Loot Boxes Are Designed To Exploit Us

Loot Boxes Are Designed To Exploit Us

The influx of randomised loot boxes has kicked off a permanent discussion about their inclusion in games. Discussions of multiplayer imbalance and blocked off game content ignore an important truth: loot boxes are an ethical problem. They exist largely to exploit players and create addicts.

Loot boxes in video games are digital goods that allow players the chance to obtain special items. It’s a bit like opening a mystery box. You might get something really cool or you might get a ton of garbage. They made inroads in gaming in Japan, where games with random loot mechanics earned the label “gacha”, referring to “gachapon” toy vending machines. Gacha became a cornerstone of mobile game design and now seems to be popular everywhere.

Gacha systems, chief among them loot boxes, are now a ubiquitous mechanic of mobile games around the world, and they have spread in recent years to AAA titles such as Overwatch or League of Legends. In many of these games, loot boxes can be earned by playing the game or purchased with special currencies gained through completing tasks, but they are also often available for purchase with real world money.

That last method is how many game makers hope their customers will obtain loot boxes. The boxes are a temptation and a snare. They are a devious economic trap, designed to take players’ money. You’re not expected to resist them forever.

In 1930, during his graduate year in college, American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted experiments on behavioural conditioning in animals. He created a chamber where rats received food if they pushed a button. As a result of these tests, he determined two important things. The first is that the rats were more likely to do something if they were rewarded. They were more likely to push a button for food than push that same button to stop getting shocked by an electrified cage floor.

Second, he discovered that he could train the rats to push a button more if their reward was at either random or controlled intervals instead of offering a consistent reward every time.

Loot boxes are similarly designed to encourage real life sales by providing rewards that are rare and yet seemingly always attainable if frequently tantalizingly out of reach.

Game like Fate: Grand Order have absurd odds for getting the best heroes and loot.

The rarity is usually implied rather than articulated. Most games don’t tell you the odds governing their lootboxes, though some do. The mobile game Fire Emblem: Heroes discloses probability of summoning new characters of varying quality within the game itself, a result of Japanese laws that mandate the practice overseas. For any given summon in Heroes, there is a three per cent chance of giving players a five star character, although that number starts to increase after multiple summons.

Overwatch crates are designed so that players will receive a legendary quality item after opening an average of 13.5 crates, according to numbers disclosed as part of Chinese regulations. These numbers may vary in different countries. The goal is to hand out loot frequently enough that players always believe they’re on the verge of getting good loot while also keeping probability low enough to encourage the purchase of additional crates.

Games with loot boxes also usually signal that you are always on your way to another possible reward, simply by offering loot boxes as rewards for play. Play enough Overwatch to level up and you’ll get a crate. This is a managed reward schedule meant to offer players a chance of accessing loot crates without buying them.

Given the chance to always get crates if they put in enough time and effort and given the chance to get a reward, players are then also teased with the opportunity to overcome the maths against them and just buy a loot box at will, should they have the cash (or, more to the point and more dangerously, the credit). Purchasing crates allows players to speed up this schedule. This design also applies to in-game currencies. Loot boxes and in-game currencies are designed to control when you receive rewards and offer alluring shortcuts to your next legendary skin or weapon.

On top of this, loot systems are designed to maximise use through carefully crafted audio and visual design. In interviews with my colleague Cecilia D’Anastasio earlier this year, the designers from games like Overwatch and Duelyst explain how their crates are designed to be a pleasurable experience.

“When you start opening a loot box, we want to build anticipation,” an Overwatch developer said. “We do this in a lot of ways — animations, camera work, spinning plates, and sounds. We even build a little anticipation with the glow that emits from a loot box’s cracks before you open it.”

Moment for moment, loot boxes are engineered to capture attention with a mixture of spectacle and psychological trickery not unlike what you might find at a slot machine.

If this sounds shitty, that’s because it is. The ESRB recently told us that it doesn’t see loot boxes as gambling because players “always guaranteed to receive in-game content.” I find this assessment absurd. Games offer wide rosters of characters and run limited time events to create rarity that drives purchases.

Just because you get something, doesn’t mean you aren’t taking a gamble. I believe the ESRB is making an academic distinction to avoid acknowledging the issue and am sceptical of their assessment given that they were created by the Entertainment Software Association, a trade association dedicated to the business interests of game publishers.

The argument surrounding Shadow of War and Battlefront II has largely focused on the fact that their loot boxes affect gameplay. For instance, the boxes in Battlefront II have drawn criticism because they are the only means of gaining “star cards”, equippable boosters that affect player stats and weaponry.

In a statement yesterday, EA clarified that the best items in the game would not be tied to loot boxes. Still, the idea that players might “pay to win” and upset the game’s balance struck a nerve. Loot boxes for cosmetics were fine but boxes that affected gameplay were a bridge too far. This is as arbitrary as the ESRB’s position.

Whether they dole out cosmetics or gameplay-affecting items, loot boxes of any sort exist for the purpose of exploiting players. Whether it’s offering the chance to get Symmetra’s new skin or get a better rifle in Battlefront II, the only reason the loot box exists is to prey on the economically vulnerable. You are not a valued player; you are a statistic on a spreadsheet. You are red or black ink. Loot boxes certainly aren’t there for fun. They have always been designed for the purpose of making sure that a company turns a profit.

To some, loot boxes may be a gameplay issue or a consumerist concern. To me, they’re far more seriously a moral issue. I know, because I have fallen for them. I don’t know how else to say this, but I have a gambling problem. I didn’t find this out at a casino. I found this out playing games.

It started with the 2014 mobile game Final Fantasy Record Keeper. It was the first gachapon game I played, and I loved it. I was working as a barista at the time and it was a great way to pass time. The game offers bite-sized RPG battles waged by characters who could be equipped with armour and weapons that granted special abilities. That gear came from a loot draw that required in-game currency.

