Ex-Cryptic Studios artist decries ‘harmful’ video game lockbox designs based on slot machines

    
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A 3-D character artist who previously worked at Cryptic Studios on Champions Online and Neverwinter has come out swinging against lockbox mechanics, saying that they were directly and shamelessly lifted from the gambling industry.

“Loot boxes in games are a familiar topic for a lot of people, but they often discuss the wrong angle. Most gamers comment on how annoying they are, but few people address how harmful they are,” wrote Xavier Coelho-Kostolny, who now works at Insomniac Games. “This pay-for-potential-rewards structure is lifted directly from casino gambling — slot machines in particular. In fact, most of the win rates and feedback systems for loot boxes are lifted directly from slot machine design.”

Cryptic, by way of PWE, is infamous for pushing lockboxes on players in both Neverwinter and Star Trek Online.

The remainder of his post may not necessarily surprise you, but it will shed a harsh light on the psychological tactics used to part players from their money. From flashing lights and exciting sounds to “insidious” accessibility, lockboxes aren’t shown in a good light here.

Think it’s bad? This artist says that the system is worse than you’d assume: “It’s important for people running these games to have metrics and info like this so they can tailor the experience to you. This is where video game loot boxes are actually more insidious than casino gambling; they don’t just take your money, they tailor your personal experience.”

Source: ResetEra via Reddit
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Malcolm Swoboda

Lockbocks don’t, uh, totally ‘lock me out’ of Cryptic games (but its close) – its the frequent mandatory notices of others winning from them that have me uninstalling within an hour of trying again.

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Mick the Barbarian

Lockboxes are the reason I refuse to play Cryptic games, even though I have lifetime subs for CO and STO. The predatory behaviour of using lockboxes sickens me.

semugh
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semugh

still cryptic’s games are the most player friendly f2p games on the market. Mabbe only rivaled by path of exile.

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Arktouros

I think most people who are gaming these days are aware of the problem. However the whole “tailoring your personal experience” is entirely sensationalized. That generally speaking is very rare, or so rare I’ve never seen it in 20+ years of gaming. Every time I watch a streamer or see a video their cash shop offerings look identical to mine.

Where I think opinions differ is what people expect as a realistic solution. Legislation is a bad solution that people often times don’t understand the full implications of what that will entail when they call for it. It’s a knee jerk, childish response that they ran into something they don’t like and they want big Daddy government to stop the bad men from being bad. Thankfully, it’s also highly unlikely to occur for a variety of reasons.

Ririrawr
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Ririrawr

+1 to mewmew for pmuch nailing it on the head

i have seen mobile games’ monetisation with lockboxes and the difference between that and normal mmos is pretty huge (and damning)

lockboxes on trek and champs are all but irrelevant in gameplay (even endgame) and you can get a LOT of the goodies (if you want, and again, they don’t make or break one’s playstyle) from the exchange/auction stuff… AND it lets trek introduce some ships that are “not meant to be too prevalent” due to ip holder concerns as well :3

might be annoying to see them in your inventory when you don’t want anything to do with them though :P

but neverwinter… i am trying not to bash it because i am pretty mad at them… buuuuuuut… from the very first day, it did not FEEL like a cryptic game at all. and NW lockboxes do sell power. that is not cool.

they have a very strong emphasis on monetisation there, far far more than the other titles COMBINED. cluttering up the inventory (where even most of the quest-related items would take up multiple slots) to promote bag purchases, for example. blaaaah

also recently, and the first time i’m seeing it, skyforge has re-introduced an actual… scratch-ticket lottery. i have WAY more of an issue with that than reasonable lockboxes

again, if you have seen lockboxes in other games that require a key to open and how they advertise them there… compared to that STO is so lax in comparison.

BUUUUUUUT… all my fanning over STO does not mean lockboxes or any kind of chance-prize is ever truly okay, because the urge to gamble is very very prominent, taking advantage of that the way some games do is truly repulsive. and because of the MANY ways you can get around lockboxes, i honestly don’t feel they are predatory in trek nor champs… yet.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Star Trek Online is actually pretty forgiving with the lockboxes. Not only can you trade IAP currency for mined Dilithium in game, but everything from the lockboxes can be bought and sold for normal in game money, including the keys to open them. Though you’re better off finding the item you want from the lockbox and looking it up on the in game market to buy it (they’re always there), people always buy up the keys if you sell them as well so there is a big market for buying lockbox keys with in game currency to open them.

Star Trek Online is super forgiving with the lockboxes in comparison to most games. Though this guy didn’t work on STO, and I haven’t been in Neverwinter for a while to remember how they do it there (I still have it installed though and plan on playing it a bit again). If I remember correctly, it was pretty open to play for free without much reason to use lockboxes though other than for cosmetic stuff. I don’t know if that changed up.

Real predatory boxes are in mobile games where you get your power from the boxes and it takes massive amounts of money to get a single good draw when you need many. They make billions off both that, and pay to win mechanics in PvP games there. There seems to be a lot of people with a great amount of disposable income playing mobile, this kind of stuff still happens in full force there. I admit it has got a little better but that’s because there are so many different games to choose from that the competition forced them to have to reduce it a tad (and some of the old companies act like spoiled children over the fact that hate to have to reduce it and will shut down a game that is profitable just because it isn’t overly profitable).

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squid

I remember noticing that in The Division. The whole animation/sound sequence for opening a lockbox was by far the most polished art in the entire game.

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Castagere Shaikura

Every time I try a PWE game I uninstall it a day later. This is why I worry about Torchlight Frontiers.

kjempff
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kjempff

Stating the obvious.
And it goes futher than just lootboxes, most shop items are carefully calculated to play on psychological weaknesses – It is part of a game designers job now, and some have specialized in it.

PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

I remember going to a Dave & Busters some time ago, they had a bunch of ticket games that were EXTREMELY based on chance, almost no different from gambling. Hell, they even had slot machines that dispensed tickets instead of money.

I still wonder how that’s not already illegal or covered under gambling laws at the very least.