Why Loot Boxes Make People So Angry

By Jason Schreier on at

It’s the 100th episode of Kotaku Splitscreen, and to celebrate, we’re... talking about video games, loot boxes, and much more.

First, Kirk and I reminisce a bit about 2+ years of Splitscreen. Then we get into news talk (19:09) about loot boxes, Oculus Go, and Valve’s Orange Box turning 10. Then we talk South Park, Steamworld Dig 2, and the new sexy Shelob game, Shadow of War.

Get the MP3 right here.

An excerpt:

Kirk: I think the issue there, with those [Destiny 2] engrams and with the loot boxes in Shadow of War, is more of an issue of messaging. And the way players see themselves through the eyes of the developers, I think is kind of what becomes problematic.

Jason: What do you mean by that?

Kirk: I think when players see developers seeing them as people to be tempted into spending more money, and into buying more things, where they see developers as withholding things from them and saying, ‘You can only get this, through this thing that you need to spend money on.’ An example in Destiny 2 is the fact that ships now, ships and speeders, really only drop from those Bright Engrams that you can buy, from those loot boxes. I don’t believe there is a ship or a speeder for the raid. There used to be, in Destiny 1 you’d get a ship when you beat the raid, and usually it was kind of cool-looking.

Jason: And to be clear, these are entirely cosmetic, ships and speeders.

Kirk: Right, but they are cool things you would get as an accomplishment. It was just one additional thing added to the raid loot table that now isn’t there and is totally restricted to the [microtransaction store] Eververse. So that feeling that they’re taking, even little things like that, out of the game and putting them into the Eververse gives you this kind of feeling that the developers or publishers or whoever is making these decisions is looking at you pitilessly and thinking ‘OK, we’ve got these people playing our game, how can we get them to spend money?’ Which, to be fair, they are, and they have reasons to do that. This is obviously a complicated and multifaceted issue. But that feeling is the feeling that causes players to get so upset about this kind of thing...

Jason: And unlike traditional microtransactions where you buy something for $5 (£3.80) or whatever, you buy your favourite costume, the loot box is designed in a predatory way to make you feel that rush of dopamine every time you open up one of those chests — oh my god, what could be inside, am I gonna hit the jackpot, am I gonna get my favourite thing? So it’s designed in this way that just makes you feel really gross, like you’re gambling. Fun fact, the ESRB just told me that they do not consider loot boxes to be gambling and will not be adding a gambling descriptor on games with loot boxes.

...

Jason: The question a lot of people are asking is ‘Why, when I pay $60 (£45) for this video game, am I expected to spend even more within it?’ And that is the question that I think will be a dominant point of discussion for the next few years. Because video game development costs are rising exponentially. And video game publishers need to conserve risk, they need to find ways to make money outside of the traditional $60 (£45) model. We are seeing the “games as a service” as a concept, and the model is that you buy into a game and keep spending money on it forever, because that’s how people play games these days. It’s something that I don’t believe is sustainable. I think we’re going to hit a point where this current route is not going to work. It’s just pissing too many people off, and games are too expensive, more expensive than they can feasibly be. Bad things are going to happen. So stay tuned for that. We’ll continue to report on that, and watch it, and comment on it, and hopefully the entire video game industry doesn’t explode. But I would not be shocked if, in 10 years, the video game landscape looks very different.

For more, listen to this week’s episode. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at splitscreen@kotaku.com with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.