The game gives currency called mythril for clearing battles and for logging in. Get enough mythril and you “draw” for new gear without spending a dime. But as new in-game events offered iconic weapons and armour for a limited time, I gave in and spent money to try and get them. When a powerful new weapon was released for Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud, I bought a heap of in-game currency and spent it until probability favoured me and I got it. As new weapons and armour were released, I began to do this more often. Sometimes it was because I liked that character, other times it was because the item was powerful and important to the meta-game.

I don’t care to estimate how much I spent on Record Keeper but I will admit that it got to the point that I was actually spending cash on iTunes cards so that the payments wouldn’t show in my credit card history.


Final Fantasy Record Keeper runs an animation when you draw for new items that is a thing of beauty. I mean that. It is made to be beautiful. It is a meticulously-crafted display of magical orbs, bouncy string music, classic Final Fantasy sounds, and moogles. It’s awesome, and whenever I think of it, I get sick.

Eventually, I backed away from Record Keeper. I don’t play it as much, but other gacha games still draw me in. I play a lot of Fire Emblem Heroes and Fate: Grand Order. These games allow you to spend in game currency on heroes for your roster. The best are often in limited time events. Some are incredibly rare; the chance for a five star hero in Fate:GO rests at around one per cent. I have three, and I have no clue how much money I lost in the process.

I’m actually pretty lucky. I play these games enough to grind out currencies to summon for free. I’ve actually gotten some great stuff on free summons from my gacha games. But even in that minority, I have plenty that were the result of spending my own money. Here’s the really fucked up thing: while I can arguably afford this addiction (and, really, I can’t) plenty of people who have started up with loot boxes or gacha games can’t afford it at all. They know it, but I promise you plenty of them are logging into Overwatch right now to get those Halloween skins.

When you go to a casino, they give you chips. When I log into Fire Emblem Heroes, they give me orbs. This isn’t a problem that started with Shadow of Mordor. It is something that has been a cornerstone of games for years now. Pull that lever and you’ll realise that these boxes are designed to fuck you over and take your cash. For every person who can step away, plenty of people can’t. It’s a system that preys on addiction, built upon mountains of research on how best to trick people into letting companies rob them.

I still play my gacha games. I still play Overwatch. I write about those games here. I think they’re fun. But we need to acknowledge what loot boxes are. They’re slot machines in everything but name, meticulously crafted to encourage player spending and keep them on the hook.

The problem isn’t just that games cost more to make or that loot boxes might affect multiplayer balance. The problem is that I can’t delete these games. The problem is that I’m not the only one. And that’s exactly what publishers are counting on.


  • Gambling is spending money to win more money not spend money to get a digital prize you are all confused I hate what loot boxes are doing to gaming but there a low level of gambling same as your taking a gamble with your life every time you drive your car

    • Gambling is the act of betting money on a game of chance in the hope of winning a reward. The reward does not need to be monetary; raffles are gambling.

      • Loot boxes are trying to get around that by being a ‘lucky dip’ rather than a raffle. Everyone gets something. The only variance is the ‘value’ of what you get. Who’s to say that white-rarity spray you just got from an Overwatch loot box wasn’t the very thing you were hoping to get?

        • Yeah, but we’ll see where that ends up because it’s pretty weak justification.

          These models have been around in Asia a lot longer and you’ll notice that they’re regulated there. Things like requiring the developer to disclose the probabilities of each item in each box, and requiring the ability to limit how much can be spent in a month. China and Korea both consider Gatcha to be gambling. Japan made Complete Gatcha illegal years ago, though to be fare Complete Gatcha is even scummier and exploitative than the usual loot box systems – to get the item you actually want you had to assemble a ‘set’ of items which dropped from gatcha systems, eg a character might take a set of 12 items that each had a ~2% chance of dropping.

        • Junk loot/inconsequential loot are considered partial losses – a practice being adopted by pokie machines as it creates an even stronger reinforcement/addiction/user spending than regular losses.

          So no – this lucky dip you speak of is not an act of benevolence; it is a calculated scientific practice to facilitate operant conditioning to extract more money from the player base.

    • Gambling is the wagering of anything of value, with the potential to either win more than you wagered, or lose everything. It doesn’t need to be cash.

    • noun
      the activity or practice of playing at a game of chance for money or other stakes.
      the act or practice of risking the loss of something important by taking a chance or acting recklessly:

      Its risk is mitigated by you for sure, but its still very clearly gambling and it targets certain demographics in hopes of getting whales. A quick look in poor regions of asia will show that a lot of people put themselves in a worse economic situation because they feel the need to invest in lootbox f2p games in order to keep up. The whole thing is filthy.

      • You’re not gambling, you’re just buying a random item. Like a kinder surprise, like a lucky dip, like collector cards.

        Gambling is wagering money on the chance of winning more money. There is no cash prize in loot boxes.

        Yes you can say it’s still gambling but there is a difference between the dictionary meaning of gambling and the legal definition of gambling. Heck even the Australian states all have different laws regarding what is and what isn’t gambling.

        • That has more to do with the investment of the gambling industry in Australian politics than it has to do with anything else.

        • You are right. It isn’t gambling in the technical sense, but it is clearly a predatory mechanic. Needs regulation to stop people being exploited.

          • Does fatty food and sugar and fast food chains that exploit people need regulation as well. Where do we start and where do we end?

          • Does fatty food and sugar and fast food chains that exploit people need regulation as well.

            Yes. Which is why all fast food chains have to post list of ingredients, calorie count, and so on.

            Come on, if you’re going to throw out a strawman argument at least make it a bit less of a joke than that.

          • Yes. Which is why all fast food chains have to post list of ingredients, calorie count, and so on.

