The economy of lootboxes – it could always be worse

Posted on September 10, 2018 - Last Updated on September 18, 2020

Complaining about loot-boxes is nearly synonymous with gaming these days – they are everywhere, and the problem only seems to get worse over time, with more and worse iterations of them cropping up in games.

It’s gotten so bad that it drew politicians and lawmakers to the plan, and most recently, Belgium outlawed paid loot-boxes altogether, saying that they are essentially gambling. That was the result of a commission’s examination. Overwatch was among the games that the country forced to get rid of their loot-boxes.

Blizzard Entertainment

Other games did as well, but the whole affair caused an interesting rift – if Overwatch was to get rid of loot-boxes, what would be the alternative? There are two options. The first is to abolish paid additional content and skins altogether. This is extremely unlikely of course and so the other option is the more likely.

That is to say, instead of paid loot-boxes that have certain chances of containing items, users could buy these items directly and at face value – in other words, all elements of chance are removed. At first glance, this may seem like a viable solution of course, but it comes with an unpleasant side effect of course – a huge gap in price.

Overwatch has previously sold skins directly, and they were all rather expensive. This is likely what would happen to others as well, leading to overall far higher prices. Needless to say, fans of both the game and loot-boxes don’t really want that.

Considering the structure of the Overwatch economy, a large jump in price is almost guaranteed. Currently, loot-boxes contain 4 items each and Blizzard sells them in bundles. The larger the bundle, the cheaper the boxes, and the better your odds of getting great loot.

This is a little like bulk buying in the supermarket, and for players determined to get an item, this is a great way of getting not just the one item they want, but plenty more cool stuff in one swoop. The discounts make it a lot easier to get lots of new stuff as well… and all that would disappear if loot-boxes did.

While Blizzard may still offer package deals etc, the overall result would work out to be far more expensive for most users. If a skin that might otherwise be sold for 20$ can drop from a 1$ box, then a user could buy 20 of them, containing four chances at this item each – that’s 80. Now it depends on the odds of course, but those are some pretty good odds, and the user also gets 79 other things on top of the one they want (or 80 if they don’t get the thing). Either way though, it means that the user gets a LOT more content and benefits for the exact money.

In an ideal scenario, users would have a choice of both, much like it is in games like CS:GO where users can buy items from the community market if they don’t want to open a box and take their chances. Of course, with laws changing it may not stay that simple – after all, Belgium may be the only country that outlaws loot-boxes, but it may not be. Altogether outlawing the boxes would mean a lot of changes for a lot of games, and, by extension gamers – if nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the gaming world reacts to it.

It’s unlikely all loot-boxes will disappear any time soon or at all for that matter – free loot-boxes are, after all, far less of a concern than paid ones.


Mel Avatar
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5-more-minutes gamer and aspiring esports journalist.

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