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Game Loot Boxes — The Slippery Slope of Paying Out Rewards

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“What are you going to spend it on?” I asked my 15-year-old cousin who had just received a £50 Xbox gift card. He already had everything planned — he converted the money into his Apex Coins, the in-game currency for his game of online shooters. apex legendsThe game is free to play, but offers all kinds of ways for players to waste their cash, such as purchasing “Apex Packs” containing three random items. You don’t know what you paid for until you open your loot box.

I saw him open 100 boxes. Each box was accompanied by an audio-visual fireworks reminiscent of his slot machines. After investing £50 he received only one rare item. I couldn’t help but feel that this was a waste of money. At his age, I could have used that money to buy a new game that would give me hours of fun.

loot box like apex legends They are at the center of heated debates that have prompted legislation in Europe and Asia. Critics say they are unethical, exploitative and little more than a gamble for children. The underlying mechanics that make it appealing to players are found in many games, employed as a tool to keep players engaged. In this form they are mostly benign. How do game developers use behavioral psychology to keep players occupied, and at what point do these technologies cross the line and be abused?

In a way, video games are control systems, designed to predict and guide our actions and keep us playing for tens or hundreds of hours. People play games for a variety of reasons, but they are somehow motivated by rewards. He has two types of rewards. The “intrinsic reward” comes from the joy of direct interaction with controls and the game world. We take action because the action itself is fun. “External rewards” elicit the joy of striving for long-term goals. Both are essential to the longevity of the game.

Developers layer these together to create a “reward cycle” (also ominously called a “forced loop”). It is a set of activities designed to become repetitive and habitual, inducing a dopamine hit. should not be too frequent or too rare. Developers often employ a schedule known as “variable ratio hardening”. This suggests that people are more compelled by unpredictable patterns of rewards than regular rewards.

Most games combine short, medium, and long term rewards that are triggered at various times. Short-term rewards often take the form of sensory feedback. It’s a bright “sound” when you insert a coin. Super marioexploding enemy heads in gore showers grand theft auto Or vibrating haptic feedback from a controller. These get boring after a while — behavioral psychologists have learned that repeating the same rewards diminishes the benefits. So developers offer intermediate rewards: new levels, items, skills, characters, locations. , narrative beats, etc. Long-term rewards are often related to social competition and prestige, such as challenging high-level team challenges and rare cosmetic items that players can show off to their friends.

Loot boxes rely on some of these techniques. They are employed in all kinds of games. FIFA To Star Wars, and they are very informative. But they also face backlash. Recent reports from consumer groups in 18 European countries have called them “exploitative”. Belgium has banned loot boxes since 2018, but most governments have been cautious about legislation. The UK recently decided not to ban loot boxes after 22 months of consultations. Still, some developers have heard gamers complain. star wars battlefront 2 After protests, Blizzard recently announced it won’t be appearing in the upcoming shooter overwatch 2.

There is a difference between reward cycles and loot boxes that developers employ to keep people playing. The former is provided for fun and is intended to make players feel that their investment of time and skill has been rewarded. The latter is purely commercial and rewards players seemingly randomly. They are a reminder that the qualities that make a game so powerfully compelling can become unethical when profit is prioritized over respect for the player.

I asked my cousin if he would spend the same money if given another chance. He looked at me with the kind of glorious contempt only a teenager could muster and shrug. But I knew what he was thinking: instead of hating the players, he hated the game.