            Ummm… we were talking about predatory mechanics to do with addictive practises (gambling if you need reminding) . Fatty and sugary foods have been shown to be addictive and they like loot boxes are aggressively marketed.

            Yes there are food labels, but labelling has nothing to do with what we were talking about (predatory practises, not health).

            It’s not as much a joke of a straw man argument as you just inventing your own story.

            The point (you seem to need help with this) is if we start regulating every industry that uses predatory tactics (everyone does) in a mirco level, where do we start and where do we end? who decides what does and doesn’t need regulation, who are we protecting? when does psychological disorders trump personal accountability that those of us that have self control can’t exercise our own actions?

            I await your reply of ignoring what has been discussed and inserting your own topic.

    • For others who come to this article, the above statement is incorrect. Gambling, as defined by dictionary.com:

      As a verb without an object: 1. to play at any game of chance for money or other stakes.
      2. to stake or risk money, or anything of value, on the outcome of something involving chance: to gamble on a toss of the dice.

      As a verb with an object:
      3. to lose or squander by betting (usually followed by away):
      He gambled all his hard-earned money away in one night.
      4. to wager or risk (money or something else of value):
      to gamble one’s freedom.
      5. to take a chance on; venture; risk:
      I’m gambling that our new store will be a success.

      Or as a noun:
      6. any matter or thing involving risk or hazardous uncertainty.
      7. a venture in a game of chance for stakes, especially for high stakes.

      In none of these definitions is gambling defined purely as only involving the winning of money. With loot boxes, the money is always gone with no hope of recovery, but the outcome is of a random nature and therefore falls well within the scope of gambling as defined.

      • I’m sorry but my life is run by laws not the dictionary.

        If you want to call it gambling quote the legal definition. Our lives are governed by law not the dictionary.

        I would like to see loot boxes that are paid for gone as well, but if you want to argue against something your argument must be sound.

        • Wait a second, you do in fact realise that laws and regulations rely heavily on the definitions and interpretation of words and language, right? A person must have a clear understanding of the meaning of the words to be able to begin to grasp what the law says, let alone make a comprehensible argument.
          Whether it be legal jargon or common speech, the meaning of all these words are catalogued and translated for our benefit in dictionaries and that’s where one should begin to create a solid argument.

          To say your life is run by laws but not the dictionary is incredibly obtuse and perplexing.

          • So say bbq galore says stuff the laws let’s go by the dictionary we’re no longer selling kindling we’re selling fa**ots. That is a correct word usage according to the dictionary but I think you’ll find the law has a different interpretation when it comes to its use. No matter how much I claim in court that that is what the dictionary says I’d be guaranteed to loose.

            Language is ever changing and evolving at a much faster rate than laws ever will, it does not matter what the dictionary says it means or has meant in the past it is what the law says it means at the time of it’s writing.

            There is no comprehension test for the law, the magistrate asks you to state you’re defence so he can make his own decision based on your understanding of actions.

            The law doesn’t refer to an English dictionary that’s why all legal documents have definitions in them, stating the meaning of each used word in context to the document. And you’ll find in the relevant legislation in your state it will say the definition of gambling not refer you to a dictionary for what ever meaning that is entirely dependant on the brand/series/language of dictionary you have.

          • Okay then. I looked at the relevant South Australian documents where I live . In the casino act 1997 the provided definition is this: gambling means the playing of a game for monetary or other stakes and includes making or accepting a wager. So by legal definition it broadly includes the outcome of the current loot box conundrum. Just admit you are wrong and move on.

      • I would have thought we had all been on the internet long enough to know that people make mistakes when typing, and aer not always perfect, even when they know the difference between differnt words.

        • There’s a difference between making mistakes while typing and being plain ignorant of basic English.

          You’re good at this English shit though poita.

      • I’d be more inclined to say that being on the internet for too long is a primary cause of grammatical lapses.

    • Gambling is related to Risk and reward. Not everyday activities like driving a car. Did you even pass high school ??

      Buying loot crates with real money is a form of gambling. A lot of people loginto games just to buy and open loot boxes.. its unbelievable.

    • You are drastically downplaying the “Gateway” effect these games have on developing brains.

      The same cycle of “pay money… maaaaaaybe get a cookie” that is at the heart of all skinner boxes is the cornerstone of any gambling addiction.

      The sad thing is that a lot of people aren’t affected by this kind of compulsion so they fail to understand how devastating it is to those that do.

      It may not be gambling in the sense we’re used to, but it’s certainly grooming the next generation of gamblers.

    • Gambling doesn’t always mean winning money. What do think a chook raffle is? It is buying a chance to win a chicken. But it is still gambling because chance and reward are involved. THAT is what gambling is and loot boxes are definitely gambling.

      Do you even punctuate?

  • I couldn’t agree with you more Heather. It is super predatory. I have a friend that simply cannot help themselves, they have to hide the amount of money they spend from their friends and family, and are very evasive when questioned about it. They feel guilty about the amount they spend, with nothing to show for it. Just a dopamine hit. To me that is a huge red flag that something immoral is happening. To the corporations it is more profit, but to me it is watching someone I care about being psychologically tricked into handing over their money (that they don’t really have), with negative consequences in their personal lives.

  • I refuse to buy any game with a loot box type system. The only way big publishers will stop putting them in games is if those games don’t make a profit. Just say no.

    • I’m the same. I’ve had to cancel orders on multiple games this year that I was excited for because of them being infected with this stuff too. Even if it’s not technically gambling it might as well be, it’s built to prey on the same sort of people and uses the exact same tactics.

      • I have boycotted the games as well, and it has been difficult to do so, especially when it comes to Star Wars, but I won’t reward companies that go chasing whales as their income stream.

