If you are somebody who plays quite a lot of video games in your spare time (or as a career, you lucky person, you… 😉 ), you may have come across a special little thing called a loot box which contained some items from the game that you acquired when you opened it. This content from inside the magical mystery box can vary in rarity depending on either the type of loot box you opened with or without a key, or just pure dumb luck.
While loot boxes have been around since 2007 thanks to MMORPGs and free-to-play mobile games, it wasn’t until recently when more mainstream video game companies decided that they wanted a piece of the action, and adopted loot boxes into their video games; games such as Overwatch, Fortnite and Rocket League are just a few examples of huge mainstream games which have joined this trend.
However, loot boxes have brought along some controversy over the years, and there are reasons for that which I will go over in more detail in this post. Here are my thoughts on loot boxes, and what the good stuff and the bad stuff are about them.
Before we mope and moan about the bad stuff of loot boxes, let’s go through the good things about loot boxes so we can understand that not everything about them is terrible.
- You Can Get Rare Stuff (Either Quicker Than Normal or Exclusively)
While different games have differently designed loot boxes – some games have loot boxes of all kinds of quality, and others have timed-exclusive loot boxes containing special items – the concept stays close to the same with each game; you open up a box (either with or without a key) and receive game content, which is usually either cosmetics, taunts or weapon skins, though once again this depends entirely on the game.
Some items you win from the mystery box of loot may already be in the game, but would have required hours and hours of gameplay in order for you to have earned it normally; congrats, you got the content much faster than you would have done if you hadn’t either earned that loot box from playing the game or brought it from the game’s digital store using real money (we’ll get to that part soon, I promise…)
Some items, on the other hand, can only be acquired from special loot boxes which are exclusive and harder to get – some of these exclusive boxes are timed and appear in the game annually, and will cease to be available to you once the time is up until the same time comes next year when they will be available to you to get again (Overwatch is a good example of a game having annually, timed-exclusive loot boxes).
Whatever kind of loot box you open, you will no doubt receive a rare or very exquisite item from within… unless you are extremely lucky and don’t receive anything with a rarity higher than common at all…
- You Get a Sense of Acomplishment
Opening a loot box and getting a very rare item, or getting an item you’ve always wanted but wasn’t able to get beforehand, really makes you feel like you’ve climbed the highest mountain or swum against the strongest currents and achieved something of value for it.
Getting a super rare item or cosmetic feels great, as does finally getting that cosmetic or voice line you’ve always wanted but didn’t have the right amount of credits to buy it from the game store or wasn’t lucky enough to have it randomly drop for you after winning a few matches.
- Opening Loot Boxes Feels Great
Not only does getting a brand new item from a loot box make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but it also makes you super happy and it feels amazing too…
You may have heard of dopamine, and how the brain releases some whenever we’re happy or doing something exhilarating like exercising or riding roller coasters (if you like them 😉 ), but did you know that opening loot boxes sends messages to the brain to release dopamine as well?
In more detail, it is the anticipation of opening the loot box and hoping you either get a really good item, or receive that one item you’ve always wanted for a long time, which causes your brain to release dopamine and make you happy or excited. As loot boxes in games are very expressive in their animation and have a cinematic build up to their opening, this adds even more to the anticipation, further increasing the amount of dopamine you get.
Of course, if you receive a duplicate, or an item which you didn’t want, then you will no doubt be upset about it. Still, you will be amazed to know that during those precious seconds of build up, your brain was releasing all sorts of chemicals.
Now that we’ve got the good stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the bad parts of loot boxes and why they aren’t all sunshine and rainbows…
- They Cost Money
Depending on the game, loot boxes are either randomly dropped in your inventory after finishing a match online (it also depends on whether you won that game or lost), or you will have to buy them from the game’s online store with real money. Furthermore, some game loot boxes require additional keys to open them up, which you have to buy from the online store as well.
As you can tell, the funds will start to build up if you are buying loads and loads of loot boxes from the market and keys to open those very loot boxes. This is why many people, especially parents of kids who constantly play games which contain loot boxes, are very much against loot boxes and how they not only bring in easy money for the game developers, but also making other game companies adopt the loot box trend into their own video games.
