Oxygen

On Loot Boxes and Morality

52 posts in this topic

As an interesting note.  I stopped playing HoTS almost completely; largely due to the heroes 2.0 change.  But as a long time MTG player, I have had no problem with hearthstone, despite it being largely the same.  I mean, it is completely understandable since I have been. . . indoctrinated into the randomness of collectable cards (and hey I can trade in 4 of these for one of the same rarity, can't do that in magic!).  Which I think just shows the potential dangers of this sort of system.  Once it becomes common place, we just sort of accept it for the norm and don't really question it.  

Edited by VaraTreledees
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As long as it's just optional cosmetics I'm fine. Blizzard isn't as stupid as EA and actually respects the playerbase.

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7 hours ago, Oxygen said:
  • Random microtransactions exploit human behavioural weaknesses to generate significantly more profit than traditional transactions.

Nihil novi sub sole...

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9 minutes ago, Keizoku said:

Nihil novi sub sole...

Oh, I know, but loot boxes being relatively new makes them pretty unknown for most.

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I love loot boxes. They helped me get rid of my gaming addiction and start enjoying real life again.

Thank you, gaming industry.

Sarcasm aside I think the real question isn't "are loot boxes a form of gambling" but rather are they designed to trigger dopamine releases in your brain - just like social media "likes" - in order to get you addicted.

I think the answer is obviously yes.

Edited by Scambug
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Being rewarded for playing the game, and not absolutely have to pay for ingame content, is for me a great motivation to keep playing. I like the excitement of getting the lootboxes. Even if there can be long between something really good comes up, I still want to collect it all, because of this system. Just keep them boxes comming my way :)

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A thoughtful post, but factually incorrect. Microtransactions have been part of gaming for longer than a decade. Commercial MUDs first pioneered RMTs and microtransactions (and the virtual goods model in general) far earlier. 

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As long as you're willing to pay monthly, Blizzard will respect you.
The only reason for a corporation is to make money to satisfy its investors.

If the players here are happy too, that can always continue.

But if the subscription rates go down, as with many similar games, they have to find another way to make their shareholders happy

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10 hours ago, Oxygen said:

Valve's logic was that by making their game mostly available for free, gamers would flock to the popular title in such numbers that even if only a small fraction of those players ended up spending, they would generate a profit.

They are not wrong. It is actually a really smart marketing strategy, and as you stated through your article, it is a way to "toy" with the human nature. Just like South Park showed us, people LOVE free stuff. "Wow, so I can play this awesome game without spending a dime? FUCK YEAH!"

From Valve's perspective, it's a win-win situation. With free games more people will play their stuff, spread popularity, so more people will play. And with their constant updates do TF2 they won the playerbase trust and loyalty; therefore the most loving fans will spend money at good will to support Valve. Which is not wrong. It's, all in all, a healthy relationship.

But everything changed when the Fire Nation EA attacked.

10 hours ago, Oxygen said:

One of the most typical aspects of competitive free-to-play games is that they almost ubiquitously require players to spend a steady amount of money to stay in the loop.

Yes, this is where things get fucked up. Hearthstone actually has a logic behind this because it tries its best to simulate a real-life card game experience, where one has to buy Boosters and Packs to find their desired cards. I'm not defending them, but sadly that is how it works. Predating on human basic instincts is something that is done since the dawn of humanity. Even the religion shows this with the Adam and Eve.

At least in Heroes of the Storm it's mainly cosmetics, which I'm perfectly fine with. Sure, I really REALLY want those Bucaneer Falstad and Maraudin Muradin skins, but that won't ruin my experience playing the game nor give me disadvantages.

10 hours ago, Oxygen said:

The human demand for gambling is undeniable.

Much like I said above, humans exploit their own basic instincts since the forever. If there are two things we can be certain about humanity is that we are ruled by boobs and gambling; it is an undeniable fact. Why do you think Bender's most famous quote is about "blackjack and hookers"?

__________________________________________________

Great article, by the way, as expected from our former Ducklord. I actually enjoy lootboxes by the fact that it doesn't force me to actually spend real money. As long they're not using cheap pay-to-win strategies as EA. Cosmetics are fine as lootbox contents.

