This is how MMO lockboxes manipulate your mind

It is not going to shock you to hear that lockboxes are kind of evil. We here at Massively OP have been beating on that drum for years now. But studios keep selling them and players keep buying them, so on the drum beat goes.

If you’ve brushed off the insidious nature of lockboxes so far, it might behoove you to read this piece from PC Gamer that takes an unflinching look at how game designers use specific, targeted elements to prey upon players’ psychology and brain chemistry — and that many of these techniques are the same ones employed by gambling establishments.

Why do lockboxes work so well? Something called “variable rate reinforcement” factors into it, says Dr. Luke Clark of the Center for Gambling Research: “The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably. We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.”

Source: PC Gamer. Thanks Agemyth and Pierre!
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54 Comments on "This is how MMO lockboxes manipulate your mind"

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Mewmew
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Mewmew

I’m a lock box junkie. I am not a whale, I can’t afford the money I spend on them and hurt other parts of my life because of it. I don’t know what my problem is I just can’t stop buying them. Even on games that they’re just cosmetics, I want to buy that box and get a big win on a rare item. I should know that the amount of money I spend to get the wins is ridiculous and amounts to the same as the percentages anyway but I just keep doing it.

Honestly I wish I could stop. I need to transition into someone who spends far less money on virtual gaming goods than I do now. I spend $500+ on each game, games I will stop playing after a month, regularly, over and over. I realize I’m being taken advantage of but just keep doing it. I don’t know what my problem is. I know I shouldn’t do it but just do it anyway. It’s just a button press away.

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George

Sorry to hear that. No matter the form, gambling is a dependency, and as such should be treated and “cured”. So, maybe you should seek out for a little help.

amkosh
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amkosh

Fact: Every game has a finite amount of stuff you can buy.
Fact: A Lockbox gives the illusion that you may get something new.
Fact: If people didn’t pay for games, the companies would shut them down.

So do I:
a) Play politics, don’t buy lockboxes and let my favorite game die
or
b) Buy lockboxes, sell what I don’t want and keep the others and hope enough other people don’t want my favorite game dead so it doesn’t?

Example: Had City of Heroes a game which I know is near and dear to a lot of you massively OP peeps had a reliable and strong revenue stream (say 50% of the playerbase spending 40-50$ a month) then NCSoft would not have DARED sunset it. One way to get people to do that: Lockboxes.

So please excuse me if I’d rather see my fav games win rather than some political anti gambling crap (which really is crap)

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Sally Bowls

All the psychology, dopamine and VRR arguments apply to any variable reward, not just the rewards authors don’t like.

E.g., remember when posters on social media whinged about the variable nature of WoW legendaries? The claims that players preferred a sure thing over random rewards? The exact same “science” used in the lockboxes-are-evil arguments also says that the players prefer random over deterministic loot drops. Nowhere in “dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.” does it say the dopamine is only triggered if the randomness comes from an evil purchased lockbox.

The only defense that the variable random reward that are drops have over lootboxes like Hearthstone and Overwatch is incompetence. I.e., a piece of random unidentified gear that drops from a PoF GW2 mob and a H/O lootbox are both looking for random-induced dopamine; it’s just Anet is not willing to spend the money to make the reveal of the random gear to be as exciting as some lockbox reveals. They are both casinos paying off in dopamine; I see no moral superiority for the one with less noise, flash and neon. A brothel with ugly prostitutes is still a brothel; dopamine manipulation is still the goal whether it is with the whoosh of a lockbox opening or a less pretty random loot drop.

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socontrariwise

I seem to be utterly immune to “upredictable result thrill”. My thrill comes from knowing what I get, that I can afford it and the thing is worth what I spend on it and that it is the lowest price necessary.

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Ket Viliano

You may as well complain about psychology in sales. These things are good to know about, but they are ubiquitous in most any modern society.

I don’t much like lockboxes, I never buy keys, but the people calling for legislation have gone mad.

PS: That stupid poorly coded PC gamer site ate 100% of the gpu from my 1080ti. Just a tad resource intensive, you know?

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Paragon Lost

Yeah wow, mine went from 10% to 10% here on Massively to upwards of 60% on PC Gamer’s website. I have MassivelyOp white listed for Adblock and Ghostery and yet PC Gamer I have all that crap blocked it and it still climbed. Sheesh, what a bunch of crap.

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Paragon Lost

Damn typo that was supposed to be 10% to 12% on MassivelyOp.

