A recent survey at Casino.ca titled “Gimme The Loot! Analyzing Perception of Video Game Loots Boxes” offers a look at loot boxes and related mechanics in a number of popular games and surveys over 1,000 participants about their experiences and how microtransactions are viewed by them.
A few caveats should be listed before anyone dives into the survey, because one must assume for the sake of simplicity, the survey lumped all manner of in-game purchases to the name “loot box”, which is not only incorrect, it misrepresents how some of these games seek revenue from players. Fortnite: Battle Royale requires a brief discussion, for it is one of the most popular titles, but also misrepresented in this survey.
The survey lists Fortnite: Battle Royale as the number one game for which respondents purchased loot boxes at 23.1% of participants, coming in at an average of $63 per user in the last year, though League of Legends players spent more on average per year at $96. However, Fortnite does not sell loot boxes or anything approximating the mechanic. All items in that game are cosmetic and are purchased directly through an item shop. There is no randomization or odds that affect a purchase, and instead, what you see is what you get.
With that out of the way, the survey asked respondents a number of questions about their loot box purchasing habits. The favored genre appears to be MOBAs, with, “Men and gamers who preferred multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games were the most likely to do so, with 74% of male gamers and 81% of those favoring the MOBA genre having made a purchase. And it doesn't stop at console video games – 1 in 3 gamers had purchased a loot box in a mobile game.”
Interestingly, the survey finds that most did not purchase a loot box with the goal of winning additional weapons, character attire, or enhanced abilities. Instead, “42% of players said they'd bought a box just for fun. Aside from the dopamine rush brought on by opening a box with unknown contents, 35.2% of gamers purchased a loot box to enhance their gaming experience, while 33.2% and 32% did so to customize their character's appearance and take a chance on gaining an advantage, respectively.”
For all the respondents who bought a loot box for a reason other than the fun of it, the experience was often disappointing. This is because most of these loot boxes come with no clear odds or regulations, so much so that around half of the respondents regretted purchasing a loot box after the fact. The survey goes on to state that some may consider these poor outcomes as reason to turn players against loot boxes, but others claim that an increase in regulation that includes clear odds, no duplicate items, and steps to protect children would be better than an overall ban.
According to Tech Analysts Juniper Research, loot boxes and related mechanics are set to generate around $50 billion for the industry by the year 2022. Clearly, the loot box mechanic must be considered in the months and years to come, especially those that promote gambling to youth.
At this point, it is crucial to return to the initial problem with the survey, and many similar to it, and that is that all too often the parties seeking to examine the problem of loot boxes in today’s video game industry do not fully understand the differences between each game. Fortnite should not appear within the survey at all, for there is nothing in the game that resembles a gambling mechanic, and doing so undermines the survey to its core.
The straightforward, direct method of selling cosmetics items in Fortnite is lauded by consumers as a reason to spend money in that game, because the developer, Epic Games, is not seeking to manipulate them. Others on the list, like EA, are notorious for seeking to nickel-and-dime their players with these gambling style boxes, both for Star Wars Battlefront II and Apex Legends.
Hearthstone is another title that should arguably be omitted from the list because it is a Collectable Card Game (CCG), similar to Magic: The Gathering Arena. There, players are aware that each purchase of a card pack comes with, at minimum, four cards of common rarity and one of the rare variety. The expected dust value of an average card pack in the long term is 102.71 Arcane Dust. The legendary pity timer and new set timer also provide invaluable information regarding what one can expect in both the short- and long-term collection of cards. While some of these are estimated odds, they are and must remain apart from loot boxes in other games.
Overall, this points to an invaluable first step by Casino.ca in their survey, but it falls flat for incorrectly attributing the label of loot box to all of these games, and given the stakes here are the long-term ability to sell some of the worst, most manipulative gambling mechanics to children, they should do better next time.