Personal story below.

Spoiler

My first contact with lootboxes was through playing Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer, where it was pay-to-win situation, because lootboxes contained characters and weapons. However, since the multiplayer mode is a coop survival against waves of AI enemies, it is not as impactful because you'll be having fun regardless of not having the best equipment. Plus the game's leveling system can make your character have presence in the matches if you build them well. The only classes that are REALLY dependent on top-tier weapons are Soldiers and Infiltrators (the "physical-based" classes), while the other classes can be built around their Power-based cooldowns ("mage-like"), which generally means that a solid build can make a difference even if you have the shittiest gear. So in the end, it didn't matter to me because I liked the "mage-classes" better.

I don't (usually) really get obssessed and frustrated that I don't get one of those Legendary Skins I've been wanting for a long time, so when I finally get them without expecting anything, it is a pleasant surprise.

The only time I've spent money in Heroes of the Storm was to buy The Butcherlisk skin, and after doing so I felt very bad, using my hard earned cash to buy a virtual cosmetic in a game, specially since in Brazil the taxing on dolars really hurts, so skins' values were 3x as expensive. Like, "I could be using this money for something more useful".

Edited by Valhalen
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One aspect I think is key to micro-transactions as a business model and possible as a whole is constructing a sense of legitimacy or "fairness", and the thought my brain ran away with while reading this post was how daily quests very cleverly tie something with arbitrary value to something with immutable or fixed value.

The rewards from daily quests or regular log-ins often have no actual value from their outset, their supply is limitless, it costs nothing to create or distribute them, their value is determined by how they fit into the rest of the system, how many funbucks do you need to save up for something with an actual gameplay effect.

But the reward is only one of the variables here, the other variable is time, the daily part, and since time waits for no man, this is a variable that wont bend no matter how seductively your credit card details oogle the premium currency menu. Time passes at the same rate for everyone.

The rewards, the arbitrary value, entirely controlled by the company in charge become seemingly based on a system of distribution that is forever equal in judgement, lending it a sense of legitimacy. "How could daily quests be unfair? Time has no bias."

While you could dispute if this gives a sense of fairness or even has any effect on the perception of things, it's hard to deny that by attaching something with value that would otherwise fluctuate with trends or, god forbid, be decided by the players themselves, to a universal aspect of how we experience life, the true value of the reward is greatly obscured, as to decide how much it is really worth, you would need to put a price on your time.

And deciding how much your time is worth is far easier for a team of analysts with a plethora of logistical data about buying habits, playtime, and gaming trends, than it is for someone who just wants to play a game and be entertained.

 

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2 hours ago, Valhalen said:

The only time I've spent money in Heroes of the Storm was to buy The Butcherlisk skin, and after doing so I felt very bad, using my hard earned cash to buy a virtual cosmetic in a game, specially since in Brazil the taxing on dolars really hurts, so skins' values were 3x as expensive. Like, "I could be using this money for something more useful".

Every time I spend the $50 dollars at the release of a Hearthstone expansion, I feel exactly the same way.  I really enjoy playing the game and unfortunately, you need to spend at least that $50 at the expansion release to keep up.  I play pretty regularly and when the next expansion is released, I generally have all the commons, all the rares and about half of the epics.  Usually 5-8 legendaries.  It feels so bad to be forced to spend this $50 dollars each time but without it, there is no way I could play and keep up.

 

8 hours ago, VaraTreledees said:

indoctrinated into the randomness of collectable cards (and hey I can trade in 4 of these for one of the same rarity, can't do that in magic!).

Vara, you are looking at this completely wrong.  Magic is a trading card game.  Hearthstone is not.  That is a huge difference in how much your duplicate cards are worth.  I'm not going to explain this for you as Alec here at Icy Veins already does for us.

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39 minutes ago, seeth07 said:

Vara, you are looking at this completely wrong.  Magic is a trading card game.  Hearthstone is not.  That is a huge difference in how much your duplicate cards are worth.  I'm not going to explain this for you as Alec here at Icy Veins already does for us.

