The Daily Grind: Should MMO studios disclose the odds of winning lockbox prizes?

Every once in a while in an MMO, the desire to play with numbers grips me, like the time I hand-crafted a thousand drinks in Star Wars Galaxies to test whether sub-comp assembly mattered as much as theorists claimed. (It didn’t.)

I am not alone in my insanity. Massively OP reader The_Grand_Nagus tipped us off to an equally determined/nutty Star Trek Online player, who recently put his napkin math skills to work on a much more important problem than video game booze: video game gambling. He opened 10,000 lockboxes in STO to estimate the odds of pulling out a dreadnought. (It’s about 1%.)

That led The_Grand_Nagus — and me — to wonder why MMO studios don’t (and whether they should) disclose the odds of winning when you’re cracking open their gambleboxes.

Here in the US, different states have different governing rules for different categories of gambling. For example, most lotteries are required to post odds. Most casinos aren’t. Then again, would there even be a point to publishing the odds when knowing the odds doesn’t usually stop people from gambling anyway?

What do you think? Should MMO studios disclose the odds of winning prizes in lockboxes?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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124 Comments on "The Daily Grind: Should MMO studios disclose the odds of winning lockbox prizes?"

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SmithBrandy
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SmithBrandy

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MewmewGirl
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MewmewGirl

Well of course they don’t want to release the odds.  They want you to think you have a better chance of getting the item than you actually do.  They don’t want you doing the numbers and figuring out just how much you really have to spend to get certain things.

GoJammit
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GoJammit

vulpisfoxfire GoJammit I’m all for lockboxes, but that sucks.

vulpisfoxfire
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vulpisfoxfire

GoJammit Yeah…this was back with the Dominion ship, IIRC. What started getting people suspicious was that they kept broadcasting the message every few minutes…but when flying in space, even in the more crowded sectors, you’d maybe see *one* in the span of a week.

Robert80
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Robert80

sray155  I don’t think Bree was arguing that.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that statement was about how it is recognized as a problem (or at least a player beef… because I think dev teams use RNG as a content filler, since they know they need more time on average to complete things and it doesn’t ‘feel’ quite as grindy.)

GoJammit
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GoJammit

Wow! That’s for real? That’s some shady stuff. And I have to admit, when I saw so many people getting them, I kinda figured maybe it was a good rate. As far as I could tell I was seeing more pop than the Krenim ship that I had no problem getting. I don’t remember if the messages pop up in the middle of the screen anymore, but it is in the chat. Honestly I’ve tuned it out. I really wanted that carrier.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

XanadoX – Rift (even though I play it)

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Ceder And the IRS. Holy hells.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

The thing that annoys me the most is that some companies (I’m looking at you, Trion) names their lockboxes after the one item you probably have a 0.0000000001% of actually getting.

vulpisfoxfire
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vulpisfoxfire

Styopa DCUO. You can buy keys in the store, but subbers can just immediately open the lockboxes…which often contain stronger equipment items than those you can earn through actual game play, as well as the ever-evil ‘exclusives’.

vulpisfoxfire
Guest
vulpisfoxfire

Skyewauker ZenDadaist So put them out for a flat cost, *and* post the odds. Then people can make the decision ‘Do I want to buy the OP FotM P2W ship for $40 from the store, or spend $80 or more on crates in the hopes that I’ll get it in the first few instead of none of them?’

vulpisfoxfire
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vulpisfoxfire

SkyyDragonn Other than the addictive behavior of gaming itself. ;-)

vulpisfoxfire
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vulpisfoxfire

Bullwraith Well, it would help if they and games like them would quit putting in items that are stronger than ones you can earn either in-game *or* by flat purchase. Or better yet, if they have to, combine the two latter. Provide the same reward as a flat purchase (albeit at a higher money cost), and continue to provide the crates for people who failed statistics and want a ‘chance’ to save some money (which the majority of the time will instead end up the classic ‘I spent $40 to get a 5$ winning lotto ticket!’)

