Loot Box, the word that brings a cold shudder to many gamers now. The recent fiasco with Star Wars Battlefront 2 has really brought this issue into the spotlight. Many agreed and felt that EA was exploiting their players with the loot box system, and many discussions were held regarding this issue.
Now, instead of focusing on why lootbox is the invention of satan himself, I want to focus on the aspect of when loot box implementation could be acceptable and actually make the game more enjoyable. In my opinion, there’s only 3 main scenarios where they are acceptable.
Lootboxes in Free-to-Play Games
There are plenty of free games with lootbox mechanics, such as Battlerite, Heroes of The Storm, Hearthstone, Paladins and recently, even League of Legends as well.
In the scenario of a free game, I think it’s justified for lootbox to be implemented even if some level of power can be obtained through the lootboxes, even in the case of CCG games like Hearthstone where tons of decks would not work unless you get one legendary card. It just makes sense for a developer to implement lootbox systems in a free-to-play game in order to monetise the game, and in some cases like Hearthstone, become their main form of monetisation.
However, in these free-to-play games, the developers are usually incentivised to balance the lootbox system so it’s not too easy to obtain, nor is it too hard. That way it keeps its players engaged, and at the same time, nudge the paying customer to pay and fast track themselves to amazing new content just to save some time.
You can see this happening most obviously in Hearthstone, where the card packs (the game’s form of lootbox) can be quite easily obtained. You can earn approximately 1 pack every 2 days just from normal play but you are heavily incentivised to purchase the packs in order to play with the newest mechanics and to play on a competitive level as the new cards usually offer a lot more variety and options for deck building in the competitive level.
All of the mentioned incentives for developers to balance out their lootbox system is thrown out of a window for a paid game, since the players have already paid for the game itself, which is what happened to Star Wars Battlefront 2. Sometimes, the developer may even benefit from deliberately making the lootbox system broken in a paid game since some people may think along the lines of “I’ve already paid for the game, I might as well just pay an extra 5 dollars to enjoy the game a little more.”
Lootboxes containing only cosmetic items
The other time when I think lootboxes are justified is when the lootboxes only contain cosmetic items, such as in the case with Overwatch being one of the most popular examples. In these cases, the lootbox doesn’t affect the gameplay directly since the item obtained from it is just cosmetic in nature. This is acceptable in both free-to-play and paid games. Some of the paid games examples are Counter Strike: Global Offense and Overwatch.
The biggest issue most people expressed regarding lootboxes is how it is random in nature. Personally, I think that isn’t the biggest issue, but instead, its the content of the lootbox. If the content of the lootbox affects gameplay directly, especially when it gives a power spike and unfair advantage to the player.
The lootbox system shouldn’t give players an unfair advantage over non paying customers, especially in a paid game. Imagine if Counter Strike: Global Offense offered players to get objectively stronger weapons via lootboxes, it would be total chaos, especially in the competitive scene where a player can obtain an unfair advantage objectively just by spending a little more cash.
Lootboxes containing content that can also be bought with in-game currency
This is seen in a lot of paid and free-to-play titles, like the aforementioned League of Legends where everything you can obtain through the Champion Capsule can be bought using in-game currency, which honestly, isn’t very hard to earn in the first place. In fact, it is quite possible to unlock every single character without spending a single penny. This works well because the lootbox feels like an extension to the original progression system of the game via in-game currencies, instead of being the main form of progression in the game.
I feel that by simply allowing people to buy the things that the lootbox contains, it gives the player a better sense of control and makes getting that item via lootbox a bonus, instead of binding the players under the wrath of RNG (random number generator). To a lesser extent, this can be seen in Overwatch as well, where the in-game currency can be obtained whenever you get a duplicate through the lootbox, allowing you to purchase the cosmetic item you want if you’ve collected enough in-game currency.
All in all, I think the lootbox system isn’t broken in itself. It can be quite rewarding and fun if it is balanced. Take Overwatch and League of Legends as an example. Whenever I get a lootbox, I feel rewarded and it’s quite satisfying to open those lootboxes, but I’m not particularly frustrated by its outcome even when I get nothing of value from the lootbox since it doesn’t really impact the gameplay. It’s just a little fun bonus to the game itself. It all depends on how its implemented and how its managed.
With that said, your wallet is the best microphone, so speak with your wallet and don’t buy any lootboxes if you think it is implemented poorly and it ultimately affects the game negatively.