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What? LOOT BOX is evolving!

Posted on 28 August 2019 by Shiyi

It’s a well-known fact that good children get presents for Christmas, while bad children get lumps of coal in their stockings. But imagine that you reach into the stocking and, even though you’ve been a good kid all year, you still ended up with a lump of coal.

What a bummer.

That’s kind of what happens sometimes with loot boxes in games. Except with loot boxes you actually pay for them. You don’t know what you are paying for and if you don’t get the item you want then you can end of buying a bunch of them.

People have been getting pretty annoyed about this for a while and pressure built up. In early August, a group of companies that make game consoles announced a policy where they will only allow games that show players their chances of getting items from loot boxes. This chance is commonly called a "drop rate" by those who talk about video games, as it is the rate at which items will drop. The announcement means that, all things going to plan, games that are published on the PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch will show drop rates from 2020 onwards.

Since the announcement last week, a few game developers have begun removing loot boxes from their games entirely. Their solution is to replace loot boxes with boxes where players can see what is in them. Last week, popular game Apex Legends removed loot boxes less than a week after adding them in.

Players generally view the policy announcement as a positive step forward, although some commentators have pointed out that showing the drop rate doesn’t change the dodgy nature of loot boxes, as they are still based entirely on random chance.

The policy appears to be based off regulations that were in place in China until recently, which also required games to show drop rates. Since then, Chinese regulations have intensified, placing limits on how many loot boxes players can open in a day and making games increase the drop rate with each box opened. These regulations have proven effective in giving developers pause. Insiders now recommend moving away from loot box mechanics altogether in the Chinese market.

The fact that China felt the need to strengthen its regulations lends credence to the fact that simply showing players drop rates may not fully manage concerns around loot boxes.

More troubling is the revelation that game publishers previously offered to increase drop rates for people whom they paid to open loot boxes on video. By changing the drop rates, viewers are given an inflated idea of what they are likely to get from loot boxes. This suggestion of false advertising taps into why a lot of players dislike loot boxes and think that they are exploitative and anti-consumer.

These changes show that the industry is starting to solidify a focused strategy in order to deal with the potential harms from loot boxes. The space remains fast-moving. I will do my best to keep on top of it and let you know about more developments as they arise.

In the meantime it looks like Christmas is back on…

UPDATE (4/09/2019): I realise that I've left out some important context for this blog. If you're interested in reading more about loot boxes, legislative issues, and what our philosophy has been so far, you can find out more in our previous blogs: Monte Casino and Surprise! It's a loot box.

Shiyi works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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