Granted, the primary problem with the things isn’t ‘righteousness’ or the morality of gambling…it’s the belief that the devs are, in fact lying to people and the things that people are paying hard cash for the chance to get don’t actually drop (which is reinforced by a certain…problem STO had with broadcasting *fake* winners a while back…) Of course even if they did get the devs to publish an odds list…it’s just as easily possible that list is equally a lie, but it would make the gambling addicts feel better.

vulpisfoxfire
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vulpisfoxfire

GoJammit Out of curiousity, as I haven’t played in a while…do they still broadcast it across the entire game when someone (supposedly) gets one of the Big Prizes? I remember that being supremely annoying when I played…especially when people started checking and noted that some people were seeing their own names in the announcements when they hadn’t, and trying to message some of the ‘winners’ revealed they didn’t actually exist…

dorn2
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dorn2

Greaterdivinity dorn2 
I don’t care. I was simply pointing out your reading comprehension failure.  Also you’re simply wrong.  Wanting to open the box is exposure.  You obviously have no clue what 8 year old children are like.

Veldan
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Veldan

Armsman The people making use of boxes are actually a minority… but those who do buy boxes tend to buy lots of them. That’s how the system works. It’s not meant for everyone, it’s ment to grab big amounts of money from the few people who keep buying them until they get everything they want from them.
I saw an official post from Trion once that stated that there are players who spent over $40,000 on RIFT. If that happens, you only need a handful of box buyers and the system is already worth it, from a dev perspective.

(I tried to find the post again but failed, it’s almost as if it was deleted because I can’t find the thread it was in either. Also I’m not 100% sure about the $40k, might have been 30k or 50k… but it was in that range somewhere.)

Authurious
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Authurious

It’s not just that they should list the odds. It’s that games like STO have pathetically low chances of obtaining anything of value. I wouldn’t want to be on the forums when the crowd finds out how low those rolls really are.

Ceder
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Ceder

This is one area that I think the FCC -really- needs to start popping game companies for.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

joseph_foran Ah I see, thanks for clearing that up. So I guess it’s up to gamers to decide whether they want to lobby for their local public servant to recognize the flawed distinction and amend it.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

I believe some states require you to put the odds of success/failure on the items sold that are considered gambling. I could be wrong, but I know just about every lotto ticket or even scratch off prizes has the odds listed in the back. I wonder if the FCC is failing to force these rules for video games. Again I’m assuming there’s some sorta law.

joshua12jd
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joshua12jd

Silverbourne Amphax You have a chance to in MH for certain cards. Not always though and it depends on the type of card you buy.

joshua12jd
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joshua12jd

Its a no brainer why they dont tell you the chances. Because if players knew the chances were low (as is in most gambling) then they will not buy the boxes because those players are not addicted to gambling or dont find parting with real money equal to the potential reward.
Point is, these lockboxes can generate considerable revenue to the gaming companies and their investors. 

If you walked into a Casino, and they flashed $10,000,000.00 in your face and said all you had to do is play their new Casino Game, you would probably play and keep putting in your money to play. Now if they told you “the chances that you will win are about 5%”, then most of the people would not spend any money because the risk vs the reward is so small.

At the end of the day, they want to make money, and making money keeps the doors open and the devs paid.

I dont like lockboxes, but I understand that in order for my to play F2P games, someone has to be paying the bill. Fortunate for me I dont spend much beyond necessities, but the other gambling players, they are paying to keep the game going. <shrug>

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

Lockboxes in any MMO are a form of gambling in a way.  Most of the time you always get something useful, just maybe not the particular item you want.  So it’s not like true gambling that you can “lose” and get nothing.  STO lockboxes are like this, I may not get the ship I’m hoping for but something will be of use.

That being said, they should give percentages so that people can choose if the chance is worth the price.

XanadoX
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XanadoX

Do you want to stop this: Don’t play games with ‘gambling inside’.
Then greedy devs will change that.

