Game Theory explores the psychological exploitation at work in lockboxes

“It’s as easy as one, two, insert your credit card number here!” So begins the parody at the beginning of the first of two recent Game Theory videos all about 2017’s favorite-and-least-favorite topic, lootboxes. Rather than overtly picking a side, the vloggers attempt to sort out how lockboxes work – whether they’re just annoying business model glitches or deliberately manipulative end-runs around gambling laws, all by examine the science.

Now, contrary to the first video’s claim, lots of people are indeed talking about the science of lockboxes, but it nevertheless contributes a funny and clear-headed angle on the psychology of lockboxes from skinner boxes and dopamine to loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, and the illusion of control. The chilling idea is that we actually get our dopamine blast from opening the box – not from getting what we wanted. Lockboxes, like casinos, exploit the crap out of that, adding deadlines and exclusive loot to ramp up the pressure.

The second video ties into yesterday’s Daily Grind on how games are starting to ape casinos in collecting data on how and when you do buy lockboxes (and everything else), tailoring what’s offered specifically to individual players – you – to keep you in the game as long as possible. And yes, it does dive down the slippery slope into candy bags and collectible cards (complete with articles from the ’90s in the Times and WSJ lamenting Topps cards as gambling, which is precious).

We’ve included both below for your enjoyment entertainment howling frustration.

Source: Game Theory. Thanks, Karin!
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agemyth 😩

This beast is not dead until something about the problem changes, imo. If you’re tired of the subject and out of things to say you can skip the articles.

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Arktouros

I think the part that bothers me so much about the lockbox discussion is how much we end up covering the same ground over and over and over again. Yes, we know how lockboxes work. We also understand why businesses choose this model. It isn’t a mystery. No, they’re probably never going to admit that because it’s PR suicide.

However what we skip and never discuss is our own personal responsibility in this matter. MMO games are by their very nature social creations so when you take part in their societies, even if you don’t support the business operating it financially, you are contributing to that game and society. You might not spend any money but you might play with someone who did or sold something to them on the auction house or otherwise that was part of their experience they paid for.

At the end of the day it comes down to this: most people are simply unwilling to sacrifice anything on their end to make change happen. That means they’re unwilling to stay subscribed to a bad subscription MMO because it’s unenjoyable that lead them to seek out alternative business methods like lock boxes and F2P cash shops. That means they’re unwilling to quit a game because of it’s business strategies and justify it as they’re doing their part as they deride the whales that subsidize their experience. Complaining that P2W games should only sell cosmetics and then still roast the games that are cosmetic only as “just cosmetics” in a sarcastic tone creates a no win scenario. We want to cry about the children or the addicts but are unwilling to even look at a $40 mount because that’s as much as the game!

We’re just as culpable in all of this as developer studios who resorted to predatory models.

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Schmidt.Capela

but are unwilling to even look at a $40 mount because that’s as much as the game!

Of course. If a dev or publisher wants to sell me something for $40, it better be worth $40; for that price I would expect a full expansion, with at least a dozen hours of new gameplay. If not, not only I will refuse to purchase it, but if it was something I truly wanted it would make me stop playing the game instead.

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Arktouros

Of course. If a dev or publisher wants to sell me something for $40, it better be worth $40; for that price I would expect a full expansion, with at least a dozen hours of new gameplay. If not, not only I will refuse to purchase it, but if it was something I truly wanted it would make me stop playing the game instead.

And you’re 100% in your rights to do all of that.

However, and as my point gets to, while we’re taking care of ourselves and our desires and our needs from a game the developers of said game are still there. That is their livelihood. That’s literally their job. When we all quit over bad games, over priced items, p2w items in cash shops, abusive or exploitative lock boxes and so on and so forth they’re still there at the end of all that.

That’s not said to elicit empathy for the developers but rather more just a statement of fact. Businesses are going to do what it takes to stay open or make more profit. If we, as players, abandon financial support for them regardless of why they’re going to have to seek new ways to get that support. It’s a simple case of action -> reaction.

What everyone seems to ignore is our part in that transaction. No one wants to acknowledge that when we scoff at the $40 mount we’re giving rise to the $4 lockbox that after you buy 10 you’ll probably get the same mount.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not me, at least as far as lockboxes go. I’ve never spent a cent on lockboxes, and I doubt I ever will. I usually even throw away the darned things if I receive them for free.

Though I might be unusual in that opening anything akin to a lockbox — including physical ones, like card packs from a CCG, and even getting random loot from an in-game mob — isn’t a pleasant experience for me. Instead, I latch to the (usually far higher) chance I still won’t get what I want, and thus feel frustration instead, to such a point in order to still have fun with games where loot is random I have to make a conscious effort to avoid thinking about the loot and focus instead on the activities I find enjoyable.

It’s not even an acquired trait, I was like that from my childhood.

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Knox Harrington

You can’t deny the science that lockboxes are gambling and gambling is addictive, so now what are you going to do about it? Are you going to spend another half a decade identifying the problem without ever actually doing anything about it? Quit playing every game that has lockboxes and let them know why you’re quitting! Draw the line in the sand and hold it!

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Erik Heinze-Milne

Already did. Nobody cares. Nobody cares because whales are dumping insane amounts of cash into these systems to the point where the regular consumer voting with their wallet isn’t even a drop in the bucket. I’m going to continue not to buy those games, but I also don’t expect anything to actually change for the better.

We are no longer the target audience.

Nekith
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Nekith

People behind the games you play instead probably care. If it allows games with cleaner business models to live, it is something. I think this is where “voting with your wallet” counts.

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Knox Harrington

To build a mountain by hand, you have to start with one grain of sand.