Friday Debate: Loot boxes are a cheap trick to keep you hooked for longer

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WHATS-IN-THE-BAAAHX

You know a game is damn good when you still find yourself playing it long after the end credits have wrapped. I’m talking the kind of experiences which demand dozens upon dozens of your finite hours upon this planet, games which rack up literal days of action from your thumbs and then some. Some games do this by being properly lengthy affairs, like anything in the Final Fantasy series.

Others keep you invested in the ride by throwing all manner of extra quests and objectives at your face that yield the most exclusive rewards. Other games prefer something far easier: Loot boxes.

It seems that just about every game these days has some sort of option in place for you to earn a lucky packet of gear and trinkets that marginally improves upon your character build. Overwatch is perhaps the guiltiest culprit in this instance, as it divvies out loot boxes that more often than not include the most spiteful incarnation of RNGesus as you find yourself having worked for hours to earn yet another emote that you’ve unlocked several times already.

On the other end of the spectrum, Injustice 2 hasn’t been tight-fisted at all with its loot as it regularly throws out top-tier Diamond-class Mother Boxes on a daily basis if you’re ready for about an hour’s worth of grinding. The idea still grates me, although I can’t stop engaging in it. I blame this on the part of my brain that happens to have an actual addiction to gambling in real life that I’ve so far managed to control reasonably well over the years.

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The mental part of you that lights up the reward pathways in your neural architecture when it’s exposed to bright lights, loud noises and a feeling of satisfaction. Loot boxes are seldom awarded properly however, and the whole system just feels like a cheap trick to keep you playing and paying for longer. What do you think? Are loot boxes full of non-essential cosmetic gimmicks ruining gaming since they seem to pop up in every title lately, or are they just a fad that you’re capable of ignoring?

Last Updated: June 2, 2017

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

  • I am immune to this form or trickery!

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      You’re a tricksy hobbit!

  • Overwatch is hardly an egregious example of this practice. The only reason it’s a thing people are complaining about now is because Overwatch attracts casual players and casual players don’t play regularly (hence, casual) so they don’t naturally earn credits by playing (like the rest of us do) so when a seasonal event comes along, they want all the cool things but are upset about ACTUALLY HAVING TO PLAY THE GAME in order to be rewarded with ALL of the cool things.

    Never mind the fact that said cool things are simply cosmetic items in an otherwise multiplayer-only game, designed to reward those who HAVE invested time and energy into the game (while also generating revenue for the publisher in order to justify keeping those servers and that content creation going).

    If you want egregious examples why not look at the likes of Halo, Gears of War, Mass Effect, and others where there is a massive singleplayer component that could very well feed into the multiplayer component but doesn’t (at least not since Gears 3 anyway), or Dead Space 3, Battlefield: Bad Company and the likes where the loot boxes give you actual advantages in the game. There it stops being about cosmetics altogether and becomes something even more nasty.

    • Guild

      Agree. Overwatch is a bad example. It’s purely cosmetic with no advantage given in game. Hearthstone for me is a better example. Everyone would love to have all the legendaries but you lucky if you get 1 in every 20 packs. To use good constructive decks you need to spend money on the game for the cards needed which after a few months will be obsolete when new card expansion rolls out.

      • Dresden

        Fuck that game. It IS pay-to-win no matter how much people want to argue. I saw one streamer opening over a 1000 packs to get all the cards of the new expansion…

        • Guild

          Definitely pay-to-win.
          It’s great that new content is added often and they move older content to wild play but if you don’t pay for packs you definitely at a disadvantage against someone who has all cards collected by spending money.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    I think they’re bullshit in any game, F2P and especially retail. You want to sell extra crap, fine knock yourselves out – but don’t hide it behind RNG loot crates. All the psychological behaviours and triggers behind this crap are understood well enough and it’s not fucking innocent that they’re doing it this way. It’s deliberate manipulation.

    • Magoo

      Never has a truth been so frank.

  • Admiral Chief

    EVO!

  • Sean Carbutt

    Try getting a Legendary item from a lootbox in Neverwinter, good luck. Drop rate for a decent reward is less than .1%

  • MonsterCheddar

    If you don’t earn it the hard way in a game, then what is the point?

  • TJames47

    Still cant fathom why Keys are so damn expensive in Rocket League. What is the use of getting these crates if you cant even afford to open them..

  • Member Berry Bob

    I think you nailed it with your first line. A good/great game keeps you engaged and keeps you playing long after you’ve finished it. That, to me, points to more than just random item generators – mechanics, gameplay, story etc. Loot boxes or drops or card packs etc. aren’t going to keep most people around for very long.

  • GooseZA

    Hate them. I have no problem paying money for cosmetic items if I’m guaranteed to get the item I want or if the random item is at least related to the stuff I use in game. Getting a Merc Narwhal decal for the 100th time when I only play with Dominus and Octane? No thanks.

    • Magoo

      I don’t know man, if you “have no problem paying money for cosmetic items if I’m guaranteed to get the item I want” then you could have spent your 100 keys on 20 of the “item I want” through trading, instead of partaking in this activity you hate.

      • GooseZA

        The 100 was hyperbole 😉

        I hear your point about trading though, I just feel I shouldn’t have to go to an external site, find a trading person (who could be a scammer), and then add them in game etc to get that item.

        Just let me go to the DLC store and buy my decal, wheels directly.

        • Magoo

          It’s true. That would be better for me and you. But worse for Psyonix.

  • Magoo

    Somewhere around 2009 someone on the internet said:
    “Man if a [cosmetic item] like this existed I would pay so much money for it!”
    “But don’t tempt me!”

    Then every game company ever said:
    *heavy tempting*

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