Tobold's Blog
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.

You are absolutely right, I played Genshin Impact and 9 out of 10 times you get "junk" from the loot boxes so they surely could improve that.

Seeing the kind of money Genshin Impact pulls in (reportedly $53 USD a month is their worst revenue on record) it is obvious that the loot box (gatcha) system is working for them. But, don't you find that this gambling-like nature of loot boxes can take advantage of gamers with less self-control over their wallets?
@Jerwin Of course it is a matter of self-control. I live in Belgium, where loot boxes are illegal. In most other jurisdictions they aren’t.

And the response of players to Pay2Win loot boxes is also extremely mixed. On the one side they review bombed NBA2K24 on Steam until it was for a time the worst rated game on the platform. On the other side it was estimated that the game made about 4$ million in the first weekend by selling you random loot boxes that increase your chance of winning in PvP. That isn’t a few people with a lack of self control. That is a large number of people who decided that spending a few hundred bucks on winning slightly more often was worth it for them.
@Tobold But what if the reality is that a lot of people who lack self-control are paying a few dollars at a time that leads up to a hundred or more a month? Especially if these people don't live in a surplus of money.

If the average credit card user in the USA is to be believed, people are not making wise purchase decisions. Do these people understand that they are voluntarily paying significantly more than the label price for goods and services over time in interest debt?

Ideally everyone makes responsible decisions and is free to spend as much as they want on their favorite games. But if loot boxes lead to more poverty, that is a burden shared by all of society. Thus it makes sense to me to have legal intervention.
Belgium is a highly socialist state (not by their own definition, but by a US definition of socialism). The idea of state intervention to protect the weak from their own bad decision for society’s sake is accepted here. The US generally prefers people to have FREEDOM to make bad decisions. Which is why I don’t think loot boxes will be forbidden in the USA anytime soon.
Tobold said: "The US generally prefers people to have FREEDOM to make bad decisions. Which is why I don’t think loot boxes will be forbidden in the USA anytime soon."

Well said.
"Do these people understand that they are voluntarily paying significantly more than the label price for goods and services over time in interest debt?"

No, they absolutely do not.

I used to work in an attorney's office that handled issues with debt collection and bankruptcy. I can tell you both from that personal experience and our media that Americans do not seem to grasp how much more then will pay by the end in interest.

There was a study that came out around that time about how our education system had failed and most Americans could not understand basic fractions -- which by relation meant percentages and so ultimately things like interest.
Oh wow it's always fun when you all talk about something I personally know about.

So in my state, Florida, Simple interest and Compound Interest, are only taught in one required K-12 course called Algebra 1. I assisted a teacher who taught this course to remedial high school students. Interest and debt only make up a small subsection of this course. So small in fact most textbooks we had covered all the relevant standards in about half a chapter.

And that's it. That's all Florida students are required to learn about how Simple and Compound interest. Half a chapters worth of content out of a year long course. To put it into context a chapter could be considered a single 45 minute lesson. Some might take more then that, some less, but that's about the average.

Now there are additional classes offered like accounting that do cover the topics more in depth but those are considered Elective (Optional) courses. Students typically have the freedom to choose their own electives so the only students that will take a course like accounting are those that elect to do so.

That was about 10 years ago so maybe things have changed but knowing my state not likely.
I've always thought there ought to be a course that all children do - call it Domestic Economy or pick some other name if that puts the boys off - that teaches basic skills like simple cooking, cleaning, nutrition etc. but the basics of money and interest rates could be on it too. Anything you need to be marginally function as an independent adult (along with the 'three Rs'). I don't know if any country teaches it.

I don't know how much benefit it would really be, but surely some of it has to stick!
What you are describing is Home Economics which used to be taught in America but has mostly disappeared from schools today. Some states may still have the class.

It covered things like cooking, doing your taxes, child care, etc.
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