Let’s list the games to avoid:
– Archeage.

Amphax
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Amphax

If the lottery has to display their odds, then other businesses should have to as well.
Also they should have (optionally) a sort of guaranteed success option. Like for example if the success rate is 2%, they could keep track of all the boxes you’ve opened, if you opened 50 in a row without getting it, they should just give it to you (50 * 2 = 100).
Yeah I know it’s not how probability really works, but I think it’d be a nice gesture, and I doubt they’d lose much (heck they’d probably gain more money, if I knew I was guaranteed an item in at MOST 50 boxes I might keep going, but if there was no guarantee, I might give up after a dozen or so).

blackcat7k
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blackcat7k

That’s like asking if developers should finally come clean and
say that Free to Play is “Free to Start” or “Free to Pay”. Even the minor tests
that my guild has done on drop rate chances in these titles are beyond
hilarious. However, just because these games don’t have a legal cash-out for
these virtual currencies doesn’t mean that their systems are in compliance with
gambling statutes.
Reading things like the Unlawful
Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and the The Professional & Amateur Sports Protection Act makes me
wonder how much long F2P will get to have its Wild Wild West time in the sun.
Especially with this want of so many games to get in on E-Sports. These virtual
items/characters already have a real cash value, though it’s an illegal trading
value that’s held among the player base when they do things like selling
accounts.
This is funny because developers are treating lock boxes
with the same flippancy that they’ve done with things like illegal gold
selling. They know it should be a huge priority, but they’re not going to clean
house. They make a good show, but you log onto to many of these games and you
see it’s a joke that’s not even putting a dent in the illegal activity.
Developers need to pull their head out of the sand and face facts about the way
their players are playing their games since they’ve gone full bore into the
being the middle men for currency trading:
How are these players
acquiring these virtual goods/currencies?
What can the players
do with these currencies? No pie in the sky PR nonsense, developers. What are
they actually doing with the currencies and items?What third parties are
benefitting from these sales?
These gambling lock boxes are just piece of what’s going to
bring this house of cards crashing down. Developers know point blank they
should’ve been including the win rate for these items the minute they decided
to monetize their games to the hilt since it contributes to illegal currency/item/account
trading that affects their titles. 
***Hmmm… People always
ask: “What do I win?” when a game is
declared Pay to Win? Heh, heh. The disingenuousness of it all is too much
sometimes. Especially when this is said by individuals who’ve played MMOs from
the beginning of the genre, and see the current state of the gambling systems
that are used to make billions a year for this industry.

Dixa
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Dixa

These need to be regulated like casinos. It really is bad enough that the f2p model preys on the weak of will, and they go after the stronger willed with constant ad bombardments in game of shortcuts because they KNOW – thanks to psychologists – that with enough advertising of paid shortcuts they will eventually override your willpower.

I have no problem with lockboxes at a base level as long as the best items in the game are not in them. If they are, this really is gambling no different than being in a casino.

I bought my dreadnought and JHAS off the auction house by selling keys. It was possible to do that now – 3 years ago. 

I logged in the other day and looked at the prices now – nope. Would cost me 4x as much in real life cash now. Yeesh.

Damonvile
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Damonvile

TheChiHawk I think one of the biggest reasons it doesn’t get classified as actual gambling is because you never actually lose. Every box wins, you just don’t get what you want every time. and since nothing in the box has any actual value you are just buying a box.
It’s a total loop hole because the things inside obviously have value to some people….just not the IRS ( or whatever department looks after money in the country )

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

ManastuUtakata
I doubt I will ever purchase a lockbox or a key — heck, I stopped playing Magic because I couldn’t stand purchasing boosters with random cards — but that doesn’t prevent me from wanting the odds to be revealed.

