to unlock other loot boxes while it is full.

      or completely separate money from the chance mechanics
      this was one of the good things Epic did in Fortnite's Save The World mode (much as Epic annoy me with the EGS shennanigans, the Fortnite dev team have done some good stuff in their ongoing support and revision of the game) - freely earned loot llamas have random contents (but usually specify if their main items will be traps, people, or certain weapon types), but any purchased with Vbucks (and thus able to be bought with real money) are X-Ray llamas - you get to see their full contents in advance, and if you don't want to buy it you can wait for the daily store refresh when it gets replaced with a new llama full of different stuff.

      Also whenever they make a change which rebalances or otherwise notably impacts a particular item, you have the option to reset the item to get back any upgrade resources invested in it.

      Meanwhile multi-step unlock systems like crates and keys make me most grumpy!

      Any system that tries to preserve random chance for loot boxes is going to be a clusterfuck. Valve knows this, which is why they’ve implemented such a stupid “concession” for France. There’s no way they can keep up the insane amounts they rake in with loot boxes and also remove the gambling aspect of hiding contents.

      The only solution is to just show the contents of a box and accept the hit from a reduction in people buying into boxes of useless junk. Or they could go back to making actual games and longer content again - but they probably won’t, because as Rockstar have learned, you can make lots of money by essentially adding tiny visual mods to their old games.

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