Lockboxes: Loot For A Price

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor June 28, 2013
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By now, it seems that just about every free-to-play game includes some form of lockboxes. I've picked up a gazillion in Team Fortress 2, The Lord of the Rings Online, and Star Trek Online (and have over a hundred in the non-F2P Guild Wars 2), and my feelings about them are mixed. On the one hand, I can see how they're an easy way for F2P games to give players an attractive option for spending money: buy a key, get loot. Instant gratification!

On the other hand, there's a certain kind of... I don't know if I want to go so far as to say “deception.” Obfuscation? Insidiousness? Maybe those are better terms. Lockboxes aren't an evil on par with pay-to-win, but they're definitely a cunning way to make you pay for something you already have.

Well, even that's not really accurate. Just because a lockbox dropped for you doesn't mean you really “have” any loot. You have nothing until you go to the cash shop and buy a key. Depending on whether you can sell the locked boxes, you might be better off with a piece of vendor trash you can hock for a few pieces of copper.

The lure is there, though... you've got this shiny little chest that contains untold treasures, and all you have to do to access them is plop down a dollar or two. Of course, the game could just sell you something called a “Random Loot Box” direct in the cash shop for the same amount that a key costs, but you probably wouldn't be as enticed to buy it because you don't already have half of the equation sitting in your inventory, tempting you with its promise of riches.

Amazing revelation here: Some companies are really good at figuring out clever ways to separate you from your money. It's how the casinos stay in business. In effect, a lockbox is really just an ad directing you to the cash shop to buy a key.

And if your attitude is, “I don't really like lockboxes, but I buy a few keys every now and then,” I'm sorry to say you actually do like lockboxes and you want to see more of them. Because when you spend money on keys, that tells the developers that they can make money on them, and thus encourages them to put more in the game, or in their next game, or to add them to their game that doesn't already have them. Lockboxes keep popping up for the same reason you keep getting e-mails offering cheap Viagara from the work-from-home (making $55/hour) Nigerian Finance Minister – because they work.

Lockboxes aren't quite as deceptive as e-mail spam, since they generally give what's offered, albeit randomly. Me, I prefer not to spend my money on random loot; I got enough of that during my trading-card-game days. Maybe you feel differently, and that's fine. After all, these companies have to make money somehow, and if they can find someone willing to shell out for treasure of dubious quality, good for them. As always, the power is with the player to decide what will and won't be acceptable, and players by and large have spoken.

What's your opinion on lockboxes? Do you open them or junk them? And how do you feel in general about the practice?

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In this article: Loot Boxes.

About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

Discussion (34)

vixion 8 years ago
in Tera i got a few millions off some keys i got for free from an event and the boxes sell well but there's so many that the price is insignificant but they have a chance of having gems that you can sell at vendors for A LOT of gold...

Padsoldier 8 years ago
I do not like lockboxes. They can be auctioned to stupid people for some quick money, but other than that, they just take up some inventory slots and do not allow useful items in there.
I do not open them and probably won't open any of them, because paying a subscription or using real-money to get in-game advantages isn't fair, and the bigger problem is, that it costs money. I do not play F2P games or buy games so that I can spend money later, I buy them to be able to play without further expenditure.
Also, they're a very annoying kind of advertisement, just like the ones before a video on Youtube (thank goodness AdBlocks exist).

DMflatron 8 years ago
btw. hopefully tf2 has a trade system and you can trade keys for items

DMflatron 8 years ago
i stack them on my inventory just in case i win the lottery and spend some money on the game to unlock them all :P

Tatsu Ayers 8 years ago
Lockboxes are pretty idiotic. If you can assure a customer they will get something they WILL pay for it. If you make it a chance then only those prone to gambling addictions will be idiotic enough to use them unless you are rolling in the cash.

Videogames are not Vegas. We are not winning the megabux lotto with a lockbox.

Simply offer a player the ability to pay outright and they will fork over cash happily. Where I live it isn't Asia. Lockboxes have limited appeal to me as a US gamer. Sorry to the companies that use these. They could be scoring my cash, but lock boxes will never be anything, but a novelty to me.

GamingMaster 8 years ago
well on star trek online I sell master keys that open lockboxes and I made over 10 mil selling them..

never going to open one cause waste of money...

Gravy 8 years ago
Sell them in the Auction House to fools who would buy them! (e.g. games like Neverwinter and Tera)
The world is wide and huge, just like eBay, you'll never understand why some people buy junk stuff. But hey, i'll cool as long as people kept buying all my junk boxes, tht helps me out by earning some in game cash to spend on pots.

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anip 8 years ago
It's just a concept developed from "Gachaphon" (which is partly illegal now in Japan)

Because it was deemed to be "online gambling with real money by kids"

IE: Minors Gambling on Poker with Real Money (same thing, it's just a game, but it still have money involved)

Golgo28 8 years ago
Well I look at it like this they rarely give out the must have loot so there is no reason to buy the keys.Unless you have a couple bucks and looking to do a little gambling.If someone is unable to control their gambling is more the fault of the individual.I personally only buy the keys on rare occasions usually when I had bought some points for a cash shop and have some points leftover.I do this on EQ2 I'll sometimes buy some station cash buy some appearance items or exp potions and sometimes have some leftover points.So I'll buy a booster pack for legends of norrath.Just on the off chance I'll get a loot card.Is it a gamble?yes.Do I need to buy them?no.But like lottery ticket if you got a couple bucks extra I figure take a chance.If you end up dropping hundreds of dollars on the keys,booster packs or lock boxes you should seek help.Cause moderation is always the key to anything you do in life.