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Ket Viliano

Yea, most web developers are extra sloppy, and never QA test their own work, not even to the meager extent of checking to see how a site looks in a browser other than the one it was developed in.

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Maggie May

Eso has lock boxes that I never buy … Every now and then they have a free weekend with a few free boxes, I always get a few pets and some cosmetics which I gladly take and go on my way. I am not much of a gambler but if people want to spend their own money on them who am I to complain?

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Robert Mann

Meanwhile, there’s other responses including my personal favorite the “Yeah, go suck a rotten egg.” Which is saying “You know, I would have bought one of those things, but since it’s only in a lockbox you can forget about it!”

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Major Glitch

That reminds me, I need to buy some lockboxes. Why? Well apparently, it’s because I am being manipulated. It has nothing to do with the fact that I a) have disposable income, b) want to financially support the people that make the game I play, c) actually have use for the various items that drop in lockboxes, or d) just because I want to. Nope. It’s all because of dopamine. Free will and personal responsibility be damned.

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rafterman

You’re right, not everyone who buys them does so because they are manipulated…some people are just stupid.

Congratulations! Even if you have disposable income, want to support the company, and have use for the items you’re still being taken advantage of because they could just as easily sell the damn items themselves instead of putting them in a stupid gambling system. And by buying these boxes instead of letting developers know that they aren’t ok, you’re supporting a horrendously predatory practice that adds zero value to gaming.

I’m far from adverse to spending money on my games. Hell, I’ve multiple times gone on record that I want the subscription model back and I’ve easily spent five digits on MMOs over the years. But, this isn’t the way to support a developer and it’s sure as hell not the way to treat your customers. Lockboxes are greedy, evil, and a scummy way to milk your playerbase…end of story!

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Serrenity

Come on, you know that’s ridiculous. These things don’t force you to spend money, but they create the perfect environment for you to spend as much money as possible with as little cost to the company as possible.

I kind of think of it like if I were playing poker at the casino, except the dealer could see my hand, and I couldn’t. I trust the dealer, who has a vested interest in me losing, to tell me whether I won or not. Every time. And even if I caught the “dealer” lying to me, my agreed-to EULA makes sure I have absolutely no recourse to do anything about it.

This coming largely from companies who have histories of anti-consumer practices. And literally no oversight into what or how they are doing literally anything.

All this to say nothing of the addiction-enablement mentality, the fake currency so it doesn’t feel like real money when you buy it, etc etc etc

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Jeff

Yeah me too…..I actually got a couple death threats over the Wild Hunt horse I was tooling around with. I wonder what a skeletal bear will get me?

Seriously I worked my ass off for 30 years, If I want to blow my money on strippers and single malt or Crown Crates, it’s my business.

Cadaver
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Cadaver

Yeah, lockboxes are kind of evil. Tell us something we don’t know.

“Alternatively, Freud suggested that it’s rooted in a deep desire to reclaim the poo you excreted as a baby. “

Well I didn’t know that. I don’t believe that I ever hoarded my shit as an infant and I know that I’ve never bought a lockbox. But for those have and those that will, perhaps a lockbox full of baby shit could be both rewarding and therapeutic?

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Robert Mann

ROFL I must have missed that. Freud worked with a lot of farmers in need of fertilizer for their fields, I’m going to guess… that or a lot of perverts.

cambruin
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cambruin

Do you login for your daily reward? Do you run that same dungeon again and again and again? Do you feel compelled to go through all the daily quests?

I don’t, and I get there just the same. I’ll buy my rep with ingame gold, I’ll settle for that much more easily attainable medium armour chestpiece that adds only 5 dexterity less than the top-tier one locked behind mindnumbing, spiritcrushing raids. And as for that daily reward? I’ll not risk getting late to work, or having a fight with the wife because I ‘just quickly need to log in’.

Too many people suffer from OCD and that’s on them. Lockboxes are just another way to tap into that addiction factor, the only problem here is the actual cost is too obvious. I’m pretty sure many people have lost jobs, relationships, friends, … over ingame addictions, yet the genre has never before been so popular. But those losses aren’t as ‘obvious’. If the job were better I’d have stayed. If only she didn’t grow so **** she’d still be my wife. He’s into Juston Bieber, he can’t possibly be my friend!

How I wish it were still a niche.

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Serrenity

I gotta say, not much of your post makes sense … Im having trouble following it