        • My problem is that I *am* one of those “whales” if I’m not really careful. I’m lucky enough to have the disposable income for it though.

      • It is technically gambling – just because legislation hasn’t caught up with it for various reasons doesn’t change that fact. The law is very slow to respond in particular to the video game industry and these partial-loss gambling systems in disguise is no exception to this history of video games and legislative change.

        Loot box system is actually a partial-loss system cleverly disguised which is a new technique used particularly in slot machines. I don’t know if the legislation actually got changed in Australia but I do know that there was a proposition to ban partial-loss slot machines in Australia.

    • Not keen on defending the system, but just as a personal story note, been playing Shadow of War for about 30 hours now, opened heaps of crates and not spent a cent outside of box price.

      The crates feel like they’re there for bad players, like so many micro-transactions and boosts we see all the time, I hate all of it but to me I find it odd how it’s only the random part that seems to annoy people.

      • This has been my experience with Shadow of War too. The crates are basically meaningless. Excellent game though, really enjoying it.

      • The crates are there to help bad players like a old school cheat except you have to pay for them, I’m glad it’s not effecting you in a negative way but i myself have addictive personality traits so i stay the hell away from free to play games & stick to single player games, I soooo don’t need this lootbox crap invading my favorite hobby, Again i’m glad your enjoying your experience though.

        • I’m playing the game too at the moment, while I’m enjoying it mostly (it feels easier than part 1), I still don’t overly like the chest system being there with the gold loot.

          I actually LIKE the chest system in general believe it or not. However, I wish it were limited to just the silver currency. The free currency you can acquire in game. The gold currency and gold chests I wish didn’t exist at all. If everything could be acquired ingame, they would’ve had a solid mechanic that could expand the life of that game quite a bit. As it stands, the acquisition of the silver is strikingly low, I can definitely see how it’s been scaled down to appeal to whales to buy the loot for gold chests.

          While I’ve had no issues with the game so far, it is indeed still a blister on the ass of the game, but it’s still a decent game. I just wish that element had’ve been better thought out.

          • The silver is piss easy to get. Just break down every thing you don’t need. lol

          • If everything could be acquired ingame, they would’ve had a solid mechanic that could expand the life of that game quite a bit.

            This is the real rub, isn’t it? If you’re not being asked to buy them for a dollar a pop, suddenly it’s not a terrible mechanic – it’s basically like being able to get extra loot rolls in Diablo or something. Randomized rewards are absolutely fine.

      • That’s not completely true. The Command Orders are actually kinda cool. Being able to move a guy from one zone to another, or give an Orc a new ability dose effect game play more than ‘helping noobs’. If they had a Mith box that ONLY had them in it, I would probably have spent heeps on it. But cos there in boxes that come with orcs, I have only opened the ones the game has given me.

        Its also worth noting that you do seem to get the gold currency from doing online vendettas and fort takeovers.

      • I don’t find the “random” part to be the annoying thing – would be fine with random drops in game, or if enemy captains refilled more frequently. It’s the “you got 5 silver” that pops up front and centre. It’s the 500G they hand you for your first stronghold takeover that serves no purpose except to invest you in the loot box market.

        I have about 12k silver now, and nothing to do with it other than buy loot boxes, which I refuse to do out of principle, so every time I see that front and centre “you got 5 silver” notification, I’m reminded of loot boxes, and wonder if the sudden difficulty spike was a result of the design of the nemesis system, or if it was a reminder that I should be trying to get better orcs from those darn crates.

    • I don’t think boycotting the game entirely will send that message. It’ll mean publishers make less of that type/genre of game if they don’t even make a profit off base purchases. Boycotting just the lootboxes in the game would be more effective. That way it sends the message that it’s the lootboxes that don’t make money, not the quality of the game itself.

    • I just don’t use money on stuff like that. I think it sends a clearer message that somebody playing the game isn’t tempted by that system, then they know it wasn’t just because a person wasn’t interested in the game at all. I played Warframe back when it was first released on steam, never spent a cent on it but damn if it wasn’t a good few dozen hours of fun.

      • (Pssst, Warframe recently released a new – free – expansion called Plains of Eidolon which includes a persistent open world to quest in.)

        • Aw heck, I just have to go back to it and see what it’s like now, just checked and can’t believe they still have my account 4 years later lol

  • To consider something as gambling there needs to be a risk of loss involved.

    There’s no risk of loss involved with loot boxes. You are guaranteed to get something for your purchase.

    It doesn’t matter that it might be something you didn’t want or you don’t get the one thing you do want, you’re still getting something, not nothing.

    • Technically you may be correct. But it still elicits the same behaviour as gambling. So the consequence is the same, even if the dictionary definition is not.

    • That’s pure semantics mate. Also missing the point. You can substitute a trash item won in a loot box for the term “nothing” because to someone that’s addicted to this system it means the same thing emotionally. Eg- “I didn’t get the legendary item that I wanted, only this blue tier wizard shoe. I’m gonna throw another $20 at it because it feels like it’s about to drop…” Blue tier wizard shoe equals “nothing” in this scenario. To someone that’s hopelessly hooked on this shit the grand prize is the ONLY prize. And everything else is a fail. A fail that can be remedied with money. Problem gamblers that think this way make shitty odds even worse for themselves. Regardless of all that tho, it’s not the definition of nothing that’s important here, it’s that we now have games that prey on addictive drives and indoctrinate kids to the idea of gambling and it fucking sucks. I’ve loved being a gamer all my life but this encroaching bullshit that’s infested our hobby has been making me feel dirty these past couple of years. I’ve always been against censorship but this may be the thing that makes me take games outta my kids’ hands.

    • So if casinos started giving you a ‘token’ that says “I PLACED A BET!” every time you placed a bet – would it no longer be considered gambling?

      You’re guaranteed to receive a token, so therefore with your logic it’s not gambling.

