Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Hoyoverse - On how not to design loot boxes
I am currently playing Honkai: Star Rail. That is very similar, and from the same company, as Genshin Impact. Only it is SciFi instead of Fantasy, and turn-based instead of real-time. Not a big fan of SciFi, but I like the turn-based combat a lot more. Reminds me a bit of the old Final Fantasy games, before they went off the rail and became real-time. One thing that is very, very similar in the two games is the loot boxes. Now I am not opposed to loot boxes in general, but there are criteria that make me like them more or less. And in Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact I very much dislike the loot boxes.
When looking at loot boxes, many people look at the biggest possible prize you can win, and how much money it would cost to have a good chance of winning it. I am mostly looking at the other end: I assume that most of the time I’ll get a bad or average pull. So I am mostly interested in the low end rewards. What do you get if you don’t get lucky? Although I am not playing it anymore, I have to give a honorable mention to World of Tanks here, a game that at least when I played it only had loot boxes for Christmas. What was absolutely great about these is that the worst possible prize you could get was gold, and buying a loot box and “losing” would net you more gold than if you had bought the gold directly. Also, besides the big prize of some special tank, which wasn’t overly rare, there were a ton of mid-level rewards, most of which where quite useful. So you never opened a bunch of loot boxes and came away completely with nothing.
Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact have the absolute opposite system: There is not much variety, and you either get a 4- or 5-star character or weapon that you probably wanted, or you get a 3-star weapon (called Light Cone in Honkai: Star Rail) which you absolutely didn’t want. You can use these 3-star weapons to boost the level of the good weapons, but it’s by not much. And although the game is full of other interesting materials and rewards you might be interested in, you simply never get any of those. Either you luck out, or you get something that is nearly completely worthless. And while there is a “pity system” that guarantees a better reward every X pulls, even that system gets worse over time, because pulling the same character a second time just gives you a minor boost. The more characters you have, the less interesting loot boxes become.
Now of course even back in the days of early Magic: The Gathering the opening of boosters had diminishing returns. But at least with every new set you could open up a box or more of boosters and get common and uncommon cards you could well use for deckbuilding, the rares weren’t the only useful thing in these packs. And that is what good loot boxes do: As long as you open only a reasonable number of them, you always get something useful. In Honkai: Star Rail I did spend some money on a battle pass and supply pass. But already with the free tickets for loot boxes the game gives you, you end up with mostly worthless 3-star weapons. That doesn’t encourage me to spend money on loot boxes at all, because I don’t believe in luck. And in these games you either get extremely lucky, or you just completely lose out. There are no consolation prizes.