A Dad Supreme
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A Dad Supreme

Casinos have to.Lotteries have to.Horse racing, car racing and other types of gambling establishments have to.
Plain and simple; it’s gambling. They should have to.

joseph_foran
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joseph_foran

TheChiHawk It doesn’t fly under the radar because there are no real-world monetary prizes. Until the law catches up with the distinction between virtual goods and physical goods, the grey area is leaning heavily towards it being a non-violation. The logic is that you spend X in Y game, getting Z goods for your money that cannot exist outside of Y Game. It doesn’t take into account that X is a translated currency and worth real dollars, thought in reality that correlation exists only in an isolated environment.

It’s also how gambling in Japan works. You buy chips, and win tokens. You can’t do jack with the tokens, except that there’s a shop down the street that will let you buy things with those tokens. Since the two businesses are not connected (directly, though in reality they are!), it’s not illegal.

So yes, it’s gambling, but no, it’s not technically gambling. Its the same logic that keeps online poker places open – even though they are taking your money, you have no way to cash in your winnings elsewhere. I can’t take Cartel Coins and buy a car with them. You *could* find an exchange that would take your Cartel Coins and give you real dollars, but that would be a separate matter.

demonxaphan
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demonxaphan

TheChiHawk The way they get around it is to insert a certain number of items as the main prize, now the tricky part is when they insert a special prize in a lottery style of you get this prize or a rare chance at this other prize and therefore it is not gambling.

TheChiHawk
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TheChiHawk

Silverbourne LOL!

Durenas
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Durenas

FYI: He did it on the test server, by copying the same character many many times. He didn’t actually buy 10,000 packs(which at 250 zen each would run around 2500 dollars.)

undeadtexan
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undeadtexan

I wrote in a tip about this same topic as a podcast question months ago. Maybe the awesomely benevolent breetoplay can dig it up to discuss on the next cast?

And to totally bribe my way in…

TheChiHawk
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TheChiHawk

Would it be possible for MassivelyOP to inquire with the FTC as to whether or not paid lockbox gambling runs afoul of the Federal prohibition of on-line gambling in the U.S.. I’m not trying to be a killjoy, I’m genuinely interested in how this flies under the radar. I think it would be a good investigative piece.

GoJammit
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GoJammit

With the exception of this last event, my experience with STO gambling has been pretty positive. The Year of Hell lock boxes, they acknowledged that they have been dicking people and upped the drop amount with a commitment at looking  to do that with future boxes. The Delta packs were not boxes and I do feel a little silly thinking I was going to beat the odds. But I did it knowing full well there was a chance i wouldn’t. And I got nothing particularly amazing out of the deal besides a chance to help my fleet with some of my old doffs and replacing them with some better ones. The money I spent I could have probably just bought a new ship. 
But personal responsibility. They didn’t cheat me. Everyone knows it’s a long shot, and I asked in multiple places and they all told me it was a long shot and i did anyway.

TiaNadiezja
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TiaNadiezja

Honestly, I’m more interested in the odds for secondary prizes than the grand prize – I never buy/use lockbox keys in hopes of getting the grand prize (I generally won’t, so why worry about it?), but STO in particular has vastly improved the secondary prizes in the lockboxes. What used to be ridiculous XP boosters (pay to play the game less!) and consumables has been largely replaced with fun kit modules and traits. But what are the odds of me getting a fun kit module or trait? Who knows?

ZenJitzu
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ZenJitzu

Articles about lockboxes always remind me of this cautionary tale (long read, but wow…):

http://www.danwei.org/electronic_games/gambling_your_life_away_in_zt.php
It’s unfortunate that monetization in games has gone this route, feeding on the weakest parts of the human psyche. On the one hand, I understand that it’s a business and they have to make money to stay afloat (and do so quite well with lockboxes). On the other, I think it’s a corruption of game development…one where the goal should be to entertain, and not to boil down the experience to pulling a lever on a slot machine. Having had family members who were gamblers, they were not richer, happier, nor more accomplished for it. It’s sad and horrible.
To the original question, though: companies should if they were good citizens with transparency. From a marketing/corporate standpoint, they shouldn’t because that would probably negatively influence sales. Although I’d rather that they got rid of lockboxes altogether and focused on enriching gameplay, story, and interactions…but I can’t argue that one is far more profitable than the other.

