Loot boxes. A loot box is a feature that is increasingly present in games precisely because it aims to improve and diversify the user experience. These are the well-known reward boxes that are distributed during the player's participation.
Video game loot boxes are accessible (i) during gameplay after the player has completed certain stages of the game or waited a certain period of time; or (ii) through optional payment by the player in currency.
For example, there are the well-known reward boxes that the player accesses when they pass a certain stage or buy access to, receiving a new item for use in the game itself (cards, in-game currency, items or skills to use on characters, etc.).
This is the concept taken from studies by the European Parliament that treat such practices in this way, such as the relevant one from 2020. Another example in this sense is the treatment given to the subject by the Belgian authority responsible (Belgian FPS Justice Gaming Commission), in which the term loot boxes comprises an umbrella of practices and game elements in which the player acquires items for free or for a fee in an apparently random manner.
There are three main elements that characterize a feature as a loot box, regardless of the game or the item it provides:
- Eligibility condition: the player needs to do something in order to gain access to the loot box.
This can happen in various ways. The most common is via gameplay, by passing stages, acquiring skills and overcoming milestones. The player's eligibility can also take the form of pre-defined waiting times, which can often be overcome by paying real money or by watching a certain advertising video. The image below is very representative of this dynamic:
- Reward selection procedure: there is an algorithm or some random selection process that determines the result obtained by the player.
What is expected and appropriate is that these processes ensure equal chances for all players in the same eligibility condition and that these mechanisms are duly auditable, in order to ensure transparency and algorithmic explainability. In addition, biased situations should be avoided by adopting appropriate frameworks, such as the ISO/IEC 24.027/2021 standard.
In this context, game distributors such as e have started to demand that game apps be able to ensure transparency for players in relation to loot box eligibility criteria, real chances and prize profiles.
- Prize: The player receives a prize that can vary depending on the experience.
It can be content for mere customization (items to be used as skins and new features for avatars) or items that affect the gameplay itself (tools, weapons, levels, maps, in-game currency, etc.). In the case of content, it doesn't affect the player's competitiveness, but only alters their aesthetic experience.
The others, however, directly affect competitiveness. In the latter case, when the player can pay for items, the practice of Play-to-Win is characterized.
Based on these three elements, Loot Boxes can be classified according to the following table:
Payment of current currencies
Short period of time played or low cost in current currencies
Long period played, high number of repetitions (grinding) or high cost in current currencies
|REWARD SELECTION PROCEDURE
The odds of obtaining the different items are known to the players.
The odds of obtaining the different items are unknown to the players.
Different items have similar or equal chances of appearing to users.
Some items can be considered rare (2% chance of appearing, for example) and others are considered common (50% chance of appearing, for example).
Purely cosmetic or customization.
|They directly affect the game's playability and competitiveness.
Play-to-earn. Another notable practice is Play to Earn (P2E), in which, in addition to entertainment, people earn rewards as the games progress. These can be items for the game itself (such as loot boxes) - a practice known as play-to-own (P2O), crypto-assets, financial values, or even experiences to be used outside the games.
Other purchasing systems. Unlike Loot Boxes in which there is an element of chance or luck present, as we have seen, games can feature other purchasing systems without luck.
These can be:
- Direct purchase of items: Players can shop directly for items that customize their experience or affect gameplay.
- Ad-viewing: Players can watch advertisements to unlock new items in the game. This practice is very common in situations where players have never spent any money on the game, so that the game's profitability comes from monetizing the ad itself. The Google Play store, for example, sets out its guidelines in this regard and options for developers.
- Add-ons and extensions: Games can be distributed in various versions and prices. In some cases, in order to have additional content, players need to pay for extensions.
- Game passes: Similar to extensions, some games allow you to buy specific access tickets or tickets for certain special events (a specific race, an event in the metaverse, etc.).
The series then goes on to look at legal and illegal gambling practices and current regulation.