Monsterfurby 8 years ago
It's always kind of a balance that needs to be kept. Yes, you can stay away from them and save a lot of money, but Booster Packs made Magic the Gathering a huge success, and Lockboxes are nothing different. They appeal to a very basic instinct, the same one that makes people enjoy gambling.

Here's the catch, though: Gambling is not bad per se. Lockboxes can provide some fun in the thrill of getting that awesome item you wanted or being surprised by something you didn't even expect would be cool. What IS bad though is UNCONTROLLED gambling.

Lockbox systems basically circumvent the legal checks on gambling present in many jurisdictions - and THAT is not okay. These systems should be able to be switched off client-side (disabling lockbox drops) and, when enabled, come with a WARNING regarding their potentially addictive nature.

In summary: lockboxes, as a form of gambling, are not bad per se (gambling CAN be fun if you have a grip on your spending), but they should be declared as what they are instead of being imposed on gamers through frankly dishonest means.

Kendah 8 years ago
First lockbox i ever seen was in STO, ofc had no idea how it really worked so tried to open few and was really pissed, rage on forum :)

Lockboxes in sto and gw2 are the worst, I have opened quite few in swtor & neverwinter (same developers of sto I know) and stuff that comes out of these are at least useful to use or to sell...my main objective in opening lockboxes in neverwinter is to collect enough tarmalune bars. As for sto, keys are for auction only....& gw2, haven't logged in for long time now.

Thiagotw 8 years ago
And who knows how they control the "lucky" system... i stop to belive on lucky when i see a padron on Champions Online lockboxes

longtimegamer 8 years ago
I remember in some games like Champions Online the lockboxes are random... you more than often get junk in them. Some games are like this they don't give you automatically good loot some have a "chance" at good loot so its like playing the lottery, buy a ticket (key) and play for the chance at big winnings (most the time you get junk).

I hate lockboxes its just another way a gaming company tries to milk more money from its players. Even if it was guaranteed to give you a piece of gear you might not even get an upgrade or something you can actually use like a caster getting a 2 handed warriors sword. I would prefer a game drop lottery tickets you take to an NPC to try for a good chance at loot for free and sell a cash shop item like a good luck charm to put in the NPC's ticket redeem window to increase the chances at a good item that way I could use tickets for free and those that like the "buy from cash shop" lockbox system could still buy the charms and get the same items or chance at items they did with the keys.

DubGuySeven 8 years ago
In Rift u have the Option buy for real money or in auctions for Ingame Platin
And u can get Boxes and Keys in Instances.

removalmitt 8 years ago
If ppl are dumb enough to spend real cash on obtaining the keys then gratz to the the company. I find it funny when those ppl then post in the forums complaining they spent over xxx amount on currency/keys and got just useless stuff. I play GW2 and there are periodically yet frequent posts complaining about this.

Thedevilr 8 years ago
Thé lockbox are a really bad idea, you pay for nothing cause they give you an another item ... dont but this **** .

jonathansty 8 years ago
I don't really mind there are lockboxes in games like TF2 or Guild Wars 2. A gaming company has to make money out of something! I rather have lockboxes than a cash shop full of gear you can buy. If you can buy gear in the cash shop. The game is entering the "pay to win" zone. Lockboxes generally don't give a lot of gear. There is a chance you get gear. In TF2 it gives you weapons. But you can find weapons. And a "special" weapon doesn't necessarily mean a better one. I use the default sniper although I have most of the "special" ones. All those people that say. That lockboxes are another way of making money, are right. But let me ask you this question: "How would a f2p game make money without selling stuff?"

70calories 8 years ago
I never pick em up lol

Bic Boi 8 years ago
SWTOR has pretty much these, except they're called Cartel packs or something. Admittedly--they do contain a pile of awesome stuff that you can't get EXCEPT from these Cartel packs..but still, the fact it's only a chance keeps me from ever dropping money on it because if I get something I'm not interested in (or even want to use) I will start dropping F-bombs and wondering why I dropped the coinage when I could've had more --guaranteed-- satisfaction from a bag of Doritos.

Razer 8 years ago
It's another shyster tactic from shyster video game companies. If you're stupid enough to buy these, then you deserve to have your money taken away from you. Gambling is for morons that can't comprehend probability.

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FPS2RPG 8 years ago
Never opened them because you pay for loot you can get for free...

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Han Shot First 8 years ago
I hate lockboxes. Hate, hate, HATE lockboxes. Or more specifically, I hate gambling.

When I go to Vegas, it's for the free booze and cheap buffets. I do NOT gamble. And that's precisely what lockboxes are: the stupidest form of gambling ever.

I never, ever buy "keys", but if one comes my way via random drop or quest reward, then (and only then) *might* I use it to open a lockbox... but only if I can't sell the key itself.

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Ed 8 years ago
I have a love hate relationship w/lock boxes. Much like lottery tickets, I know I'm very likely not to win. But, it's the hope of winning that I can't resist. Ultimately I feel it's a dirty business. When I first heard of micro-transactions I thought they would be much more micro. This week I spent about $35 on gems in GW2. Almost as much as the game cost me originally. I did this because I wanted a dragon skin weapon. Was it smart? NO. And it didn't end well for me. I got a mini-pet after opening 25 "rich dragon coffers". I miss my subscription to WoW. $14.99/month is dirt cheap and I have the ability to get anything the game offered if I'm willing to work at it.

dirtyzerg 8 years ago
never opened one and not gonna start..

UmiBrumi 8 years ago
MOUNTED !
And btw loot boxes are shit :/ I cant believe people spend money on this :/

View 1 reply

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