You sort of missed my point.  Having played collectible card games for my entire life, I have grown accustomed to the random nature of them.  Which means when I started playing hearthstone, another card game, I never really questioned the loot distribution system.  It never bothered me, because that is how I expected it to work from previous card games.  However, I hated HotS's change to the loot system, despite being nearly identical to that of hearthstone (in fact it is arguably better since you are only gambling on random cosmetic things as opposed to stuff that actually affects the game play).The little quip about being able to trade them in for 1/4th the value was just me being glib.

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1 hour ago, seeth07 said:
9 hours ago, VaraTreledees said:

indoctrinated into the randomness of collectable cards (and hey I can trade in 4 of these for one of the same rarity, can't do that in magic!).

Vara, you are looking at this completely wrong.  Magic is a trading card game.  Hearthstone is not.  That is a huge difference in how much your duplicate cards are worth.  I'm not going to explain this for you as Alec here at Icy Veins already does for us.

No, but as Vara said, you can trade 4 cards for 1 of the same rarity, So,  if you have 4 usless epics, you can dust they and craft the one you need...

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6 hours ago, prankquean said:

A thoughtful post, but factually incorrect. Microtransactions have been part of gaming for longer than a decade. Commercial MUDs first pioneered RMTs and microtransactions (and the virtual goods model in general) far earlier. 

I'll certainly look into that and amend the post to reflect that if my findings are interesting enough. Thanks for the comment!

5 hours ago, Valhalen said:

Much like I said above, humans exploit their own basic instincts since the forever. If there are two things we can be certain about humanity is that we are ruled by boobs and gambling; it is an undeniable fact. Why do you think Bender's most famous quote is about "blackjack and hookers"?

Boobs, I can understand. Gambling is just... dopamine? Perhaps?

3 hours ago, Sepulchritude said:

One aspect I think is key to micro-transactions as a business model and possible as a whole is constructing a sense of legitimacy or "fairness", and the thought my brain ran away with while reading this post was how daily quests very cleverly tie something with arbitrary value to something with immutable or fixed value.

That's exactly why boxes might sound appealing; that's certainly an insidious I've fallen prey to myself. Something about my time being devalued so much.

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19 minutes ago, Oxygen said:

Boobs, I can understand. Gambling is just... dopamine? Perhaps?

Pretty much. The unknown always mess with people's heads. And the idea of risking something in exchange of another of greater value also has a massive impact in the psyche because it can easily overdose one with dopamine and lead to addiction.

For example, gambling is severely strong in the Asian countries, specially in Japan, with the Gashapon and Pachinko machines. In a similar vein, in the Western people love slot machines and card games like poker and blackjack. You win once, win twice, and keep going, trying to win more. A paralel with Heroes of the Storm, for example, would be the reroll mechanic and pity roll, like you mentioned in the original post.

Sometimes I burn my gold with rerolls, because it runs pretty much like this: "Godamnit, 5 common items! Maybe if I reroll once I can get something useful. *Rerolls* Ok, there is 1 rare and 4 commons. I think I'll reroll just one more time to see if an Epic show up... *Rerolls* Whelp, no, 2 rares and 2 commons... Maybe just one more time. *Rerolls* FUCK, 5 commons again!"

Edited by Valhalen

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I love them because i spend zero out of game money on them.

My only gripe is that paying coins to reroll one is a total crap shoot.  You could get something better or worse.

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12 hours ago, Scambug said:

I love loot boxes. They helped me get rid of my gaming addiction and start enjoying real life again.

Thank you, gaming industry.

Sarcasm aside I think the real question isn't "are loot boxes a form of gambling" but rather are they designed to trigger dopamine releases in your brain - just like social media "likes" - in order to get you addicted.

I think the answer is obviously yes.

PSA: Basically everything that you like triggers dopamine releases in your brain. That's why you like it. Saying something is "designed to trigger dopamine releases in your brain in order to get you addicted" is basically just describing anything meant to appeal to people.