      Better not let the casinos figure this one out, imagine all the loopholes they’d be able to jump through.

      • Umm.. righteo you seem to have forgotten that you’re still wagering for money as opposed to purchasing a random item.

  • I don’t like the idea that if I buy a game, I would literally have to put in a stupidly unreasonable amount of time playing it to unlock useful game play features. Unless I go and spend cash on them.

    Less time to play is a problem we all have as we get older. The fact they’re making games harder to unlock everything and then added pay options is annoying. What am I actually paying for with the base game?

    It’s just going to kill games quicker. It’s only going to be fun for the those with powerful unlocks. New players will be so disadvantaged they won’t stick around. With Battlefront 2. Those with the most unlocks, get to then unlock the heroes faster. The rest of us are just fodder. Not that I will buy the game unless the single player is at least 8 hours and meant to be awesome. Game play in MP was crap, I just want a Battlefield game with a Star Wars skin.

    While I get the need for unlocks, I much prefer a path to unlocking over random chance from boxes. At least have both. The Battlepack system from Battlefield would have been a better system than the Battlefront II system.
    I honestly don’t get the Overwatch obsession some of my friends have with collecting skins, but they need to stick to cosmetic options for these games. In Battlegrounds, I quite like being able to dress my character up. It’s useless, but it’s fun.

    • Less time to play is a problem we all have as we get older.

      So many argue that this system is specifically for these people – ‘players with more money than time’. It astounds me… why is charging these customers the default solution?

      • I’m getting old & bitter, If their default option is to charge me more, Then they’re going to have a problem lol I’m no cute sheep, I have a bite lol.

      • It was a brilliant scam to remove cheats from games until people forgot that they used to be in most games for free and then present them as a brilliant new idea to so generously help people who are time poor by selling them the same cheats.

        • The planning was masterful. They tied it to Achievements – a means of making even single-player games a form of ‘online competition,’ making it seem morally wrong to use cheats and still get them.

    • One could argue that the cash received from loot boxes goes to pay for further development of the game, but fixed, patches etc.

      • That’s not the complaint. The complaint is buying the game may require spending more money to actually enjoy it.

  • I don’t get why people don’t see the answer to this issue.
    Stop buying these games, and switch to indies without lootboxes.
    Same with dlc and map packs, stop buying games that offer these, switch to indies or start playing older generation games.

    All this stuff is weird and predatory, dlc forces you to pay more and receive less of a full game, map packs force you to separate with other players and hold you at randsome to buy maps in order to continue playing with them.

    Even take a look at Destiny 1 or 2, it’s built on loot boxes and slot machines under a different veil. Is Destiny’s shooting amazing, mind blowing, revolutionary? is the story amazing and deep? If you strip away the gross gambling manipulation it’s actually a pretty average shooter with not much to offer.

    So far I’ve been playing games for 15 years and I have never bought a loot box, dlc or map pack. And missing out on these games havnt bothered me at all, they all look pretty average and crappy from the outside.

    Here’s some great tips that work for me:
    -Only buy game of the year games that give you everything, treat new release games as incomplete games they are still working on.
    – Buy Indies that sell full games without dlc, extra packs or loot boxes. Find a great indie review site and choose your favorites. You can literally play more games with better gamplay more often if you stop buying AAA. The only downside is maybe a slight visual downgrade, but you’ll get a better story and richer gameplay.
    – Play older gen games you never got a chance to finish, old 90’s jprgs are great, and have rich stories with deep detailed gameplay. There’s so many to choose from.
    These have all worked great for me.

    Eventually we’ll start getting better full games, as indie dev’s start making more money than AAA. And they will be forced to change their strategy or be taken over by the indie market.

    • Oh and boardgames have actually gotten better than digital games. I’ve had more fun playing new boardgames with real people then any new AAA game I’ve touched. Give them a try they are great! (And this is coming from a person who thought boardgames were super boring!)

        • Depends what type of game you like, they have genre’s just like digital games.
          Me and my friend like to go through them at boardgame meetups and rate them out of 10 to see and remember which ones we like the most.

          So far:
          Jaipur- great 2 player card game about trading goods, easy to play and learn

          Splendor- Another trading game about buying jewels, more than 2 players (the tokens make it cool

          Sheriff of Nottingham -Multiplayer about bluffing and sneaking in illegal goods, this has great human interaction which you cant get in normal digital games.

          Pandemic- Great co op, about curing a disease outbreak where you and your friends play against the game.

          Coup- Simple multiplayer card game where you collect characters and then lie about who you have and try to assassinate each other.

          That’s off the top of my head, but you should just go to a boardgame meetup and just try them out! you’ll find ones you like. There’s rpg type of games too.

        • Depends on how much time you want to spend learning and playing a board game.

          Off hand that I own and recommend are
          • Super Quick
          Tsuro – the game of the path
          Has some similar variation games, competitive tile placement.
          Best to play with at least 3 other people but it will take all of 10 minutes to understand the game and 15 minutes to play a round.

          • Medium length
          Competitive tile placement, collection game
          A little more involved but still pretty straight forward to pick up. There’s elements of strategy and ways to screw your opponents through clever play

          Forbidden Desert
          Cooperative survival strategy game, Also has an island version though it isn’t quite as good.
          Playing against a game is always a nice change of pace. This one has you moving around and excavating a desert before the sandstorm kills you or you run out of water. Communication is key but it is possible to get good at the game and have someone call all the shots, when this starts happening, bump up the starting difficulty

          • Longer games
          Turn based collection game with an interesting movement system that adds a lot of strategy. Also has 2 expansions that add different mechanics/systems and adds more variety.
          With a large roster of player characters and different ways to score points, the game is usually different every time you play it. There’s a bit of a learning curve going in but once you have the basics, everything else falls into place.

