Lootboxes – a way for MMOs to separate us from our money

Lootboxes are a fairly new phenomenon, at least in the MMORPGs I play the most, Star Trek Online and Lord of the Rings Online, and they are an interesting attempt to separate us from our money. Real money, not in-game stuff. And it is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may not bode well for the future.

Lootboxes, per the name, are loot from kills. In LOTRO, they seem pretty rare, and I have only acquired a few of them. In STO, they are very common in the first few missions, though have become rare as I have progressed in the game. Though lootboxes (or Ferengi lockboxes in STO) are loot, they are not useful unless you have a key. In some games, keys can also be found as loot, but are even more rare than the lockboxes. Why? Because the game companies sell keys in their online store for real money (Cryptic or Turbine points, for example), so hoping to get players of these Free-to-Play games to plonk down real money to open an in-game item. To be fair, Turbine sometimes gives the keys away in the excellent lottery they have.

So why would someone buy a key for real money to get an unknown in-game item? Gambling! The highest end loot that comes out of the lootboxes is quite compelling. In STO, you can win starships, while in LOTRO, you can get blue (highest quality) gear. In LOTRO, getting good gear is fairly regular, but I’ve opened a few lootboxes in STO and have yet to get anything good.

Why has the drop rate for lootboxes dropped as I progress in STO? I can only speculate that the devs load early players up with them in the hope that they will spend some real money before dropping the game. That may be cynical of me to think that, because it means the devs have a low opinion of the long-term attractiveness of the game, but it’s the best explanation I can think of at the moment.

Do lootboxes work for the game owners? Yes, I have bought a few keys in both LOTRO and STO. Do they work for gamers? Maybe – it adds a bit of a thrill in the process of opening a lootbox and hoping for a big win, probably similar to the gambling thrill in Vegas casinos. I have a hunch lootboxes are here to stay and may even be expanded. I just hope they don’t become the only way to get good stuff or that their drop rate doesn’t overwhelm other loot in an attempt by the game owners to get even more money from us.


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