Can Video Game Loot Boxes Be A Good Thing?

In 2000, a game called Diablo II essentially drew the blueprint for the modern video game “loot” system. Building off ideas established in the original Diablo, this sequel rewarded players with random items of varying quality. Sometimes you got a legendary weapon thats power level was incomparable. Sometimes you got a stick.

What made the whole thing work was its addictiveness. You had to keep playing to see what you were going to get next. This system was later used in beloved titles like the Borderlands series and, for quite some time, was generally well-received.

That is until developers started charging for it.

The idea of loot in modern gaming is often tied to the concept of loot boxes. Loot boxes are containers filled with in-game items. Sometimes they’re cars in racing games, weapons in shooters, or new clothes for your character.

Usually, these loot boxes can be obtained through the normal course of play. You get them when you reach a certain in-game level or acquire a certain amount of in-game currency. Most of the time, the boxes themselves contain superfluous items only valuable to collectors.

Other times, however, the boxes are not free or cannot be easily acquired for free. Even worse, some of these premium boxes contain items that are not only truly valuable within the game itself but can only be acquired via these loot boxes.

We’d seen developers of exploitative “free” and mobile titles rely on these practices for years to entice casual audiences, but now, that practice is starting to worm its way into full-price games. Just recently, Forza 7 and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War – two of 2017’s biggest titles – attracted fan scorn for hiding some of their best items behind a randomized paywall.

What makes this system so despised is the same quality that made loot in Diablo so effective. It’s genuinely appealing. There’s a visceral pleasure that you get from opening these loot boxes that is equivalent to the thrill of gambling.

Recognizing the potential danger of that addiction, some gamers have called out for the abolishment of loot boxes. They do not want them in their games at all. They consider them to be a universal evil.

Loot boxes are not a universal evil. The harsh truth is that they are a very effective business tactic, and they aren’t going anywhere until they stop being profitable.

Such as it is, denouncing loot boxes and those that exploit them will only get you so far. If you truly think loot boxes are bad, you should devote time – and more importantly, money – supporting those developers and games that avoid them. Like it or not, your wallet needs to speak louder than the wallets of loot box purchasers.

Before you go ahead and treat loot boxes like the devil, however, consider the cost of games. In the Super Nintendo era of gaming, your average new release cost between $40-$60. In 2017, the average new release cost about $50-$60. Many times you can get them for less during sales in spite of the fact that development costs continue to skyrocket.

You may not like loot boxes, but the fact is that some of the developers who design them don’t like them either. However, they recognize that it’s more practical for small groups of loot box buyers to claim a larger portion of the development bill than it is to raise the cost of games across the board.

You should never tolerate the most exploitative examples of loot boxes in gaming. However, perhaps it’s time to consider the reason they exist in the first place and appreciate that they can do some good if used responsibly.

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Matthew Byrd

Matthew Byrd

Matthew Byrd covers the gaming industry including indies, consoles, PCs, iOS and Android apps, as well as topics related to entertainment and technology. He also writes for IndieGameSource and DenOfGeek, and has his own blog at PixelCritique.com.

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