Bullwraith
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Bullwraith

I enjoy opening lockboxes (in STO) to a certain extent. It’s an optional part of gameplay and I am always puzzled at the righteous opposition to them. And don’t give me the corrupting minors bit. If the parents are not paying attention and raising their children then any negatives are on them, not game devs. So that said, it would be ideal for them to post the odds even though most of us would ignore them. It wouldn’t make a wit of difference.

What it would do, imo, is open them up to crippling class action lawsuits initiated by trolling legal firms.

No More Tears
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No More Tears

Sure, it’d be nice if they did, but would it really solve anything?
People who hate lockboxes aren’t going to like them any less once they have hard numbers. Also, gambling is designed to take your money; if you make a more informed dumb decision, does it make it any less dumb? The math nerds and the high-rollers aren’t really going to be fazed either way, right?
I’d like to say that it’d be more ideal to just have lockboxes be in-game content only, but even then… I don’t know. If lockboxes are the difference keeping an otherwise good game from shutting down, maybe they’re an acceptable blemish. And to be fair, really shitty RNG and timesinks have been an MMO, RPG, and general gaming standard as long as games have existed, whether it’s things like finding that stupidly rare drop in Wizardry or Final Fantasy (goddamn Pink Tails), camping for hours a day for a rare spawn who in turn has a rare drop in EverQuest, or single digit drop rates from pretty much any endgame MMO raid. That’s a constant despite the payment model, too. I can understand wanting to milk your subscribers, but I still don’t understand why any single player game would do this.
Anyways, I wonder if lockboxes couldn’t be better used to help revive subscriber numbers. My most recent heavy MMO timesink, TERA, is also an unfortunate pusher of heart-breaking lockboxes, but its optional subscription does come with a nice set of perks like free instant travel, some gold/exp boosts, increased instance and broker privileges… and a free daily lockbox or two with actual useful items.
I don’t know how TERA’s subscriber numbers are, but I was surprised to see that almost nobody in game seems to think the subscription (whether paid for in gold or blood) is a bad idea. The lockboxes don’t contain anything terribly amazing individually, but over the course of a month they add up, and combined with the persistent subscriber perks, it’s hard to feel like you got screwed. I wonder if they couldn’t just ditch the cash shop lockboxes and simply boost subscriber numbers by adding an additional variety of lockboxes to the subscription perks. The prevalence of F2P games means games have a hard time selling subs solely for access now, but maybe they can turn a nastier side of MMO monetization into a more stable income flow.
Because hey, let’s face it — people like lockboxes, whether for fun, the thrill, or loot. People just don’t like having to pay for low odds, or the fact that people can buy them without limit.

I think GW2 could be a good contender for that kind of subscription, which in turn might create more funds for them to develop content faster and more consistently, or even help them make the prices of expansions more appealing… *ahem*. Make an optional sub and throw in things like a daily Black Lion chest (or two), free waypointing, and maybe subscriber-only unbreakable gathering tools and a summon-anywhere merchant/repair, and/or a monthly small gem stipend — I think people would be really into something like that. I honestly wonder how they make any money as it is, being that the game barfs gold at you, which you can in turn easily convert to gems at a surprisingly decent rate. I know TOR does something similar, although it’s a bit more heavy-handed in its F2P restrictions.

But at the end of the day, the reason lockboxes exist is simply because the money they bring in (even if from a minority of players) is worth the nasty looks people throw at companies that sell them. How can you really stop them? You certainly can’t unite 100% of players to stop buying them, and outside regulation isn’t the most desirable solution.
Stop trying to make “luckboxes” happen, Gretchen.

Miserymachine
Guest
Miserymachine

I hate lock boxes. If you want people to spend money for an item just put it in the store and quit gouging your customers.

