‘Surprise mechanics’, more commonly known as loot crates or loot boxes have overtaken much of the industry. These are prevalent in many different games, from MMOs like World of Warcraft‘s Great Vault to FPSs like Overwatch. They offer no set reward for doing an activity, instead giving you a chance of different rewards taken from a pool of items, with the rarest and most sought after items usually needing tens if not hundreds of loot boxes to be opened before receiving one.
In the past, these sort of items would be purchasable with in game progression or currency. You would work to get enough of the gold, tokens, or similar coinage and purchase exactly what you wanted from another player or a vendor in game. Progression would just mean that you to reach a point in the game where the item was unlocked and now usable, needing both time and skill to unlock the wanted part of the game.
With the addition of loot boxes, the progression and currency items that might still exist in some games are not as good or require immense amounts of time. Star Wars Battlefront 2 from EA is a prime example, where there is an in game currency that you get playing, but the most powerful unlocks require at least a hundred hours of gameplay to unlock. This is clearly a situation where the player enjoyment is a lower priority than geting every penny out of the customer.
But in games where there are only cosmetics in loot crates or are single player, such as Overwatch and mobile idle games, it seems to be more of a time incentive to have loot crates. They allow money to go to loot boxes without a negative impact on enjoyment of the game. A company wants people to play and buy their game, and if they can do that in a way that produces a positive impact on enjoyment, it isn’t as strong of a negative.
In short, ‘surprise mechanics’ does not create bad gameplay by itself. It is a roundabout way to keep the consumer doing things for a longer period. The way of obtaining things in game outside of those mechanics and how balanced the items are in gameplay are things that will ruin gameplay when left unchecked.
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