Academics and addiction experts weigh in on ‘pay-to-loot’ gambleboxes and lockboxes

“Pay-to-win” is old news now — game designers’ new plan for hoovering all the cash out of our wallets is “pay-to-loot.”

According to IGN’s Nathan Lawrence, who dives into the topic today, that’s the term game psychologists are using to describe what online gamers have been derisively referring to as gambleboxes and lockboxes for years: You’re essentially buying chances at a thing, paying to roll the dice and let the RNG gods determine your reward, padding the game’s coffers all the while.

The gambling references aren’t accidental; one expert calls lootboxes a “poker machine-like experience,” while another points to the phenomenon as an exploitation of human nature:

“A lot of research shows that fixed rewards are not as effective for getting people to change behaviours, learn a new behaviour, or form a habit as random rewards are. Our brains are wired to try to make sense of unexpected things. When you have a random number determining what loot you get, by definition, you’re going to get an unexpected result, or an unexpected predictable result every time. Whether you get that by playing the game for so many hours or winning so many matches, or whether you get a roll of that random number generator from spending five dollars to buy a pack of cards or a loot chest, it’s still the same rush, the same experience, the same hopeful anticipation to try and figure out, ‘Well, did I figure it out this time?’ Even though, in the front part of your brain – in the rational slow-moving part of your brain – you know that it’s completely random and, no, you haven’t cracked the code or figured it out. But those circuits are hardwired in our brain, and they’re very effective and very powerful.”

The same psychologist argues for more transparency from developers, too, but we all know it’s the rare studio that will undertake transparency of its own volition while the money’s easy.

Please stop buying lockboxes.

Source: IGN
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shazanti
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shazanti

I don’t buy lockboxes. I would rather outright gamble at a casino… because at least on the exceedingly rare occasions when I go to a casino, I bring x amount of money that I fully expect to lose, and I just plan out how to lose it, and hope that I lose it over a long enough period of time that I can consider it ‘entertainment money’ for the evening. With a lockbox, there is no evening’s worth of entertainment. There’s buy box, open box. No time spent having fun with my friends and other players, no entertainment at the table having fun with the dealers (who are also, I hope, having fun with myself & other friendly players who are hopefully tipping them enough to fill their toke box).

Maybe, MAYBE, I actually win, or break even at the casino, but I never expect to- that’s just asking for disappointment. I will not subject myself to that disappointment by dumping money into faceless instant interaction with a lockbox. I don’t even like it when games give free boxes of random stuff to me as a player. I would much rather know that x amount of time spent, y amount of levels gained, z quest/achievement completed, etc., gains me specific (or my choice of) x,y,z reward. A random, low chance at an actual reward? No thanks. That feels more like disdain for players than anything else, to me, and is only worthy of my disdain in return.

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rafael12104

The psychologists are weighing in… ok. But according to psychologists, video games themselves are an addiction and just as devastating, right?

So, where do you draw the line? I’m not a fan of lock boxes. I avoid them. The games I play games have them, but I make sure they are not a requirement. And this very scenario played out in SWTOR just recently. SWTOR devs stupidly changed Op boss drops to lockboxes if you can believe it. But guess what? They changed it back to gear drops fairly quickly because they were bleeding subs.

I guess my point is that choice, your choice, matters. If you choose not to buy or use lockboxes it matters. But that choice should remain an individual one. It is a slippery slope otherwise and the conversation may turn from lock boxes to video games in a heart beat.

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Kevin McCaughey

People are stupid.

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Serrenity

I’m happy to say that I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a lockbox. Guild Wars 2 might be an exception (but it would just been once). The economics of lock boxes, combined with complete lack of transparency on odds (and whether those odds are static or adjust) means that I won’t touch the stuff.

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Zen Dadaist

“Please stop buying lockboxes.”

QFT. Sadly, dev studio after dev studio has explained that lockboxes make absolute bank. They make way WAY more money off people by putting the cool thing in a box with a 0.01% of winning it, than selling the cool thing directly. People are more willing to throw what ends up being A HELL OF A LOT more money after boxes in the hopes of winning the thing, than just buying it.

People are stupid. Screw RNG in your RNG.

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Chuck Finley

I just wish I could enjoy the game and earn said item in the game, which isn’t really an option for the most part.

It’s the biggest failing with ESO in my opinion. All those mounts and pets I would like to collect since I’m a collector of things, but they’re not available to me unless I either buy a loot box (special seasonal mounts) or buy them directly (standard pets and mounts).

It’s really just a shitty experience in my opinion that drives me away from the game a bit. The whole point of the game is to have fun and earn items, but I have to buy these mounts and have no way of earning them. A purchased mount or pet means nothing to me. There was no challenge to get it, no adventure. Either I bought it directly or got lucky with a lootbox. It’s an experience completely set aside from the game itself.

I think it sucks for people who enjoy playing games. I feel the rewards in the game itself aren’t really as nice as the ones you can buy. And I can afford to buy it, but that’s just not fun to me. :/

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Dean Greenhoe

Just like other forms of gambling. For it to be legal where I live it has to be regulated and taxed. Proceeds from this tax can then be used to aid folks who suffer from such addictions and still alow those who enjoy gambling to still so it.

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Jeff

You can’t legislate morality, not can you use Prohibition to control something like this.

History has taught us that.

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Nathan Aldana

History has also taught us that when theres absolutely zero regulations on exploitative industries, those industries will exploit the most vulnerable for as much money as possible while doing nothing to ensure their practices dont ruin lives, and in fact will usually put money into swinging public opinion to their side.

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Robert Mann

Okay, as far as I am concerned a player who is an adult, in a game rated for 18+, can have as much gambling as they choose. If a game there includes it, great.

If that’s not the game or the player, there is a problem. If it’s the game, make your activities fit your age ratings. If it is the player, then shame on the guardian of said minor who is accessing things that are aimed at an adult audience (unless there is careful consideration and guidance, at which point maybe it is acceptable and maybe not.)

I don’t see this as a huge justice issue. I do see it being a problem with those who aren’t old or mature enough to seek help if they need it. Gaming companies can have the choice, just make it a ratings change. No further government involvement needed… ESRB and similar agencies can fix this in one fell swoop, and developers will adjust. Thus no new regulatory groups getting in, no problems with the gambling status in various nations, etc.

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Nathan Aldana

Thats the thing though. You can moralize about it all you want, but peop;le with gambing addictions are not in control of that, and they cant simply willpower it off any more than someone with clinical depression can force themsef to think happy thoughts. Wanting to think otherwise is you just deluding yourself for the sake of not having to fear you too could one day be a prisoner in your own head.

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Robert Mann

Thing is, I’m not saying that they can just stop on their own. I’m all for them getting the help they need. However, if they are really addicted to gambling like that, turning the MMO lootboxes off isn’t going to stop it or help them.

What will is either they, or their family/friends stepping in, and getting them some counseling and/or therapy for the problem… and then following a plan for the future.

There’s simply no reason to put more government in, and get a lot of stupid rules that make games cruddier over this. That’s like making peanut sales illegal because some people have allergies.

*Just to be clear, I despise lockboxes. I just think that in many cases the advocated cure is even worse.*

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J

I think all this MMO gambling BS should be regulated just any online casino. I avoid this stuff like the plague and feel sorry for people that get hooked on it.

miol
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miol

Thank you!

Can’t wait when this “movement of thought” (sry, don’t know a better description) finally gets heared by the devs through actual major change of customer behaviour!

At least I know, CU won’t have P2L!