Blindbox Gambling

TL;DR: Are Lootboxes, trading card packs, Kinder eggs, Gachapon machines and BlindBox Toys gambling?


The release of Star Wars Battlefront II has brought the issue with lootboxes back into the limelight, though of course they are not the first to implement such a monetization, with particularly Overwatch being criticized by some segments of the gaming community, e.g. Jim Sterling. Other examples include Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

For those not in the know, these games will routinely drop a “lootbox” as an ingame item. These can be opened and reveal an assortment of other ingame items, the frequency of which is tied to a probability.

With Star Wars Battlefront EA has garnered heavy criticism for it due to the length a player must play the game to make sure to unlock certain characters in the game. This includes the Belgian Gambling Commission who are investigating the game. Other politicians have also weighed in.


To me personally as someone who grew up with Kinder eggs, Panini sticker books etc. I don’t see that big of an issue with it, at least if the Lootboxes only include cosmetic items and are not a “pay-to-win” vector and contain strictly better weapons or character upgrades.

I am also a heavily enfranchised player of Magic the Gathering, a game that operates on a similar economic model and does contain gameplay altering elements. However, this is also an integral part as certain formats of the game are intrinsically reliant on this “blind box” principal, e.g. draft.

There are also other geeky things that rely on this, i.e. blind box toys and gachapon machines that are extremely popular in Japan.

I think the biggest difference here is that with all these things you get actual physical objects. While they are gambling in the sense that you don’t know the outcome, it’s less of a risk due to the fact that at some point people realize they have a bunch of chotchkies and probably should stop. Meanwhile a digital object take up no space or other reminders of how many times you rolled the dice on this before. It is far easier to compartmentalize. Meanwhile producers of these games still attempt to make the process as appealing as possible, and they are inadvertently helped by YouTubers producing easy content with videos a la “Look at me opening 200 lootboxes”.


But what do you guys think? Are Lootboxes gambling? Is there a significant difference between Lootboxes and say a Gachapon machine? If not should they all be regulated equally? Do you have a significant hobby that operates on a similar mechanic?

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Japanese law draws a distinction between physical and digital gacha. Games that include gacha mechanics are required to disclose the odds of pulling a particular item or character, while gacha machines aren’t.

It’s worse than gambling.

Let’s say you go to a casino to play roulette. I use that game because it has the simplest math.

First of all, at least at a legit casino, you have assurances that the game is not rigged. There is a gambling commission regulating the games. You also know the odds. You know that a bet on red has a 46.37% chance of doubling your money and a 53.63% chance of losing all your money. You know that if you keep betting on red over time you will eventually lose all your money. You also know that if you somehow get very lucky, you could get a large amount of money and stop and leave with more money than you started with. DO NOT DO THIS. Even though it is possible, it is not likely.

Now consider some simple gambling. The crane game at the “arcade”. You put money in the crane machine. You know that you are never getting any of that money back ever. You have 100% chance of losing everything. You could, however, win a toy of some kind. You don’t know the value of the toy. You don’t know the odds of winning. There is no guarantee the crane is not rigged. It in fact, is rigged.

http://www.pandavending.com/MANUALS/Toy%20Crane%20Manual.pdf

Here is the operating manual for a basic crane machine. Read it and weep if you ever believed claw machines involved any skill whatsoever. They do not. Even the Omegaclaw was likely a sham.

So what of video games with microtransactions with lootboxes? They all have some things in common. Their randomness is at best, just as evil as cranes, and possibly more evil. The odds are secret. You are guaranteed to lose 100% of your money. You get in return some random stuff, and you do not know the odds of getting what you want. It could easily be programmed to be more psychologically predatory than claw machines, changing the odds based on user profiles and such.

They are all worse than cranes because at least a crane gives you a physical object that has at least a non-zero value. Even a tiny bootleg plushie is worth something. In a video game all you get is some bits changed in a database. This has no value. Also, the game is not going to last forever. When the game dies, your value is all gone. Even if you win, you get effectively nothing.

Yet, it varies highly by game. Let’s examine some actual real world games.

1 - Overwatch, DotA, Counter-Strike, etc. Everything you can gamble for in these games is purely cosmetic. Overwatch costs money to buy, but that’s it. If you did care about getting cosmetic stuff, then you would fall into a trap of losing a bunch of money on an incredibly evil scheme as described above. However, smart people are able to play and get full enjoyment of the game without gambling a dime. Nothing is denied someone who wisely refuses to gamble. Therefore it is fine to play these games. Just be aware that your free play enjoyment is being funded by idiots and children who are being fleeced by one of history’s most crooked casinos.

2 - Hearthstone, Gwent, M:tG, other digital CCGs, etc. While each CCG has different payout schemes, some better than others, they are all card games, and have the same fundamental problems. These are games where you need to invest time and money to get all the game pieces. Some game pieces you can do without, and some you need to be competitive.

These companies could just set a flat price for each release/expansion. They use a gambling/pack opening scheme to raise their revenue on the same product. They could charge a flat rate for all the cards. But what if the amount of packs required to get a full set is random? Some people get a full set for $200, some for $500 some for even more. Yet, some people don’t want ALL the cards. They get the cards they want for less money. Time can also be used instead of money. It’s a game with a varying price. Rather than having a set price, they let people pay in accordance to how much they can afford and how much they care. Effectively it’s just a scheme where you get the maximum money out of each player. It comes out to way more than $50-100 per player.