          • Other games worth checking out
          Ticket to ride
          Settlers of Catan

          These all pretty much form the core of the board game renaissance. All of them are a little on the long side and if you are having a board game night, best to know in advance if you are playing one of these.

        • What do you like to play, how often, how much time would your group spend playing on average (i.e. 30 minute lunch break game or all-day epic?), how complex do you like them and how much do you want to spend?

          There are thousands of great board games out there and a ton of people on this site that will happily give you recommendations. If you’re headed to PAX Australia this year at all, I recommend spending some time in the tabletop area.

    • I agree but unfortunately it’s just not going to go that way. Not buying the game is not enough to send that message about lootboxes. Most times it communicates the same thing as a customer that simply doesn’t buy thanks to no interest. We’d just end up with less games we wanted and more we dont which also still have lootboxes.

      I’m glad you feel like you’ve never missed out, but I have to admit it sucks to not get that Star Wars shooter I was really interested in because it has features that repel me. Sad to see no alternative Star Wars shooter to buy.

      And unless these Indies get lucky and end up with a mega-hit then there’s no way they’re going to be swimming in enough money to make what AAA represents these days. Not without going through the exact transformations that has resulted in this current climate. They’ll need big business partners and investors, enticed with profit-maximising business agendas. Without that they’d rarely be able to support the cost of team-size, tech, and project time necessary to make a AAA by modern standards; there’s crowdfunding if you can offer a Star Citizen, but uhh… we can see what might happen there.

      • I can understand how you feel, but I don’t know , I’d recommend not looking for games that tie to large franchises like starwars ,batman, etc but rather look at games that could create their own worlds that rival starwars , or to be honest maybe even better worlds and stories.

        There’s alot more freedom in games than a large movie franchise like starwars could really tackle storywise and gamplay wise. As a game can get way more personal, whereas starwars probably has strict guidelines on what they can and can’t do within a story.
        There’s also the problem of placing a player in a world they were never meant to be apart of, such as a movie franchise, storywise I mean.

        As far as team sizes and budget, well I’m not sure, there are tiny teams that made their own pokemon game with a budget of 0, and apparently some people think it’s just as good or better then the legit franchise. I think if popularity in indie teams or titles pick up the money will follow, and what does a AAA represent? mediocrity? a game not being good, but not being crap either?
        I think the only major things that will be lost is cutting edge graphics and high profile actors, other then that you’re not really losing anything. I’m also sure there was a ton of cutting edge games graphically on the ps1 that wouldn’t even be worth playing today, because the gameplay sucks.

        • I had a feeling someone would reply along those lines and it’s a pretty reasonable thing to say. I do think it’s a little reductionist though to claim that there’s nothing to miss out on in the AAA space because they’re all somehow inferior.

          There’s nothing wrong with liking a franchise and then expecting to get a product built on it that can satisfy without bringing along some untasteful baggage. It’s full ok to say no to the product and go elsewhere too, but as I said… doing so still sucks.

          Sure some indies managed to replicate Pokemon well after the fact but that’s still not Uncharted or Overwatch or Final Fantasy and indies won’t have the capacity to make products like that. AAA obviously represents production values. Games certainly don’t need massive budgets and massive teams or the latest graphics with hollywood actors but we’ve all seen what can be done with those resources and how it can be (or at least used to be) done without tying it to monetise every little piece. I’m not criticise somebody for wanting what AAA offers.

          I see what you mean about PS1 games, but there was also a lot of games with both cutting-edge graphics and terrific gameplay. Regardless of quality though, it was nice back then with no lootboxes or micros; having less reasons not to get the game you wanted sound like a nice thing to me.

          Also I suppose the crux of my point is that it frustrates me that the working option to avoid these things is to just miss out on something that was previously interested in. Out of all the mediums, with it’s malleable code and variety of ways to experience the product, it’s one where we finally could expect to have our cake and eat it too.

      • Yah what you need to do is buy the game on steam play long enough to be able to write a review then refund the game. This will show the company why your refunding, how much the practice cost them and I believe the transaction fee gets charged to them.

    • Bully for you. 🙂 I’m glad your system works for you.

      Meanwhile, Shadow of War is incredibly enjoyable and has provided me almost a solid week of entertainment so far, and looks to give me at least another week. (Including completely ignoring the paid loot boxes. Although I may be interrupted in that enjoyment through no fault of the game itself, but rather the arrival of Assassin’s Creed, Age of Empires Remastered, Battlefront 2, Wolfenstein 2, or I get drawn into Warframe’s new expansion: Plains of Eidolon). The last half-dozen indie titles I bought on the basis of good reviews and ‘it’s by people I like/it’s similar to other games I’ve liked’ have not lasted nearly as long, even when combined to reach the same dollar cost as the AAA title. Heat Signature, Battlechasers, Ruiner, Rogue Wizards are all fine games, worthy of more of my time, but I’m having more fun in Mordor right now, and it might possibly be because it had a couple hundred times the number of people working on it, or because they hit a particular niche of gameplay that I really, really enjoy, which is difficult to do as well in the indie space.

      Boycotting is an admirable idea, but I am regularly and consistently going to dip my snout into that trough for high-quality gaming. If it helps, I’m not buying any lockboxes, so maybe that’ll help make them less profitable, but if that were true, they wouldn’t be putting them in everything now. They’re using them because they work. Whales and the psychologically vulnerable (sometimes the same thing) are the ones making this so lucrative. Not the average AAA punter.

      • I think it’s just differences in what you consider to be a “good” game. But if you think these aystems are somehow going to lessen or go away , goodluck to you. Id say prepare for much much more of these thinga to invade your favourite games.

    • Kolinar, thank you for your ideas.

      I too also hate DLC and the like and i never actually though how to bypass them. I will take all your tips to the hearth.