Armsman
Guest
Armsman

Played STO since closed beta in 2009. Weathered the F2P conversion. have never opened a single STO lockbox beyond the free one you get (via a ‘mission’ that introduces you to ‘Lockboxes’ and nets you 1 free Lobi that I still have in my bank.) That said, I don’t try to dictate or look down on anyone who chooses to buy akey and make use of a Lockbox because in the end, it’s the person’s decision to make use or not make use of the system to get something they want to use (fro whatever reason in game.
I too believe that MMO developers SHOULD disclose the odds of winning the various prizes; but that said, anyone who believes such disclosure would somehow deter those who really WANT the main prize are also fooling themselves; along with the players who believe 
“The playerbase at large HATES lockboxes.”
^^^
If this were true, Lockboxes wouldn’t exist in MMOs and the F2P game Dev companies would have another major strategy to get players to spend money on the game. Lockboxes continue to exist because the playerbase AT LARGE buys keys for them and makes use of them; and I’m sure PWE/Turbine/EA, et al probably make more money via this method then any other RMT.
Again, I’ll never open a Lockbox in STO (Unless they make a Lockbox with the prize being a T6 Constitution class ship of the TOS era <– For that even I would part with money for Master Keys and the odds wouldn’t matter because I’d know they’re bad, but it’s the one ship I’d really love to have at T6 in STO – so I’d cave.)
In the end, it’s all personal player responsibility. If you want something bad enough, the odds won’t matter to you much; that said, they SHOULD always be disclosed publicly (IMO).

Greaterdivinity
Guest
Greaterdivinity

dorn2 Then have a discussion about it, it’s not as if kids are incapable of understanding the basic risks of gambling (my folks taught me when I was young using a rigged game of cards with quarters), not to mention that you contradict yourself. The card is required to open the box, the child can never open the box and be “exposed” to gambling without access to payment information.

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

I am with the having no lockboxes crowd. So I doubt posting odds would change my tune on that.

…speaking of which, I ‘m getting a ton of these lockbox thingies filling up my inventory in TERA. I would love to have the ability to vendor them, since I’ll never use them. Nor do they sell well on the game’s AH to make worth while keeping them around. :(

JayBezzOfficial
Guest
JayBezzOfficial

Yes!  100%

When is it good business to go into a store and spend real money and walk out with something you never intended to buy but without what you DO intend to buy.

dorn2
Guest
dorn2

Greaterdivinity SkyyDragonn 
What are you talking about?  DCUO drops lock boxes from mobs.  No credit card required.  The child will then go to his father and ask “Can I have money to open this?”.  Prompting a discussion about why gambling is bad.

dorn2
Guest
dorn2

Lockboxes and similar practices should be illegal.  No matter what underage people play these games.  At the very least this stuff needs to be regulated to show odds and inflict ruinously harsh penalties if sold to minors.

Also why on earth would you wonder why they don’t post the odds?  Obviously because posting the odds would discourage buyers.  It’s even worse than just 1% for the super rare item.  In most games it’s going to be 90-95% to get pure trash no matter what.  Even moderately valuable items will have very low percentages.

Greaterdivinity
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Greaterdivinity

SkyyDragonn Why does your 8 year old have access to an account with a credit card attached to it? Not saying you’re a bad parent, but the first thing I made sure with my little cousin who games (and who’s parents aren’t super familiar with gaming stuff) when his parents brought it up was to make sure that none of his devices/accounts had any payment information associated with it and to make sure that they knew how to add/remove that information if they wanted to allow him to spend money.

annoyedbadger
Guest
annoyedbadger

I hate lockboxes. 

If you want me to buy something, sell it directly.

If you are putting it behind an RNG lottery, then tell me the odds. But I pretty much won’t buy RNG lockboxes. I’ve no objection to spending money on digital items, but put a price on it and sell it to me, otherwise not interested.

wpDiscuz