Also, keeping people from getting the full set easily allows them to offer rewards to players for continuing to play over time. If you got a full set of HearthStone cards for $100 per expansion, you wouldn’t do your quests every day, because you wouldn’t need gold. Thus, you wouldn’t be constantly playing and getting hooked, and you wouldn’t buy the next expansion since you aren’t playing the game that much. Only competitive players who actually enjoyed the game itself would be motivated to stick with it. People quit Netrunner a lot more easily than they quit M:tG because there’s no hook of valuable prizes keeping people locked in.

3 - The straight up evil pay to win games. Actual game content is locked behind gambling. Actual tools that give you an advantage in game are locked behind pay/time walls. Straight up pay to win with no shame. The card games aren’t even this evil. They are pay to play. Once you pay enough you are in, and can compete with the champs Here you have almost no limit to how much money you can burn. Whoever spends the most wins the most. Is it even a game or just a place where the idiots who set the most money on fire get to have big egos and show off?

This is so much more insidious than even an actual casino. In an actual casino if you lose, you know it. You walk out with less money than you went in with. Remember in a pay to win game, every dollar you spend is 100% gone. You have a 100% chance of losing. Yet, they make you feel like a winner every single time. You always get something.

Imagine a slot machine. You put in a dollar. The dollar is gone. Yet, the screen says winner. Fireworks go off. Fancy pictures appear. No money comes out. Yet, you are a winner! You won this jpg! Put in another dollar. Congratulations! You won again! What did you win? Your prize is that you get someone to tell you you are a winner! Oh, you’re money? It’s gone now. Bye bye.

Weren’t there other games that dropped lootboxes and required paying real money in order to open them? (Not directly of course) I want to think that’s partially why I stopped playing Star Trek online.

Interestingly enough I don’t talk about this much but PAYDAY2 did this.

One patch long long ago one day I finish a bank heist and as my reward which is usually like a drop system where you just get some generic in game loot. I got a safe, right click on it and it’s like do you wanna buy a drill to open the safe?

I went to their reddit to figure out what was up? Place was a madhouse everyone was so furious. I stopped playing that day and uninstalled about a week later when I’d not played in a week.

So yeah other games have implemented this.

If I can spend real-world money for a chance at something in a game where I don’t know for sure what I will end up with, I am by definition gambling my money.

Quite simply, I think any game should have to publish all percentage rates for any drops/lootbox/etc., but it should be legally enforced on games where you can spend real money directly to buy randomized drops. I think the game should just tell you the drop rates within the game, but if they want to keep items secret or that’s inconvenient, I think a separate but highly advertised/linked source for drop rates is also acceptable.

I don’t mind a game with premium unlocks that are unique but equal to normal earned in game content. I like games where i can pay to expedite an unlock for a specific thing i want. Not because im likely to spend that money, but because i know the system plainly going in, and so if o ever were compelled to spend money I at least could do so with a direct transaction.

War Thunder does mostly this. There are random boosts and money drops you get every day or earn by doing things in game. So the only real random unlocks are not ones you pay money for. Fine, that works for me. So while War Thunder content is not particularly cheap, because I enjoky the game and appreciate the work involved to make it, I did buy a few vehicle packs over the years.

However I would not pay a dime if it was for random bullshit. As Scott points out it’s worse than gambling at the casino and it’s not even satisfying. There is a shopper’s impulse rush that goes off when I see a thing for X and i know I can buy it for that; even if it’s more than I think it would be worth, whether it’s videja game content, or fancy headphones, or a part for my metal lathe, or a new computer part. That consumer lust rush is a real thing and is its own vice, but at thr very least its a transparent and direct transaction with the same moral dillema of whrther or not to buy a nice lunch today. The lootbox thing gives me none of that. No amount of random chance at some artificially locked content seems to build desire to open the wallet.

There’s more to that story. So, basically, how Payday 2 got made and continued on, 505 games bought the IP, and Overkill(the original devs and IP holders) developed the game. After PD1, they knew they had something big on their hands, but Overkill lacked the resources to make something as big as PD2 like they wanted, so 505 stepped in to give them a hand. They resisted the idea of the Safes(their TF2-ish crate-and-key system), until 505 forced their hand.

Overkill were already unhappy, and the massive public outcry(Payday is a surprisingly popular franchise), which pushed Overkill to gather up their profits from the game, and buy their IP back from 505. As soon as they did that, they made Safes free to open, and the only way to “Buy” them is from other players on the market. Old pay-safes are still around, but only as a legacy item, they can’t drop anymore.

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No kidding? They fixed it? Hell, I may reinstall. That’s delightful news.

No kidding. They’ve made a bunch of other huge changes too, including multi-heist “crime sprees” with escalating difficulty and rewards, trainable AI bots(with selectable loadouts), new heists and weapons(as expected), skill loadout slots and easily re-selectable skills, a bunch of new features and a bunch of hud cleanup, it’s got a lot of new stuff for you to see.

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