      As for lootboxs, they suck, period. No need to keep talking about that.

  • My mate has to deal with a screaming 10 year old who can’t understand why his pocket money doesn’t reward him with what he wants from his loot boxes, but who’s face lights up with joy when he does get something he want.
    The loot box system is creating 10 year old problem gamblers.

    • On the one hand, i feel like allowing a kid to spend their pocket money on loot boxes a few times is a well-deserved abject lesson in bad financial decision making and impulse buying; but on the other I feel like dealing with a screaming kid is the price one must pay for letting them spend their money so unwisely.

      At the end of the day it’s not the loot box system creating 10 year old gamblers, the parents who enable this behaviour are.

    • This example in my mind is the single, greatest issue. We’re conditioning that child’s brain to chase the compulsive reward loop offered by these days. It’s *dangerous* and I suspect the research will bear this out over time.

  • For everyone’s who is suggesting the technical difference in that with gambling you have a chance of getting nothing in return, mentally replace that with one cent to satisfy the needs of the conversation.

    • Las Vegas should make ppl pay $60 to enter then give them a token everytime they gamble, Then they won’t be gambling according to the Esrb which is ONLY Americas board, My game in front of me, Fallout 2’s dvd case says Pegi 16

    • False equivalence. It’s a bad examle. You’re still talking about currency coming back – the same currency used to purchase, so that while you may have got ‘something’ back you’ve still only exchanged a large amount of money for less money. That’s not what happens with a lockbox. You can’t get that currency back. It would be more like if every pull of the pokies gave you a plastic dinosaur toy from a wide range of toys. You’re essentially ‘buying’ the dinosaur toys, and there will be people satisfied with that. Maybe they won’t be satisfied with the 3% chance at getting a t-rex and be swamped in brontosauruses, but it’ll have been an exchange of currency for product.

      • I know some places in Las Vegas let you win a car on the pokies, would they be able to get around the gambling part by making it so when you lose you get a hot wheels car instead?

        You are just buying a random car.

        • I guess? After all, how’s that any different from those dispensers of little plastic balls out front of shopping centres, only they advertise that one of them will contain a gold nugget?

  • So you’re telling me that buying a booster pack from games like magic the gathering is gambling? I actually don’t care about loot crates, they’re there for people who want to invest if they have the cash. If you don’t like it then don’t waste money on it.

    If you have an addictive personality and “can’t control yourself” then the blame is on you, not the company. People finger point at the games when they should be blaming themselves for getting stuck. If a game is free to play and look boxes is how they make their money then so be it. I personally have played shadow of war and battlefront 2 and the loot boxes mean little to gameplay. I had a great time and didn’t feel “cheated” by any player who may have had better star cards. plus where does everyone think the “free dlc” is coming from in battlefront 2?

  • While I agree they are designed to take advantage of people, I think ESRBs statement about them not being gambling is reasonable.
    I feel it is more like trading cards, carnival laughing clowns or Yowie eggs. You probably won’t get what you want, but you might, and if not you’ll get something else.

    • I think what people want is for ESRB to actually do something about it regardless whether it’s gambling or not. It might be a good thing that it is not classified as gambling because they actually have to create guidelines dedicated to addressing problems specific to “chanced based” items you can buy.

      • What I’d expect is the ACCC and ratings board go a little China to add restrictions to how the chance elements are promoted etc

  • I will never let my kids play games with horrible gatcha mechanics. Would you?

    Publishers have become too predatory in their business practices. I would like to see some regulations put in place.

  • It’s incredibly predatory. It may not legally meet the definition of gambling, but in spirit it does.

    Sure, many players can control themselves and never spend a dollar on a loot box. I never have. But there are people who will spend thousands – and the developers know this. They depend on it. They know it doesn’t matter if 95% of players never buy a loot box because 5% of them will spend outrageous amounts of money on loot boxes. And you may say – “well, let them spend the money on what they want, if they can afford it”. And sure, if the customer can afford to spend a lot on boxes, then there’s no problem. But just as those who spend 90% of their paycheck on slot machines can very rarely afford to do so, many who buy these boxes can ill afford to as well.

    You may say “It’s a tax on stupidity”. I say it’s a tax on those with addictive tendencies, an exploitation of those who are vulnerable and a trap set for the weak. Is it dumb to spend 1000 dollars on loot boxes? Absolutely. But enticing people into making those dumb decisions is immoral, even if it is not illegal. It’s like a liquour store purposefully opening up near an indigenous community struggling with alcohol issues. It’s like a casino stuffing flyers for slot machines into the mailboxes of gambling addicts.

    It’s not gambling. But it’s still something nasty.

    • Although I agree, people become addicted to all sorts of activities and objects. Do we regulate everything?.

      I know there are vulnerable people but there’s also personal accountability.

      • I’m all for accountability, but people still fail to realise that compulsive behavior is *pathological* . People who gamble to the point of destroying their lives aren’t choosing to do so. They’re sick, sick like a diabetic is sick. I wish people could understand that.

  • And you may say “It’s not illegal! We can’t tell people how to spend their money! If people overspend on boxes, that’s their fault!”

    And to some extent you’re right. After all, people overspend on many products. But this is targeted. This is deliberate. These companies hire psychologists to design these loot boxes in such a way as to target a vulnerable subset of the population. And sure, it’s not illegal, and sure, these companies have a right to use these marketing tactics.

    I’m not saying they should be shut down.

    I’m saying that these tactics are terrible, immoral and disgusting. And I have a right to say that. I have just as much right to say that as they have to use these marketing tactics, and so I’m going to say it. They’re disgusting for doing this, and I hope it keeps at least some of them up at night.

    • Agree on you on this one. I’ve played games since I was a kid and never spent a single penny on an in game item because I can endure seeing other players have things that I don’t and not at all competitive.