- They’re Essentially a Form of Gambling
Loot boxes are the very definition of gambling; you buy a loot box with real money and go to open it up (either with or without a key) with random chances of getting an item coming in any sort of rarity. If you don’t get the item you wanted, or an item with a good level of rarity, you may go back into the game store and buy another one with more money until you either get bored or reach the desired outcome.
This is pretty much gambling but with video games.
Of course, you must be 18 years old or over to gamble in casinos, but millions and millions of children play video games containing loot boxes every day, and a lot of them take part in receiving or buying loot boxes and opening them to obtain random content for the game.
This is essentially illegal, but action hasn’t been taken to either make games containing loot boxes have a mature rating so that kids cannot play it, nor have loot boxes been given any parental controls which parents can modify to prevent their children from essentially gambling, which is something I think should be done, especially if they don’t want their kids to use their precious credit cards to buy loot boxes so that they can open them.
- Some Items Can Only Come from Loot Boxes
Previously, I talked about how Overwatch is a game which has annually timed-exclusive loot boxes containing special content which can only be obtained from these very boxes, and unfortunately some games have also adapted to this method of game content.
While with Overwatch, there are free ways to get loot boxes (and we’ll get to that soon in this post…), some other games require you to full on purchase these loot boxes with real money from the game’s online store. I think this is incredibly unfair, and very greedy as people have brought the game with real, precious money and deserve to have every item from the game without the need to spend extra for them.
So, that’s it for this post, right? I’ve gone through the good stuff and ultimately the bad stuff about loot boxes in video games… What more is there to tell you?
Well, not so fast there because there is a video game which I think does loot boxes right, and I think every game with their own loot box variants can learn a thing or two from how this game handles things…
The One Exception
I’ve mentioned Overwatch a few times in this post already, but I really wanted to talk about it some more before we finish off this post entirely because, in my honest opinion, it does loot boxes and extra game content really well, to the point even where I think all games, either upcoming or ones already out which contain loot boxes, can learn a thing or two from them.
For starters, every week in Overwatch, you can get 3 free loot boxes by winning 9 matches (3 matches for each box) in the game’s Arcade mode, which contain unique game modes which are different from the game’s ordinary game modes – for example, an 8 player deathmatch mode appears quite a lot in Arcade, as does a game mode called Mayhem in which heroes have double their original health and their abilities recharge faster than normal.
Furthermore, in the game you have many different levels and divisions which you climb up as you play the game and get better. With each level you gain – and trust me, there are quite a lot of them – you will earn a free loot box. If you win 9 matches in Arcade mode, and climb up a few levels while doing so, you will easily get more than 3 loot boxes by the end of the 9 wins.
Incidentally, the loot boxes don’t require keys to be opened, so you won’t have to worry about buying some in a virtual store. So, you open up the free loot boxes and get all sorts of content, ranging from hero skins, taunts; voice lines, emotes, highlight intros and sprays. But wait, you managed to get a duplicate of an item… Bummer, right?
Actually no, it’s not a bummer because with duplicates, you get some compensation credits which you can use to unlock all the base cosmetics, voice lines and more from the game’s Hero Gallery. Remember, you haven’t spent any money whatsoever – besides from buying the game – and now you already have quite a few of the game’s extra content in your inventory.
Of course, you can easily buy some more loot boxes from the store using real money, but if you are patient enough to wait for the weekly arcade loot boxes to reset, you will be able to gain more loot boxes that way – and don’t forget that you earn a free loot box with each level up too…
So… yeah, that’s pretty much what makes Overwatch’s loot box (and credits) system, in my honest opinion, really really good, and it’s definitely something which I think all video game developers from now on should adapt to if they’re thinking of having loot boxes in their games.
And there we have it; those are my thoughts on loot boxes, what I think are the good and bad stuff of them, and the one exception of loot boxes which I think is the right direction to go in with them; make them free and optional to buy online if you really want more; the little credits system Overwatch does too is awesome and also something which other game developers should think about.
But, nevertheless, loot boxes are a very touchy subject when it comes to video games, and I hope that with this post I’ve shown you enough of the good and bad things about loot boxes to give you an understanding of why they can be both great for a player, and bad for a player. If you want to share your thoughts about loot boxes, please don’t be afraid to voice your opinion down below in the comments. 😉
Jamie – the PC Gaming Nerd