Blind Boxes Need to Calm Down

The match has just ended, a stunning loss sitting idly on the screen while the play of the game kicks in, of course it’s someone from the other team… after seeing that the best players were all on the opposing team, what else is there to hope for? Then the XP screen appears and watching with eager anticipation a loot box is bestowed upon the utter defeat (the cherry on top). It doesn’t matter anymore, because what really awaits is the exciting sequence of feelings that will play out in the coming moments. Exiting the game, the Loot Box now is front and center of the screen and holding the appropriate button down a wonderful dance begins to play out, only to end with utter defeat, again. The rewards bestowed are two sprays that are useless and a repeat skin, oh and a lame voice line. Nice.

While the above paragraph might be focused on Overwatch, it’s the feeling that the Loot Box bestows upon the player that can either make or break something that makes playing a game so worth it. Receiving a gift is a feeling that is hard to match and it’s even more special if that gift is not something that is not only unexpected, but nails perfectly what the person wants. Unfortunately, the blind box method or what are called “loot boxes” isn’t the same as receiving a gift, but instead more gambling with gifts. It’s a disguised Secret Santa/White Elephant. Sure gifts are being given, but is it something really worth taking home? Mostly likely probably not and just like exchanging repeat skins for limited currency so too do return isles sum up perfectly this feeling of gift exchange.

What’s even more troublesome is that the blind box system is seeping into other games, and not just online multiplayer. Horizon: Zero Dawn is an exceptional game, however, the idea that different level blind boxes must exist in this game is irksome. Why is this in such a lovely open world RPG? Try and picture this world where Aloy is running around and strangers keep giving her random packs — not a single one is useful. “Hey there Aloy, (who I just met) here’s a secret gift, guess what? It has things you can find everywhere, in it!” It would be much more useful to have, let’s say, set packs the player could peruse over and choose from? It would be more helpful to know what is being received than expecting and receiving garbage.

This is the part that gets a bit hypocritical. Diablo III does something with gifts that other games can’t seem to get right, actually giving out things that are worth it, as in super cool high tier items — things the player can use immediately and feel great about using/showing-off. Yet a peer game like Overwatch drags it out. While the amount of loot is drastically different between the two games, people will still keep playing regardless of how often they are receiving the things they want or not. People will play games because they love games. There are of course, design decisions that go into how the rolling of the dice for Loot Boxes works, as such to keep the player invested (tired of hearing that) and it works. It doesn’t take away the feeling of frustration when a holiday rolls around and everyone else seems to be receiving the cool skins or what-have-you they want, and at the end of the season, the same old skins sit in characters’ closets. And yes, buying Loot Boxes is easy, but I’d just rather play the game.

The blind box method doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, because most players love holiday skins. Players love receiving gifts — just let us have the things we want. And no matter what the game, whether it be single-player or co-op, just make it worth it. Having a blind box system only to feel let down most of the time (the butt-end joke of Destiny till the end of time) doesn’t bring around feelings of wanting to continue playing a game. Perfect example, Destiny. When Destiny was still in its vanilla days, there were a few weapons coveted in particular — the most coveted being the Gjallarhorn, the weapon being so worshiped in-fact, it soon became impossible to join certain groups without one. This is frustrating on many different levels. It’s frustrating to the player community if it’s an online game, allowing certain parts of the community to hold sway over others because they randomly received the best gift, and it’s frustrating because if someone keeps playing a game only to keep getting the same thing/trash over-and-over, it can really set in feelings of defeat. The game is beating the player on a meta-level. That’s not a win for anyone.

Blind boxes don’t need to go away, they just need some fine tuning. Maybe the solution is to keep introducing them into all sorts of games — the more experimentation means a better understanding of systems as a whole, what players expect out of their games and an overall fun experience for gamers and developers alike. For the moment, blind boxes seem to be sticking around and what’s worse is they aren’t getting better. So, keep opening those boxes. Have them jingle and shake, glow and pulsate, it doesn’t matter, it’s most likely something worth getting rid of anyway. And yet, it’s hard to end this on such a sour note, because just like a loot box, sometimes it’s something good, and when that amazing skin that’s been out of grasp for so long is now part of the wardrobe, it’s still a bit worth it.