      What I have about loot boxes is that when it starts to drive your game experience based on the money you spend. I even feel the same way about DLCs. Not that I’m saying that it is anything related to gambling but the fact that you have to spend more money to get more out of a game. It used to be enough to just keep playing the game to unlock new stuff. Unlocking a new weapon used to mean that you were good enough to dodge 200 lightnings in the thunder plains.

  • As someone who recently struggled with their first gacha game (Dynasty Warriors: Unleashed) and racked up over 3k on credit cards to the temptation of getting a slightly better Officer in 5 months, I can attest to the dangers of these types of systems. I kept thinking “20 more dollars” or “if I buy this pack for $160 I will get what I need”, yet most of the best stuff I had was from free rewards.

    This is definitely a subject that needs serious discussion and attention.

  • It’s a pretty thin line between this and gambling but also a very thin line between implementing laws/practices to protect us from this and creating a nanny state.

    I don’t think the answer is as clear cut as we might think.

  • For what it’s worth, after sinking a decent amount of time into Act 2 this weekend in Shadow of War, I noticed that my in-game-accrued currency was escalating to ridiculous levels, with nothing to spend it on. So I hopped into the market section, where you can buy loot boxes with the in-game currency.

    I halved my total balance to buy something in the order of 160 loot boxes, and the process of opening them took somewhere around twenty minutes. I just kept bashing the ‘open next chest’ button on my gamepad while cleaning my teeth and cleaning up before bed.

    After the next ten minutes of sorting through the boxes I’d just opened and recycling all the gear that was useless (I think I got maybe 3 potential upgrades), I had earned back enough currency to buy half as many again. It’s nuts.

    If you could open ALL the boxes at once, I’d probably blow all my otherwise-useless in-game currency on them, but as it is, life’s too fucking short. I won’t be opening those again.

  • The ESRB exists to protect the game industry from government regulation, by self regulating and protecting consumers. Well consumers are angry and governments are watching.

    An industry wide code of conduct needs to be applied. Listed odds, no pay to win, parental controls and consumer protections need to be applied. The right to also buy outright any prized content should be applied.

    And the ESRBs example you always get something is bogus when you open a box and get nothing but lousy player skins or galkery unlocks you will never use. The value us based not what the company applies but what the consumer values it… and a lot if recent lootbixes have been at fault because of their content, not their existence

  • Has Kotaku AU contacted the ACCC and the federal/state gambling authority for comment?

    Years ago I couldnt compete in World of Warcraft Arena tournament cause QLD classed it as an Online Gaming akin to online poker… rules changed a bit in recent years but not that much cause the local footy club still needs a dozen permits to run a meat raffle?

    • That’s what I’ve been telling everyone to do when they quote the dictionary meaning. Quote the recent state law.

  • ALL games exploit player behaviour by making use of the underlying principles evidenced so clearly in the Skinner Box experiment. Player behaviour is influenced by the rewards and punishments, and informs how we as gamers play the game. Devs are fully aware of this when they design systems, and most use it to craft what they consider to be the best experience.

    WoW, for example, has been charging us a modest monthly fee to keep us pulling that lever on loot drops for over a decade. And it’s worked out very well for them. It’s one of the best skinner boxes out there.

    And this has always been fine… up until game companies (devs/publishers, whoever’s responsible) have started to take advantage of that exploitation, that psychological manipulation, to make us pay not only to be in the skinner box in the first place, like WoW, but for every pull of the lever.

    That’s what’s wrong. That’s what’s immoral – the line that has been crossed. That’s what needs to be looked at by the law. It may not technically be gambling as the law understands it, or as we’ve always understood it, but it’s something dirty, exploitative, manipulative, and potentially financially ruinous to the vulnerable.

  • Discounting cosmetic items as being acceptable isn’t necessarily the case. Some cosmetics can certainly tip the balance during gameplay. If you take the age-old example of Star Wars which very much applies here with Battlefront II on the menu. We’ve got Rebels on Endor and Imperials on Hoth. These small “cosmetic” differences certainly make a difference as opposed to running around in hot-pink underwear. There are certainly some games where cosmetics play nothing more than a bit of fun, other games can certainly have an impact on gameplay.

  • They are design to exploit the fans.
    Games like final fantasybe that use the gatcha charge in all fairness charge insane rates for the summons its way over priced for something you got to play risk vs reward with more times then not you got to summon on a avg 25 to 30 times+ to get something worth a damn.
    The cost to do 10 summons is around 50 to 60$ cad-usd which is insane when you hear about people that did 300 to 500 summons just to still get nothing that was on the banner.

    This is exploiting peoples sense of joy an rush they feel when they get what they wanted much like when people play slots or doing drugs they let you win/have just enough to keep you in it.

    An the companys know this, its all greed for them they care not for exploiting fans, an hide behind the terms but its a free game an the gatcha system is random we don’t control it.

  • Most the studies coming out are pretty clear in that loot boxes are starting to correlate with problem gambling behaviour and loot boxes themselves fit into the plain English meaning of gambling that most people would associate with the word. Various governments slapping them with regulation and requiring licenses (that usually come with strong obligations) to prevent abuse from occurring. I’m thinking of a dude in Genshin impact who spent over 4k rolling on one character and you can’t look at that that and tell me it’s not a gambling addiction (almost worse because there isn’t even the prospect of cashing out).

  • I used to spend ALOT of things like this, (e.g. i think i spent about $5000-$7000 on one game over the period of 12 months on rolls and ‘in0game boxes for items’)
    But when I saw my credit card that was a shock that made me go cold turkey
    NOW I only spend if the game I really like and even then its only if they have sales/discounts (e.g. most i spend now in 12 months is maybe $100 at most)

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