That's not to downplay the seriousness of people's problems with addiction. I'm not here to make light of anyone's struggles. But lately people seem to throw around talk of dopamine and addictiveness as if it's inherently a bad thing, when in reality it's pretty much part of the basic functionality of human brains.

Regarding loot boxes, I'm not sure how they're much different than trading cards, randomized collectible figurines, etc. except that they're digital now. I do agree that the "gems"/pseudo-currency thing can feel pretty disgusting considering how easy it makes it to lose track of how much you're actually spending, but then again, is even that that much different than the longstanding marketing convention of ending prices in 99 cents so that your brain thinks of a $3.99 item as $3 rather than $4? The job of marketing departments has always been to manipulate people to get as much money as possible out of their pockets. Expecting them to be ethical while doing so is* somewhere along the spectrum of naive to bizarre.

TL;DR - The question isn't "Is this ethical?", it's "Is this something that should be regulated, and if so, how?"

For example, one could suggest that digital marketplaces (such as the HotS collections tab) which use pseudo-currencies ("gems") should be required to show real currency price conversions alongside the gem prices on all items.

*At least in my opinion. One could argue ad nauseam about business ethics, which I don't really want to get into here, but my stance is that corporations are inherently non-ethical entities. If we as consumers / society wish them to behave or not behave in certain ways, then it's our job to regulate them, not their job to behave ethically out of the goodness of their nonexistent hearts.

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1 hour ago, clepsydriska said:

*At least in my opinion. One could argue ad nauseam about business ethics, which I don't really want to get into here, but my stance is that corporations are inherently non-ethical entities. If we as consumers / society wish them to behave or not behave in certain ways, then it's our job to regulate them, not their job to behave ethically out of the goodness of their nonexistent hearts.

I agree with your post, but we run into issues, however, when the will of the people becomes disconnected with the political systems in place. One lobbyist having their way might void the opinion of a million individuals, just as one strange lawsuit decision (the Pokémon one) will forever affect future decisions.

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I'm not really into gambling. I have not spent a dime on HotS (and I don't play other Blizzard games atm), and I don't plan on doing it. Never ever played the lottery, or even poker, blackjack, etc in my whole life.

Does that make me an alien?

I have, however, spent A LOT on Dota 2 cosmetics. That was because I could buy exactly what I wanted in the Community Market. I didn't risk losing money because of acquiring "a chance to earn something I wanted" as in a loot box, treasure chest, or whatever, but I spent money in buying exactly what I wanted.

Edited by Leadblast

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6 hours ago, Leadblast said:

I have, however, spent A LOT on Dota 2 cosmetics. That was because I could buy exactly what I wanted in the Community Market. I didn't risk losing money because of acquiring "a chance to earn something I wanted" as in a loot box, treasure chest, or whatever, but I spent money in buying exactly what I wanted.

I think a lot of people are in the same boat, but I'll make the fair (I think?) assumption that randomized microtransactions just generate more profits. Heroes made the switch for a reason back in May.

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On 1/3/2018 at 10:16 AM, Dejo93 said:

As long as it's just optional cosmetics I'm fine. Blizzard isn't as stupid as EA and actually respects the playerbase.

Have you heard of hearthstone?

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3 hours ago, Kurosu said:

Have you heard of hearthstone?

I actually have a good taste in games

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The things is... I have about 130 items in HoTS that I've never checked out. I couldn't care less about sprays and voicelines, I even removed their hotkeys. I care about skins somewhat, but not near enough to consider spending money on it. The only thing I care about is boosters and heroes, but they are extremely rare. 

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25 minutes ago, Makrangoncias said:

The things is... I have about 130 items in HoTS that I've never checked out. I couldn't care less about sprays and voicelines, I even removed their hotkeys. I care about skins somewhat, but not near enough to consider spending money on it. The only thing I care about is boosters and heroes, but they are extremely rare. 

I think this is a point many are neglecting; although Heroes does shower you with loot, it's generally very unappealing because most of it is fluff and overlaps; I have about 9 Zeratul skins, for instance, but I only ever use one of them.

DotA II was thinking ahead with its cosmetic system, and the Heroes devs certainly didn't pick up on that.

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