In the last few weeks, much has been written about video game loot boxes. The articles and social media posts have raised some pertinent questions: ‘are loot boxes gambling?’ and ‘is it right that children have access to them?’ being just a couple of examples.

But time and time again I’m seeing the argument come back to ‘examples of good and bad loot boxes’. This is for naught: there is no such thing as a ‘good’ video game loot box because every loot box system stinks.

A bad loot box, per the current debate, is a loot box that is pay to win or provides a tangible gameplay advantage, such as those in the recent Star Wars Battlefront 2 beta. It’s understandable why many players feel this way – this sort of loot box appears more disruptive or has a higher perceived impact on the game than a loot box that only sells cosmetics. I fully support the viewpoint that it’s wrong and unfair for games to give players with more money a gameplay advantage. I want to get ahead based on my skill, not my disposable income.

Forza Motorsport 7 prize crates

A good loot box, meanwhile, is classed as something like Overwatch which packages skins, sprays, victory poses, and voice lines in its loot boxes. Or even Destiny 2, which sells Bright Engrams which include shaders (essentially cans of paint for your armor), emotes, new ships and weapon ‘ornaments’ (cans of paint for your Exotic weapons).

These good loot boxes are just as insidious, however, because they still prey on our worst fears and ugliest desires; that fear of being left out and that desire of being part of a club with a higher social status.

The Loot Divide

As I type these words, I realize that you’re probably scoffing, thinking ‘I don’t feel any of those things, what are you talking about?’ but we’ve all felt it. It’s the reason you’ll equip the shiny gold shader over the matte, camo-green one in Destiny 2, it’s why you can’t help but feel a pang of delight (and maybe you’ll do a little ‘whoop’ and a fist pump) when you unlock your latest Overwatch legendary.

Loot boxes – whether they include gameplay-altering items or cosmetic goodies that are just for show – create a feedback loop specifically designed to get us to gamble and spend more. Whether it’s for a spot at the top of the leaderboard or perceived social status, loot boxes divide us into ‘haves and have-nots’ and makes us spend for the privilege of getting out of the lesser-regarded group.

There is simply no such thing as a good example of a loot box, but the fact that this needs to be said at all just showcases exactly how this business model became a problem in the first place.

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Jasmine Henry

Staff Writer at New Normative
Jasmine Henry is a games and technology writer from the UK who has been playing video games since before she could tie her own shoelaces. She is also a serial games hoarder (thanks Steam sales!) and dreams of a day when the representation of women and minorities in games is no longer debated and is simply just the ‘norm’.